HALLOWELL — Only a week after city councilors closed the Vaughn Field dog park, vociferous public response has pushed officials to schedule a public meeting to discuss opening it back up.

The Hallowell City Council voted Sept. 9 to close the dog park until the spring.

Public Works Foreman Chris Buck supported the closure, saying it was a health hazard for city employees. Councilor Michael Frett, who said the dog park was never “conceptualized” as a city-maintained one, postulated the decision could spur a volunteer committee to take care of it.

The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the City Hall auditorium.

The decision miffed resident Emily Baker, who told the Kennebec Journal last week that she takes her four dogs to the park regularly. She said the city failed to notify the public they need to carry trash in and out, and are responsible for the park’s cleanliness.

Last week, Mayor Mark Walker emailed the Kennebec Journal announcing Thursday’s meeting “to have (a) public discussion on the dog park issue and seek solutions to re-opening the park.” Walker said public input regarding the park has been “loud.”

At the Sept. 9 meeting, he indicated discomfort with the way the councilors were making the decision to close the dog park.

“I am a nonvoting member of this council, but I would feel uncomfortable making that vote tonight without any other public hearing or notice that wasn’t specifically on our agenda in any way,” Walker said at the meeting. “I think that would be a fairly dramatic decision made with so little input.”

In his email, Walker said he agreed with the reasons councilors gave for closing the park, and hoped that decision and Thursday’s meeting “creates action” toward opening the park again.

The dog park’s condition was brought up in a July discussion about trash cans in city parks. Public works previously provided trash cans at Granite City Park and Vaughn Field, but removed them in July 2018 because they were being misused. Buck said in July that trash would overflow over the weekend, when none of the Public Works employees work, and create an eyesore at Granite City Park. Further, the trash can near the dog park at Vaughn Field could be a health hazard because it has been covered in dog waste.

Baker said the park’s “pile-up” of poop bags only happened after the trash can was taken away at the park. She said the trash cans would not usually overflow unless they were not emptied for about a week.

Walker’s email also mentioned the new dog park in Gardiner, which is maintained by volunteers and not supported by municipal funding. He said officials at Thursday’s meeting will have information on how other municipalities maintain their dog parks. In a Kennebec Journal report about the Gardiner dog park, Hallowell resident Adrien Lemar said she doesn’t take her dog to the park at Vaughn Field, despite living close to it, because “it is not a clean place.”

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