Subscribe to our free, daily publication for all your Westford news.
Edie Fruscione is still coming to terms with the unsuccessful outcome of her two-year quest to build a dog park in Westford.
“I’m still trying to process it,” she said. “Part of me is ready to be done. Part of me isn’t ready to give up.”
The 76-year-old retired property manager who had a long career with Mass Housing, moved to an in-law apartment in the home of her son Douglas in 2015. With her came Reuben, a now 6-year-old golden doodle that gives her reason to get up in the morning.
“My dog is the only thing that is keeping me healthy,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my dog, I would not leave my house for days on end.”
Fruscione walks with a cane and said she lives with pain from a chronic health issue.
“It’s debilitating to some degree,” she said.
But a park where other dogs and their owners routinely gather would be a boost.
“There’s a social component for people who own dogs,” Fruscione said. “…There’s a camaraderie there. People need people. It’s a real social thing for the adults. It’s good for the dogs who need to run.”
Her push to build a dog park began in 2015 as she gradually realized there were no legal places where she could allow Reuben off leash. Then one day, she was reprimanded by a Westford police officer for allowing Reuben to run off-leash at a school playground after hours .
“I got my dander up and I decided I had the time and this was the perfect project,” she said.
So she sent out 200 letters to dog owners asking if they’d be interested in establishing a dog park. About 25 responded and eventually selectmen formed the 16-member Dog Park Task Force. The group approached the Parks and Recreation Commission for guidance and support.
“They were too busy and weren’t inclined to take this under their wings,” said Fruscione. But the commissioners did put her in touch with Kate Olson, who, independently, had also approached the Recreation Commission to promote the idea of a dog park.
Olson, who characterized Fruscione as a “passionate advocate for a dog park,” established a Facebook page (Westford Dog Park) which quickly acquired more than 400 followers and today has 520 members. The number impressed selectmen, who eventually directed Town Manager Jodi Ross to assist the task force members with finding a suitable parcel.
Ross’s guidance became necessary as the NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor dominated discussions with every plot of land the task force submitted to selectmen.
There was a parcel next to the Graniteville Ball Fields off River Street that met with objections from Little League organizers who worried about additional traffic, limited parking and the safety of the ball players. A 31-acre parcel belonging to the Water Commission behind the ball fields inspired similar objections because it would require use of the same access road.
Then there were the 22 undeveloped acres on Plain Road that is part of the Nabnasset School parcel. The School Committee quickly ruled it out saying a dog park next to an elementary school was not a good idea. But a 5-acre parcel on Farmer Way where Stony Brook School is located got more traction initially, even winning the preliminary support of Superintendent Everett V. Olsen who provided stipulations at a selectmen’s meeting this summer. But by Aug. 15, School Committee members voted down the request, citing concerns over safety, traffic and parking at the middle school location.
In all, 50 parcels were considered.
“We literally discussed or walked every parcel the town owned,” Fruscione said.
The passion and perseverance was not lost on town officials.
“Edie worked tirelessly and enthusiastically towards finding the right site in Westford for a dog park,” said Ross. “…The search for a dog park is not over and it is my hope that Edie’s passion, coupled with the enthusiasm of the rest of the task force’s members, and the assistance of the Recreation Commission, will result in our town finding a suitable location…”
It was Ross who finally suggested a 1-acre parcel on Gage Lane — a road in the southeast corner of town that leads to Heart Pond and crosses the Chelmsford border where a small neighborhood of residents reside.
The task force members gave it a thumbs up initially. But Fruscione said that once the dog park was designed “we saw how it would fit on the land. We realized it was too small…The parking lot for 20 to 22 cars wasn’t going to be big enough. Immediately, it would have failed.”
So in her last appearance before selectmen on Jan. 9, Fruscione stunned by requesting support for the Farmer Way parcel instead — land already denied by the School Committee. The board opted not to take a vote.
“I don’t want to just kill it tonight…,” said Selectman Chairman Scott Hazelton. Instead he placed the concept of a dog park under the purview of the Recreation Commission’s next master plan, scheduled to be written in a couple of years.
The blow was momentarily devastating Fruscione said, but she is not easily deterred. The holder of a master’s in public administration who helped get approval for 16 units of affordable housing in a nearby town, Fruscione and her task force is regrouping and refocusing.
Their eyes are now on those who did not support the park.
“Maybe there needs to be changes to the people who sit on these committees,” she said. “Maybe we need people who support a dog park on these committees and that includes the Recreation Commission.”
And then Fruscione played her cards. She sees another option for approval of a dog park in a chosen location.
“…there’s always the long shot of going to Town Meeting by citizen petition. So I think there’s still a lot of things to think about. Still some things left to talk about,” she said.
Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @joypellinocrane.