Home News and Features Public Hearing Addresses New Hubbard Park Leash Proposal

Public Hearing Addresses New Hubbard Park Leash Proposal

Hubbard Park map showing the original proposed core zone boundaries (in purple) and an alternative boundary that would include the “dog field” (in blue).
Navigating the strong feelings about whether dogs should be on or off leash in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park is “more contentious to deal with than potholes,” said Linda Young, who attended an April 9 Parks Commission hearing about just that. A new proposal by Parks Director Alec Ellsworth that creates on- and off-leash zones would continue to allow unleashed dogs in the northern part of Hubbard Park, and the southern zone — the park’s “core” that includes the Tower Trail and the Universal Access Trail — would require all dogs be leashed, always.

“This would designate the northern approximately 150 acres as off-leash, and the southern approximately 100 acres as on-leash,” according to a memo titled “Parks Commission Update on Hubbard Park Dog Policy” on the Montpelier city website (see map, page 15).

A second public hearing on the proposed policy is scheduled for May 7, at the end of which commissioners will make a decision about how to move forward. 

Following a long process that included adopting an updated park management plan in December 2022 — and after years of complaints and controversy from residents both for and against leashing dogs in the city’s largest park — the commission created a “Dogs in Hubbard Park Subcommittee” to look into the matter. The process got waylaid by the July 2023 flood and has picked up momentum early this spring. Over time, the commission has considered proposals that ranged from designating certain days or times of day for off-leash walking to closing some trails to unleashed dogs except on certain days or times.

The issue has gained urgency, according to the memo, to get new leash ordinances in place before the busy spring/summer season begins in order to avoid more conflict.

“For example, during the wait between management plan finalization and hearing the Canine Committee recommendation, a toddler was attacked and bitten in the park,” the memo states.

Although only 11 dog incident reports have officially been filed in the past five years, Ellsworth has received dozens of comments and complaints through Front Porch Forum and over the course of three surveys, in 2021, 2023, and in early 2024.

“This is a long-running, divisive problem,” said John Jose, a Barre Street resident, and former conservation commissioner who pointed to the variety of wildlife in Hubbard Park that could be harmed by dogs running free. “I absolutely endorse what Parks is proposing. If anything, I’m in favor of the area being expanded slightly northward.”

Conversely, in a 2024 survey about the issue, completed a few weeks ago, dozens of residents who use the park for off-leash dog walking have pointed to equity issues and a joyful atmosphere among off-leash dog walkers. Some have noted that they chose to live in Montpelier specifically because of the optional leash policy in Hubbard Park.

“I like to see happy dogs in the park. Leash laws are counter productive. All dog owners should know when to leash their dogs responsibly. Letting my dog walk off leash in the park is the best thing about Montpelier!” wrote one survey respondent. 

But there were also dozens of comments vehemently against off-leash dogs, noting distress to those afraid of dogs, incidents with dogs that may have been friendly but have boisterously jumped on or knocked people down, and a general disgust with dog feces left in or near trails. One respondent wrote “I often do not go to Hubbard because I have negative interactions with dogs every single time I visit.”

“Voice control seems to be the main obstacle to everyone’s comfort. Unfortunately, all dog owners don’t understand the term the same way and some are in denial about their abilities,” wrote another respondent, referring to the current policy that unleashed dogs must be under voice control at all times. 

Out of 474 survey respondents, 138 said they avoid visiting Hubbard Park because of off-leash dogs, but in a prior question a much lower number of people, 34, said they do not visit the park at all. Asked how they feel about interacting with dogs at the park, answers were almost evenly split, with 246 saying they would rather not interact with off-leash dogs, and 220 saying they enjoy interacting with off-leash dogs.  

Linda Young, speaking at the hearing, pointed to Montpelier’s 193-acre North Branch Park — where dogs are required to remain on leash — as a good option for people who don’t want to be around unleashed dogs.

“I think it is a question of equity,” Young said. “We’re all taxpayers one way or another … so we have to share this resource. … [Hubbard Park] is essentially our back 40, and it is where we can go with our dogs and exercise them.”

David Dobbs, like several other speakers at the hearing, thanked the commission for its work and expressed support for the proposal.

“I think it has the chance to put this issue to rest after years of corrosive dispute,” he said. “Its beauty is its simplicity and its equity.”

Former Parks Commission chair Bryan Pfeiffer said, in that former capacity, he has been “in the thick of it when it’s really been acrimonious, so I congratulate you on how civil it’s been.”

“Based on my limited knowledge, I think you’ve got a great proposal in the staff recommendation,” he said, and warned the commission about “going with the numbers” in the dog committee’s recent survey. “Be cautious of that unless they’re truly scientific surveys.”

Several people at the hearing pointed out that dog walking is one of many uses in Hubbard Park, which includes wildlife, vernal pools, mountain biking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, concerts, family parties, city events, and more.

Rose Luzader, chair of the Conservation Commission, noted that the northern part of the park, where off-leash walking would be allowed under the proposal, includes a newly purchased 78-acre parcel of land with the only “state-significant natural community” in Montpelier.

“I think there needs to be a more thoughtful approach to this. … being mindful of how that increased use is ultimately going to result in additional development” of trails. Luzader also said the Conservation Commission hasn’t been brought into the conversation yet.

Dog committee member Dana Dwinell-Yardley (who, it should be noted, does design work for The Bridge), said she enjoys walking her dog off leash in the park, but also wants other people to enjoy the same public space she enjoys. She pointed out that the parks commission intended to create a committee made up of two on-leash proponents and two off-leash proponents. Despite attempts to create a balance of viewpoints, none of the on-leash proponents stepped forward, so the four committee members are all proponents of off-leash use in the park. 

“I think they selected for people who are civic minded and interested in the common good,” Dwinell-Yardley said. “That’s been my experience on this committee … we’re not just on the committee to serve the off-leash population.”

In fact, in an interview with The Bridge, Dwinell-Yardley said “it’s concerning to me that anywhere between a quarter to up to half of folks in Montpelier don’t feel comfortable going to this park because of off-leash dogs, and I want those people to have access to the park too.”

For more information, go to montpelier-vt.org/464/Parks-Commission.