Home Commentary What’s the Best Compromise? Debating Dogs in Hubbard Park 

What’s the Best Compromise? Debating Dogs in Hubbard Park 

Hubbard Park map showing the original proposed core zone boundaries (in purple) and an alternative boundary that would include the “dog field” (in blue).
By Emily Donaldson, on behalf of the Montpelier Parks Commission

How should dogs be allowed to visit Hubbard Park? For decades, this dilemma has hounded our city. The current Canine Code of Conduct, which permits off-leash dogs as long as they are under voice control, has fallen short, and since 2021 the Parks Commission has been seeking to learn more about the issue. Input gathered through two surveys, public meetings, emails, and outreach repeatedly pointed to an inequity in access to Hubbard Park due to off-leash dogs. 

Since last fall a special Dog Committee appointed by the Parks Commission has collected further feedback and recently recommended a solution. In the past two weeks, two special meetings on dogs and hundreds of comments by email, on Front Porch Forum, and through an online petition have allowed the Parks Commission and the Dog Committee to contemplate the possibilities together. 

So where do we stand, now? We encourage you to read the materials on our website, montpelier-vt.org/464/Parks-Commission), which include key details on the long history, public outreach, and rationales for different proposals. But we also thought it might be helpful to summarize things, from our perspective, as we keep collectively gnawing this bone. 

Let’s start with the original Dog Committee Policy Proposals. These included many suggestions the Parks Commission supports, such as: 

  • Support the required leashing rules for parking lots and on car-accessible roads. 
  • Support leashing around shelters and at all park events.
  • Support additional education about considerate dog/dog and dog/people interactions.
  • Adopt a policy that is stable and sustainable.
We welcome comments on these proposed changes. But the committee recommendation that sparked the most talk is the suggestion that dogs be leashed throughout the park from 2 to 4 p.m. daily. The Parks Commission and Parks staff both urged revisions to this recommendation.

The Parks Director’s Staff Recommendation splits Hubbard Park roughly in half and designates the southern “core” section as an on-leash zone at all times (see map). This proposal’s simplicity and prioritization of equal access suggests it could be a lasting, effective policy that would open the park to a whole new population of users who have long avoided it over concerns about off-leash dogs.

The Parks Commission Response to the Dog Committee and staff recommendations agrees with the two-zone solution, noting how this approach matches the Dog Committee’s basic reasoning about how to improve access, safety, enjoyment, and policy compliance in the park. It also presents two potential revisions to the Staff Recommendation: 

Zone boundary modification. Shift the core zone boundary so that the off-leash area connects directly to the parking areas at the New Shelter and the so-called “dog field” that bisects the Fitness Trail (see map).

Allow off-leash access to core zone within certain hours. Designate certain hours for off-leash use of the core zone that are easy to communicate and remember (e.g., mornings off-leash, afternoons on-leash daily; or off-leash until 10 a.m. daily). 

In preparation for the Commission’s April 9 special meeting, the Dog Committee shared their thoughts on these responses in an updated memo. In particular, they voiced concerns about the accessibility of the northern (proposed off-leash) zone of the park for those who:

  • Need to visit the park by car.
  • Need off-leash trails with more level grades and uniform surfaces.
  • Aren’t comfortable walking through the woods with their dog on a leash.
  • Want to cross-country ski with their off-leash dog but don’t feel comfortable on the trails in this zone.
  • Need amenities (as proposed, this zone contains just one outhouse).
  • Want to ride bikes on the planned multi-use trail but worry about off-leash dogs.
The Dog Committee suggested addressing these concerns by designating certain off-leash hours for the core zone of the park, in addition to considering some key questions about how we use the park. 

The Commission is planning additional public discussions of dogs at a special meeting in late April or early May (see city website in the coming days for final details) and again on May 7. We also plan to hold a vote and adopt a new Hubbard Park Dogs Policy at the May 7 meeting so that the Parks staff has time to plan, educate, and implement the adopted changes later this year.

We all want a simple, lasting solution. And whatever compromise we reach will require each one of us to sacrifice some level of convenience so that everyone can enjoy Hubbard Park. But it’s worth it. Together with the community and the Dog Committee, the Parks Commission is seeking to find an answer that is acceptable to everyone, despite the inconveniences. We’d love to hear your thoughts (at PComm@montpelier-vt.org) and hope to see you at our next meeting. 

Emily Donaldson is an anthropologist and writer who lives for “woods time” in Hubbard Park, with or without dogs. She has served as a Parks Commissioner since 2022, and she apologizes for the dog puns.