Starting this Saturday morning, four-legged family members can join the bipeds for some unleashed exercise at the park. At 11 am, May 3, Newtown will celebrate the grand opening of the Park & Bark, a two-acre field on Old Farm Road at the Fairfield Hills Campus that has been transformed over the past year to become the town’s first dog park. Administered by the heretofore people-centric Parks and Recreation Commission, this newest addition to the town’s park system has come about largely through private bequests and fundraising, with minimal investment of public funds. It is a long-overdue formal recognition by the people of Newtown that most occasions are a lot more fun when dogs are around.
This is not the first time the citizens of Newtown have set aside a parcel of land for animals — far from it. At a town meeting in 1732, townspeople voted “that the Commons should be cleared for the benefit of the flock of sheep where it shall be thought to be most needful by those who are appointed by law to take care of that work.” Hence, the Ram Pasture came into being. It has remained as one of Newtown’s favorite open spaces ever since, even though the only wool-clad congregations spotted there in recent history have been the skaters on Hawley Pond in the winter months.
While we may tell ourselves that this new town facility is going to be great for dogs, we should probably admit at the outset that the Park & Bark is going to be a wonderful place for people. Anyone who has walked a dog in public knows that canines have a knack for breaking down social barriers. Walk 100 yards through a group of strangers by yourself and see how many people speak to you, let alone make eye contact. Now try it with a dog. There will be a lot more talking than walking. The Park & Bark is going to be a great place for the people of Newtown to get to know each other, to make new connections, and to foster a better sense of community. Move over, Ram Pasture.
On Saturday morning, or whenever you are first dragged at the end of a leash to the new dog park, we encourage you to throw out the first tennis ball in honor of all those who through their generosity and dedication to our canine friends made the park possible. Give special thanks to two remarkable women, Francis Hair and Hazel Bouchard, who left a $2 million legacy in 2012 to the animals of Newtown. Part of their remarkable bequest paid for more than 75 percent of the final $225,000 cost of Park & Bark. Sometimes the goodness and generosity of Newtowners just makes you want to howl.