Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to speak out against a dog run in Fort Washington Park--and the end of offleash hours there.

When I spoke to Jennifer Hoppa over a week ago, I expressed my opinion that nearly all the people who currently take their dogs to Fort Washington Park would greatly prefer offleash hours to a fenced dog run, given the choice. She responded noncommittally "Well, that remains to be seen." Which sounds like a challenge to me.

Jennifer Hoppa,
Administrator, Northern Manhattan Parks
NYC Parks & Recreation,
Fort Tryon Park Cottage
741 Fort Washington Avenue
New York, NY 10040

Tel: (212) 795-1388
Cell: (347) 865-5399 (leave a message)

A letter always makes a strong impression, but be sure to keep a copy. Email is quicker of course, and often gets you fast feedback (and a chance to give more feedback in return). If you call, the cellphone number is a good option--you'll usually get her voicemail, so have a good idea of what you're going to say in advance of calling. No reason you can't pick 'all of the above.'

And what are we saying? Well, be sure to tell her where you live. Talk about how much you've enjoyed taking your dog down to Fort Washington Park during offleash hours. If you personally wouldn't take your dog into a fenced run, say so--that doesn't mean you're impugning all the people who do. Individual dogs have individual needs. Some do great in runs. Others don't, or have health issues that keep their owners from taking them in--that doesn't mean they shouldn't have a chance to play and socialize.

And even dogs who do well in runs can benefit from the chance to run on grass, splash in the Hudson River, and generally savor a less crowded, more natural setting. And neither you nor your dog should be deprived of the chance to just ramble together in the early morning, along the edge of the shining river, just to see what the day will bring, with nothing tying you to each other but mutual affection. It's a great tradition, and one of the oldest, predating civilization by many thousands of years. And no civilization is complete without it.

Whatever you tell her, put it in your own words, and express your own experience. What we're fighting here is precisely the "one size fits all" approach to canine recreation.

If you email her, you should cc Crista Carmody, the manager of Fort Washington Park, at I don't think the dog run is her call, but we should keep her in the loop. She's got a reputation for being very responsive to community concerns.

And please bcc

Another way to express support for the preservation of offleash hours in Fort Washington Park is to attend an upcoming Community Board 12 meeting for Parks and Cultural Affairs, to be held on Tuesday, June 3rd, at 7:30pm. This is at cb12 headquarters, 711 W. 168th Street, ground floor, entrance on Haven Avenue. The Parks Department will be presenting its Master Plan for improvements to Riverside and Fort Washington Park, and it's the perfect occasion for us to make our feelings known.

I attended a general meeting of cb12 last night, just to familiarize myself with how these events are run. I arrived at 711 W. 168th, just a short distance west of Fort Washington Avenue--only to find a sign telling me the meeting had been moved at the last minute to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion at 1150 St. Nicholas Avenue--about a five minute walk east. That sometimes happens with general meetings, I later learned--it almost certainly won't happen with the June 3rd committee meeting, but I'll post any venue or schedule changes here.

At the general meetings, there's a sign-up sheet for any member of the public who wants to make a three minute comment. It's less formal at committee meetings--you simply have to approach the person chairing the meeting a few minutes before it begins, and explain what you want to talk about. Jennifer Hoppa herself has been telling people they should go to this meeting if they want to speak out against the run, so there shouldn't be any problem there.

It's likely that the person who has been pushing for this run will be there--it's possible she may have several supporters. It's vital that the people supporting offleash hours outnumber the people supporting a fenced run by a substantial margin. I know it's a nuisance to have to go out on a weekday night, but we have a lot to lose here. And a lot to learn, as well. We weren't really involved with the big battle for offleash hours up here--it was downtown and outer borough activists who did most of the fighting--high time we paid our share.

Regardless of whether the cb12 parks committee can actually stop the dog run, we have a chance to demonstrate to the Parks Department that we are the true representatives of the dog-owning community here in Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, and Hudson Heights. Large turn-outs for these committee meetings are rare--we'd make a hell of an impression if we showed up in numbers. We may never get a better chance to stop this mistake before it really gets started.

If you absolutely can't make the meeting, then it's all the more important that you contact Jennifer Hoppa--and you might also send a separate email to a brief message outlining your opposition to the run, and your desire that offleash hours in Fort Washington Park continue--something that could be presented at the meeting. Or just post a response to this article. That could also work.

You know what doesn't work?

Staying home and keeping quiet.

Let's do some howling.


Smarties said...


Gray Wolf-6 said...

Hamilton Heights covers from West 135th Street to West 155th Street and is totally located within Community Board 9.

Ft. Tyron Park is within CB12M.
St. Nichlas Park and Morningside Park within CB9M.

Riverside below West 155th Street is within CB9M and above 155th Street within CB12M.

Gray Wolf-6

Chris said...

Thanks GW, but the fact remains that people from Hamilton Heights (and further south) walk up to use Fort Washington Park all the time--and not just dog people. I know where the dividing line is--I practically live on it.

I don't think there's any reason anyone who uses Fort Washington Park in any capacity shouldn't have the right to come to a cb12 meeting that affects the future of that park. I'd certainly go to a cb9 meeting. Remember, the funds being allocated here are from all NYC taxpayers, and are being used for both Riverside and Fort Washington Park.

Actually, I should probably be checking to see if there are any cb9 meetings coming up we could attend. Good point. ;)

Chris said...

And I just checked cb9's website--which I must say, is embarrassingly superior to cb12's website--and they have a Parks committee meeting on June 4th. No mention of agenda, location to be determined. I'll look into it.