Maine dog parks, spots for pups to ditch the leash

A few months ago, I tackled a somewhat touchy subject among dog owners: leash laws. My stance is that dogs should be kept on a leash at all times in public areas that require leashes (for example, community trails and parks). I think that leash rules should always be followed, no matter how “friendly” your dog is.

BDN photo by Debra Bell
Scott Stewart of Holden watches as his one-year-old goldendoodle Tucker plays with a ball at the Bangor Dog Park on Jan. 21, 2013 at the end of Watchmaker Street in Bangor.

In response to my opinion piece, many readers sent me emails offering different perspectives on the issue, and of a few people mentioned dog parks.

My mother has often said to me, “Don’t think of the problem; think of the solution.”

So after writing about the problem of people letting their dogs off leash in public places, I’ll now offer a solution, presented to me by readers: dog parks, places where dogs are not only allowed to be off leash, it’s encouraged. Dog parks are a great option for dog owners who want to let their dogs off leash in public, to run and play freely with other dogs.

However, being relatively new to dog ownership (or parenting, if you prefer), I don’t recall ever seeing a dog park. So I did a little research, and I came up with the following incomplete list of Maine dog parks:

  • Augusta – Augusta Dog Park is a fenced-in park located at 1 Water Street, by the Kennebec River. The park is open dawn to dusk and has a separate small dog area and benches. For information, including park guidelines, visit www.augustamaine.gov and search “dog park” in the top righthand corner of the main page.
  • Bangor – Bangor Dog Park is located at the Essex Woods Recreation Area at the end of Watchmaker Street, a small road off Essex Street. The park is open dawn-dusk. There are certain rules for this dog park. For example, dogs should stay leashed until inside the first gate of the double-gate park entrance. And while inside the fenced play area, watch your dog and have your leash with you at all times. For information, visit www.bangordogpark.org.
  • Bar Harbor – Little Long Pond Leash-Free Area is not fenced, but dogs are free to be let off leash and play. The area is located at the intersection of Peabody Drive and Seaside Lane. But on the nearby trails of Acadia National Park, be sure to have your dog on leash.
  • Belfast – Belfast Dog Park is a 1.5-acre fenced in area at the Walsh Field Recreation Area off Lincolnville Avenue (Route 52), just south of its intersection with Route 1 (next to Jaret and Cohn Real Estate). The park has a separate small dog area, water and benches. For information, including park rules, visit www.friendsofbelfastparks.org.
  • Brunswick – Merrymeeting Dog Park, which opened in June, is located at the end of Water Street. The closest street address is 10 Water St. The 1.5-acre fenced-in park has two separate areas and double-gated entrances: one for all dogs and one for small dogs (25 pounds or less). The park is open a half hour before sunrise and a half hour after sunset. For information, including dog park rules, visit www.barkmaine.org.
  • Portland – Quarry Run Dog Park is seven acres of fenced in play space and a smaller fenced in area for small dog breeds off City Landfill Trail, which is off Ocean Avenue (Route 9). Open dawn-dusk. The property is part of the Portland Trail System. So for those who prefer to keep their dog on leash, there are 20 acres of unfenced walking trails for leashed dogs only.
  • South Portland – Hinckley Park is open to off-leash dogs, but there is no fenced-in area. Located across the street from the intersection of Highland Avenue and Scamman Street, this 40-acre public park is open year round 6 a.m.-9 p.m. What’s really neat about this park is the two ponds, which dogs are free to swim in, and the many woodland trails. With the good often comes the bad. Because there are plenty of woods, you’ll need to be on the lookout for porcupine and skunk.
  • Waterville – Waterville Dog Park is a 1-acre fenced-in park located off West River Road, to the right of Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse. Open dawn-dusk, the park has a separate small dog area, trees and benches. Check out the park’s page on Facebook.

Now, just because dogs are free to run and play at off-leash dog parks doesn’t mean they’re free to do whatever they want. Some dog parks have specific guidelines for owners to follow. And if they don’t, you might want to check a few of the many websites on dog park etiquette online. Some of them are quite funny.

In general, you should watch your dog at all times. That way, you will see if your dog is getting into any sort of trouble, crowding someone or dropping a deuce. Your dog = your poop. Pick it up.

As far as dog behavior goes — train your dog to come when called. But understand, if your dog is absorbed in a conflict, he may not listen. Always have your leash on you, just in case. Remember, per Maine State Law, dog owners or keepers are solely liable for damages or injuries caused by their dogs.

In closing, I’ll say that dog parks are not for every dog. It’s a judgement call. Owners need to be realistic about their dogs’ temperament and abilities. For example, I have yet to bring my dog Oreo to a dog park because I don’t know if he’ll play nice with other dogs. Oreo has a playmate, a black lab-collie mix named Dexter, that he plays with in our yard, but he still barks aggressively at other dogs when he’s on a leash in public. We’re working on it.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.