Upper Providence dog park brings controversy

Dog owner Mark Pelke enters Reynolds' Dog Park in Upper Providence Township.It was closed last month for a couple of weeks as a "public health risk" due to waste.
Dog owner Mark Pelke enters Reynolds' Dog Park in Upper Providence Township.It was closed last month for a couple of weeks as a "public health risk" due to waste.
Posted: December 13, 2010

Roger "Bo" Reynolds Jr. left behind $100,000 in his will to establish a dog park in Upper Providence.

Now, three years after its opening, what the park's four-legged users are leaving behind threatens its existence.

The township closed Reynolds' Dog Park, near Oaks, last month for a couple of weeks to address the "public health risk" posed by an abundance of excrement on the grounds.

The move has outraged the park's most frequent visitors, who describe it as the township's latest attempt to thwart Reynolds' bequest - an accusation that could land this dustup in court.

"If they start closing down the dog park, they're not honoring the spirit of Mr. Reynolds' will," said Luke F. McLaughlin III, executor of the estate. "We would take that before a judge if we have to."

That Reynolds gave the money at all struck some relatives and friends as unusual. The prominent Montgomery County lawyer, who died at 63, could hardly be described as a dog's best friend.

Aside from a family pet he had growing up in Ardmore, Reynolds never owned a dog and preferred cats, said McLaughlin, his longtime law partner.

It was Reynolds' association with McLaughlin - and, more important, Jake, McLaughlin's German shepherd, who accompanied his master daily to his Norristown law office - that inspired the posthumous generosity.

These days, dozens of residents and their canine companions flock to the four-acre tract along Longford Road made possible by that donation.

While signs around the fenced-in commons remind visitors to clean up after their pets, a few piles of droppings inevitably dot the grassy expanse.

But more often than not, said Renee Pappas Fogg, a 38-year-old market researcher and dance instructor, dog owners keep an eye out for abandoned piles of poop.

"We took care of each other," she said, recalling when she and her 50-pound mutt, Freyja, used to spend hours each day running in the park.

"If someone had to run to the bathroom, there was someone who would watch your dog. When I was pregnant, there were people that would go pick up my dog's poop for me. Of course, you're always going to have a few that don't follow the rules."

It's a problem in every dog park. But these problem pet owners have become more and more of an issue in Upper Providence over the years, said Sue Barker, the township's parks director.

The situation became so bad this fall that contractors hired to maintain the grass threatened to back out because excrement splashed up on their backs and clogged their heavy equipment while they mowed.

Barker defended the temporary closing so managers could find more effective ways to ensure that visitors cleaned up after their dogs.

Part of the problem, she said, lies in how the park was established. While the township officials welcomed Reynolds' gift, its terms put them in a bit of a pinch.

His will - a curious 13-page document that also left money to secretaries for "putting up with me and my B.S." and brass plaques inscribed, "Remember, thou art mortal" to all of Montgomery County's judges - gave Upper Providence only six months to open the dog park or lose its inheritance.

That left little time to draft plans for dealing with owners who refused to pick up after their pets.

"Normally, it would take years of planning to open up a park," Barker said.

Still, said Fogg and the other dog owners, they should shoulder only part of the blame.

Frequent closings for maintenance drove away the most devoted visitors, they said. And the two trash cans installed for responsible pet owners were emptied only infrequently.

"By Fridays, poop bags were flowing out of the receptacles," Fogg said. "By Saturday and Sunday, it was just gross."

The township has installed more trash cans, it is emptying them more frequently, and the poop problems seem to have abated now that the gates have reopened.

Barker and the park's visitors, though there are fewer after the shutdown, hope it's for good.

"We're definitely thrilled by the number of people that use the park," Barker said. "We're just a little overwhelmed by it."


Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 610-313-8212 or jroebuck@phillynews.com.

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