Treading Trails for the Dogs

Local woman investigates the quality of dog trails in the area for the Department of Conservation.

Dog owners are always looking for a good place to walk their pooch. The trail and surroundings are important, and passionate pet lovers are serious about bringing their dog out for what is surely his favorite part of the day.

Northborough Patch took a walk with Northborough's Leslee Robinson and her dog, Roxie, recently around Lake Chauncy in Westborough. Roxie loves Robinson's "job."

Robinson, along with Michelle Discoe, are dedicated to finding, and improving trails for dog-walking in this area.

They're members of the Massachusetts Recreational Trail Advisory Board, a volunteer board that gives advice to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation involving the trail community. MARTAB was established in 1992, and gives advice and feedback to the Department of Conservation and Recreation on the trail community.

MARTAB encompasses representatives from each of the major trail user groups, including horseback riding, mountain biking and motorized vehicles. As part of the Coalition of Massachusetts Dog Owner Group (Mass-Dog), Discoe from Somerville and Robinson work closely with DCR to provide feedback of the dog trails, and also advocate for off-leash dog areas.

"It's a step in the right direction because usually dog walking is ignored in all the states," said Robinson. "It's now being considered a type of recreational activity. Some people play golf. Some run. I walk my dog. It is my sport."

The volunteers on MARTAB have a "big say" in how funds get distributed to the Recreational Trails Program (a federal fund), advising the DCR on conditions of the trails throughout the state.

"The trail thing is more complicated than I ever realized," said Robinson. "A trail that is good for biking isn't necessarily good for hiking. There are amounts of clearance and maintenance that have to be considered. No one wants to pay taxes, but if you don't maintain these trails, they don't exist."

For dog walking, Lesless says, it's imperative that there is more room than the usual trail. To accomodate dogs walking on and off leashes, it's important to be able to pass others, which sometimes could even be a horse.

Some trails that Robinson focuses on include Mt. Pisgah (near where she lives in Northborough), Hopkinton State Park and Lake Chauncy, which is run by Westborough Fish and Game.

Robinson tries to hit different trails every day, and always brings Roxie, who is 6, along.

She hopes that Massachusetts will follow the lead of Boulder, CO, which instituted a program called the "Voice and Sight Tag Program" for its state parks. That means some dogs are allowed off leash, and some are not, depending on whether the dog passes the training program.

"They have wonderful signage and rules for on leash or off leash," said Robinson. "Everyone gets along and uses the trails, but have to be courteous. I would love to see that here. I'm at the beginning of this whole process, and that's the kind of voice we'll have."


Kelly Benestad August 31, 2012 at 04:18 PM
I think that it is wonderful that people take their dogs into the trails for a walk. However, I feel that dogs on trails should be leashed at all times, whether or not they pass a test. My husband and I recently took our sons (ages 6 and 7) for a walk/run through the trails behind Algonquin. A dog owner had his dog off the leash and the dog came charging at high speed towards my sons. The owner simply yelled out "do not worry, he will not hurt anyone." Does not matter if the dog will hurt anyone or not, what matters is the fear that occurs in a child (or an adult) for that matter when a dog charges at you. Something similiar happened over the summer when my husband and I were in the trails by Chauncey. Dogs allowed off their leashes in trails can pose a danger. Simply leash the dogs so that everyone can enjoy the trails.
Dan Breyfogle September 01, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Gates Pond is another popular dog walking location. Not only people can be afraid of unleashed charging dogs (no matter how friendly). Some dogs don't appreciate being charged by other dogs either. My greyhound Sam hated being charged by unleashed dogs, particularly the small yappy ones. I wish everyone obeyed leash laws on trails; the vast majority don't. And there is so very little enforcement.
Leslee Robinson September 03, 2012 at 03:29 PM
There are plenty of places for leashed dogs, but very few for unleashed ones. Leashed dogs and children are not necessarily trained. It is very difficult to walk a trail with a leashed dog and have parents allow their children to run up to my dog. Not only dogs and dog owners, but also other trail users need to be educated regarding courteousness on trails. Those of us that walk everyday (the majority being dog walkers) realize that there is room for all of us and it is usually the once in awhile users that create the issues. Children taught to be afraid of or aggressive towards dogs will be in danger no matter where they are. All that I am asking for is a safe place that I can engage in my sport without being harassed or harassing others. Gates Pond and Chauncey are wooded secluded areas where many types of recreation, including hunting, are allowed not developed sports field type parks.
Pat F. September 08, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Dogs and their owners need to have and should have at least a few places inthe Greater Boston area where they can walk on forest trails with the dogs romping off-leash; and such places are very hard to find. Surely there are enough woodlands to accomodate dogs who need to run unfettered on shady forest trails; or perhaps specific off-leash hours could be tried in some places.


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