Dog owners may want to think twice before letting their canines run free in Amherst State Park.
The Town of Amherst plans to step up enforcement at the park on Mill Street this year to ensure dog owners are complying with the leash law, which has been an ongoing source of contention.
Violators will be ticketed.
“There is a leash law in place, and we will take steps to enforce it to the best of our ability,” said Council Member Guy R. Marlette.
The issue came up at Monday’s Town Board meeting, where Council Member Mark A. Manna tried to offer a compromise.
Rather than spend the time and resources enforcing the leash law, Manna suggested the town look into designating a few acres of the 80-acre park where owners can let their dogs run unleashed at certain times or days.
“It’s always going to be a problem, because there’s nothing in that area that allows off-leash,” Manna said.
“The park should be enjoyable for everyone,” he said. “It’s a great park, and I think it’s underutilized.”
Manna’s idea was supported by his fellow Democrat Ramona D. Popowich but was ultimately shot down, 3-2, by the board’s Republican majority.
“I think there are a lot more questions to be answered,” said Council Member Steven D. Sanders.
Questions ranged from whether the town could alter the state’s leash law to whether Amherst State Park was the best place to create an off-leash site for dogs.
Marlette pointed out that there’s a dog park on Smith Road in northeast Amherst for canines to run without a leash.
Erie County, he said, also created a new Bark Park for dogs to run off leash at Ellicott Creek Park just over the border in the Town of Tonawanda.
“At the end of the day, you simply can’t have every park in the town become unleashed,” Marlette said.
This isn’t a new issue for Amherst State Park.
The park – which has woods, meadows and orchards – has been an enticing spot for dogs and their owners since it opened in 2003.
Dogs, however, must be kept on a 6-foot leash.
Complaints about unleashed dogs escalated and came to a head in 2009. The town cracked down, as police and the dog-control officer ticketed dog owners in violation. Things calmed down – for a while.
Complaints, which appear to be more related to nuisances as opposed to dog bites, picked up again last summer and fall.
Officials in Amherst – which is responsible for maintaining Amherst State Park and enforcing park rules – asked the Police Department in January to come up with an enforcement plan before spring.