WILMINGTON—Man’s best friends here are leading in a new way to help build community and make for a more dog-loving, tourist-friendly town.
The Wilmington Dog-Friendly Downtown Group and Wilmington Works, a downtown organization that collaborates with businesses on public projects to improve and support a vital downtown, petitioned the Selectboard for $1,010 from the local option sales tax to buy four “poop stations” to be located on trails throughout the downtown.
At their July 6 meeting, board members agreed.
“Dog waste is a public health/water quality issue and as such falls under the purview of the Selectboard,” wrote the Dog-Friendly Downtown Group when petitioning the board.
“We would appreciate the support of the Selectboard to help provide amenities for the many dogs and dog owners we see downtown, as well as enhancing the environment for those who don’t own dogs by providing for the removal of dog waste,” their appeal continued.
“We’re dog people,” says Wilmington Works Program Coordinator Meg Staloff, who is a member of the relatively new group.
She says the initiative started with some interest last winter when Wilmington Works received an AARP grant for some placemaking projects, including promoting the use of town playing fields in winter for cold-weather fun.
During that process, participants noted that a lot of folks walk their dogs in that area, and the Wilmington Dog-Friendly Downtown Group emerged.
“And then there was interest in starting a dog park, and that was too much to do at once. But one of the things we did was purchase a dog waste station, a ‘poop station,’” Staloff says of the clean-up stop — a small unit with signage, bags, and a disposal can — that has since been at the town tennis courts.
Then folks wondered if the station would be used much, as well as who would keep it clean, given the town has no sanitation department and the group didn’t want to put that burden on the town.
Since then, the group decided it was, indeed, being used and that they could get sponsors, both private citizens and businesses, to keep the station and future stations clean.
Sponsorships include a plaque stating the sponsors’ names and contact information “so there’s accountability,” Staloff says.
When spring came and turned to summer, the group noticed that “so many people are walking dogs downtown and traveling with dogs — and, after Covid, I think many people got dogs — so we said, ‘This is a great time to up our game,’” Staloff adds.
Part of the plan now is to compose a marketing plan aimed at those traveling with dogs and to add the four new stations.
Overall, the effort goes beyond accommodating a local need — it’s intended to continue Wilmington Works’ focus on economic development and promote the town and local businesses that are dog-friendly to those traveling with their pets.
“It’s kind of like a reason to stop here,” Staloff says. “Doubtless these dog owners will spend some time and money in town while on the road as well as appreciating having a nice place to walk their dogs,” she wrote in her petition to the Selectboard. “Many will become repeat visitors.”
The aim is to erect five stations along the designated dog-friendly walking route the group has delineated.
While the town may be asked to help install poles for the poop stations and those poles may need to be removed seasonally for snow removal, Wilmington Works and the group will provide labor and structure for ongoing maintenance as well as matching funds for the project.
The group also had a lightbulb moment in its still work-in-progress process.
“We were going to put out brochure holders and then we realized that was a little counterproductive,” Staloff says.
So instead of providing paper maps, the group now plans to erect one substantial sign at each station that includes a QR code, allowing people to download the map to their smartphones by focusing a camera on the two-dimensional barcode.
“Everyone has a phone, and we also don’t want to create garbage on the trails [from] people picking up paper maps and then dropping them or have a lot of paper going into the world,” she adds.
“We’re trying to eliminate waste,” Staloff says with a laugh.
Proposed waste station system locations tentatively include the library lawn, the West Main Street parking lot, the far end of the green pedestrian bridge at the trailhead, and the Hoot, Toot & Whistle Trail (the former roadbed of the Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad) in back of the MOOVer garage (the latter two about which the group will coordinate with the Trails Committee). Another station could end up at Buzzy Towne Park.
The station that has been at the tennis courts will be moved farther from the courts to discourage owners from allowing dogs to run loose there.
The trail map will also include “happy dog” stops — businesses that offer dogs water and/or biscuits and whose proprietors welcome dogs with their people.
“We will sponsor a marketing campaign attracting those traveling with dogs to stop and ‘take a break’ in Wilmington,” the group wrote in its appeal to the Selectboard for funding.
“Doubtless these dog owners will spend some time and money in town while on the road as well as appreciating having a nice place to walk their dogs. Many will become repeat visitors.”
Being dog-friendly means being people-friendly
Asked what being a dog-friendly town means, Staloff says, “keeping it clean, making it easy to do so, welcoming dogs.”
“By having facilities to make it easy for people to clean up after their dogs, you’re making it clear that we want you to walk your dog here,” she adds. “Dogs bring people together and build community.”
Ultimately, she says, the goal is “to create a fenced area to let dogs play off-leash in the downtown. It’s hard to meet somebody to have dogs play together where you know it’s sanctioned.”
Staloff knows this firsthand — her 3-year-old “gregarious” standard poodle Murphy is full of happy energy.
“I know he’s going to run off to people and that’s not always OK,” she says. “So, this way, you know you’re all dog people and you don’t have to worry.”
Staloff also appreciates what man’s best friend can do for his best friends.
“This group is interesting because it’s some old-time residents but also newer ones who realize creating a community for your dogs is a great way to meet new people,” she says.
“It’s a bunch of people who have gotten together with a common goal and who are learning how to make it work — how to go to the Selectboard, make a plan, figure it out,” Staloff notes.
“It’s a great learning experience to work together to make it happen,” she says. “It’s very nice to get newer people involved from the get-go.”