Friday, October 30, 2009
ConsCom meets with sled dog trainers, hears noise concern
The Conservation Commission (ConsCom) invited sled dog trainers who use Foss Farm to its October 22 meeting in order to get to know them better, discuss the timing and specifics of training and to seek to resolve an abutter’s concern about noise. Members of the New England Sled Dog Club (NESDC) from Carlisle, Concord, Littleton and Westford attended.
Bob Dennison of Stearns Street began by describing the use of Foss Farm for active recreational activities since the 1940s. He emphasized that sled dog training on the parcel goes back at least that far and this historic use long predates the acquisition of the parcel by the town.
Dennison said that former Carlisle teacher and School Superintendent Peggy Grant trained her sled dogs at Foss. According to “When sled dogs ruled the town” (Mosquito, March 7, 2008) five Carlisle families, including the Dennisons and Grants, influenced the development of sled dog racing in New England for several decades and helped establish the Siberian Husky as an AKC breed. The article also notes that the school’s directory is called The Husky Handbook and the sports teams are the Huskies.
Dennison pointed out that NESDC is the oldest sled dog club in the world; he has served as President several times. He introduced Meg Mizzoni of Littleton, current President of the NESDC, and Dr. Robert Tucker, president of the Concord Animal Hospital, and his wife Susan. In addition to training and racing, Tucker has provided veterinary services for local sled dogs for decades.
Before asking for a detailed description of training approaches and timing, ConsCom Chair Peter Burn stated: “Our interest is that the activities on Foss Farm not negatively impact neighbors and abutters any more than they need to.”
Training methods explained
Tucker explained that they like to get started training at Foss as early in the season possible. They once began around Labor Day, but now start later because of the abundance of ticks in the fall and warmer winters.
Tucker indicated that trainers begin with short runs and gradually lengthen the sessions, which take place every Saturday and Sunday until racing starts. Then weekends are spent racing and they may train on a weekday. They once started going to races between Christmas and New Year’s, but it is now the week after New Year’s – again because of climate change.
According to Tucker, while they would like to start Foss Farm sessions earlier in the morning, they do not unload dogs until 9 a.m. out of courtesy to the abutters. The dogs are most excited and barking while being unloaded from vehicles and attached to the lines for running.
He described Foss Farm as ideal for training because the well-drained sand “is so good for these dogs’ feet.” The dogs are harnessed mostly to ATVs until snow allows switching to sleds. Tucker said that training activities help the town because the ATVs passing over the trails negate the holes and ruts horses make. Also, the trainers go out with chain saws and clear the trails of fallen trees and debris in the fall and after storms.
Christopher Adamchek of 1036 Bedford Road, an abutter to Foss Farm, purchased his home in September 2008. He explained that he is “a totally and permanently disabled veteran” and “noise from the dogs affects my illness.” He said he actually had to leave his house last year. He indicated: “I support the activity but nevertheless I have a medical condition.” He said he has tried “painstakingly” to work with the dog sled people and has also met with members of the Board of Selectmen and the Police Chief. Adamchek is an attorney and was recently appointed to the Town’s Americans with Disabilities Act Task Force.
Commissioner Kelly Guarino, who grew up around sled dogs in Alaska, said: “What are you asking for? What do you think the solution is to the problem you described?” Adamchek replied: “Ma’am, I am not asking for anything actually. I am informing the town that there is a medical situation that is right across the street. I do not have solutions. I’m not trained in that area.”
It was noted that at least several times last winter unloading and harnessing the dogs was moved from the parking area near the road to the far end of the parcel near the community gardens. Guarino asked Adamchek: “Was that better? Burn explained that the ConsCom wants to determine if there is a distance the dogs could be moved that “would not trigger your disability.” Since Adamchek was not in his house but down by the gardens watching, he said: “We do not know that.”
Burn expressed the ConsCom’s desire to resolve the conflict, saying: “What we are trying to come up with is a solution that preserves the historic use of the land and at the same time preserves Mr. Adamchek’s rights as a citizen, and don’t know yet if there is such an accommodation.”
Commissioner Tom Brownrigg asked if other problems relative to Foss Farm sled dog activities have been reported to the commission. Smith recalled that around 1996 a new resident was startled by a team of dogs while walking. Dennison noted she was using earphones and may not have heard the dogs coming.
The ensuing discussion focused on the potential of posting signs to notify the public when horse or sled dog activities are occurring and whether there is another place on the parcel that would provide more auditory screening. Ingo Szegvari of Fielding Farm Drive noted that moving the unloading area further from the road raises the matter of plowing. He said that area is not the responsibility of the Department of Public Works; so he volunteered to plow last year. Adamchek said that predictability of when training would occur might help. Willard asked if the NESDC would be interested in hosting a public training demonstration and received an enthusiastic response.
Commissioner Tricia Smith said that the Old North Bridge Pony Club comes in for permits for individual events and also holds fundraisers that support improvements to the riding facilities at Foss Farm. Permits are also issued for lesson series. There is a fair amount of publicity.
Several members noted that the sled dog activities are by contrast somewhat “under the radar.” Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard said she had checked the files and found only one set of “general” permits – issued in 1998. Reached later, Willard explained that these were for use of Foss Farm for sled dog training with all terrain vehicles (ATV’s). No days or times were specified and there was no expiration date. There were separate permits for each trainer.
Burn moved to create a planning group and emphasized that a successful resolution will take effort by everybody involved. Specific members were to be determined but will include representatives of NESDC and the Land Stewardship Committee (LSC). He introduced Lynn Knight, Foss Farm representative of LSC. Everyone agreed that until a new plan is developed trainers will park at the far end of the Foss land near the community gardens. ∆
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