By Caroline Lanni
FRAMINGHAM – In 2015, Shannon Stevens, a District 8 resident, created FramBark, with the “mission to form a fenced-in dog park by partnering with the Town of Framingham.”
Six years later, and Stevens’ dream is another step closer to reality, albeit now with the City of Framingham (Framingham became a City on January 1,2018.)
Recently, Framingham Parks & Recreation applied for a grant, to fund 90% of the dog park – a grant Stevens found and presented to community leaders. A site has been identified and a preliminary design has been unveiled.
But the dream of a Framingham dog park almost ended in December of 2019.
“It is with heavy hearts that the FramBARK team has decided to bring this group to a close,” wrote” Stevens on Facebook on December 20, 2019. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been unable to make steps toward achieving our goal of establishing an enclosed off-leash recreation area (dog park). I started FramBARK with a vision of a dog park that would give dogs a safe place to play, to meet members of the community, provide local business opportunities. We leave the City of Framingham with research, grant opportunities and plans and we hope that our officials will eventually realize the value of establishing a dog park.”
District 4 Michael Cannon, a dog owner himself, saw that post and met with Stevens. He gave her hope.
So in 2020, Stevens started a petition to lobby for the dog park with the City’s legislative branch – the 11-member City Council.
On February 14, 2020, Stevens & Councilor Cannon submitted a petition with 175 signatures to the City Clerk.
That petition was the start of a year-long push that now in February 2021, the City is anxiously awaiting news on a grant for the dog park.
Last month, Framingham Parks & Recreation, after several public forums, applied to the Stanton Foundation for a grant for a Framingham dog park.
The dog park would be located at Farm Pond South, and it will be about 150 feet away from the skate park.
Shannon Stevens, president of FramBARK, moved from New York to Massachusetts and eventually to Framingham in 2011. She saw that there were no dog parks in Framingham. She said she was shocked.
She launched FramBark in 2015, and it officially became a non-profit organization in 2016.
Stevens worked with then-Town officials and later City Officials to get the project greenlighted and funded.
At the early stages of this project, Stevens said their team, “weren’t terribly successful,” but she added that they formed a “dedicated group.”
“A dog park will be a great addition to Framingham recreational inventory and would not have been possible without the tireless communication and commitment of Shannon Stevens and FramBARK,” said District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini, who worked with Stevens also in 2020.
“Councilor Mike Cannon has done yeoman’s work in helping make this dream become a reality,” said Stefanini.
“FramBARK has been jumping through a lot of hoops to bring this plan forward for a lot of years,” said Councilor Cannon.
Wen he heard that FramBARK had decided to disband, Cannon said he wanted to get involved and wanted to step-in to help.
Cannon said he told Stevens he wanted to help this cause and assured FramBARK that, “we can make this happen.”
Cannon said he met with FramBARK and asked them to delay their disbanding.
“My role was to make sure the right people were working together,” said Cannon, who got Deputy Parks & Recreation Director Tom Begin involved with Stevens and FramBark in 2020.
Cannon said he was pleased with all the work Parks and Recreation has done over the last several months and that the grant is finally submitted.
This park is vital because, “at a time like this with everyone stuck inside, the park is another reason to get outside and enjoy the community,” said Cannon.
“Hopefully, we will hear back soon, and we will have a great new community asset sometime in the near future. This is just the beginning.” said Cannon.
“We have been working on really forming what our focus is and we are partnering with the City to really provide recommendations,” said Stevens.
FramBark now is working on some educational seminars, to provide information to dog owners on how to be responsible. The first seminar will happen later this month.
“We don’t want to just have a park, we want to help other people and how they interact with other dog owners,” said Stevens.
Stevens believes this new dog park will help “build community.”
“From my perspective it is important to have a safe enclosed space for dogs to play,” said Stevens. “It’s not just for me and my dog, it’s for my dog and everyone else’s dogs.”
The Stanton Foundation is providing “a large amount” of the money that is needed for the dog park, said Stevens, if the grant is approved.
“We couldn’t do this without them,” she added.
Framingham Parks and Recreation in Framingham has also secured additional funding and donations for this project as well, said Stevens.
Deputy Parks & Recreation Director Begin said, “The Stanton Foundation offers grants that cover up to 90% of hard construction costs, up to $225,000, with a requirement that the City fund the remaining 10% and cover soft costs. In addition, they offer grants to cover the final design and construction administration costs up to $25,000 with no match required. We are hopeful that the City will receive both of these grants.
“To offset the funding amount required by the City, we will be utilizing money currently held in a Parks Department gift account that is dedicated for Farm Pond Park improvements and a future dog park,” said Begin.
“In addition, we will be applying for a Community Development Block Grant to help further offset expenses. If the City is successful in receiving these grants, we will avoid submitting a Capital Budget funding request for this project,” said Begin.
Begin said they submitted their application for this grant in January 2021 to the Stanton Foundation.
Begin said he has been working on site selections and collectively the group held two public meetings to discuss the designs and information with the community.
“My role in that has been coordinating those conversations, preparing the grant applications for the Stanton foundation, and applying additional resources to offset the funding for the park,” said Begin.
FramBARK deserves a lot of the credit here, especially Shannon Stevens who “brought this project to the forefront this past year,” said Begin.
“We have come a long way in the last eight months, and it has definitely been a group effort,” said Begin.
Begin said the next phase of this project all depends on when the notification from the Stanton Foundation grant will be available.
“There are 4,500 district dogs in the City as of 2020, which was given by the City Clerk, so there is a real need for off-leash deemed outdoor spaces for dogs to run around and socialize in the community,” said Begin.
“Absolutely thrilled to have this project moving forward in District 6. FramBark never gave up and now their dream will become a reality in Framingham,” said District 6 Councilor Phil Ottaviani Jr.
A lot of people in the community around Farm Pond need a space for their dog to run freely and want to take advantage of the park, said Begin.
Former long-time Framingham resident Michael Radner, a landscape architect with Radner Design Associates, is working as a consultant to the City on the dog park project.
Radner said he has helped with this project for about four years with FramBARK, before he moved out of Framingham in 2019, and now is helping with the project with the City of Framingham Parks & Recreation Department.
“Dog parks are for people as much as they are for dogs,” said Radner.
Dog parks are a healthy place for dogs to go and socialize, and it is a “community builder” for people, said Radner. “There are certain elements that go into each dog park. Those elements consist of fencing, source for water, surface materials, and a selection process for finding the right location with access and safeness.”
Radner added, “There was a community process that helped determine the location of the dog park that was deemed from the community from several public meetings, so we got feedback from the community.”
“The dog park will be a huge asset to Framingham thanks to the teamwork of our Parks and Recreation Department and FramBARK, a
local organization dedicated to creating a fenced-in dog park in Framingham,” said District 3 City Councilor Adam Steiner. “My gratitude in particular goes to Shannon Stevens, the leader of FramBARK, for having the tenacity to stick with her goal despite many setbacks over the past several years.”
“I’m thrilled to see this project moving forward. I remember I had a 9-week-old puppy when Shannon first called me, that puppy is
now six. We look forward to visiting the dog park as it’s long overdue,” said at-large City Councilor Janet Leombruno.
“A shout out to Shannon Stevens, Park & Recreations, and Councilor Mike Cannon for pushing this forward, a true team effort,” added Councilor Leombruno.
Kelly McPherson, a Natick resident, and president of FIDO of Natick said, “We are delighted to hear there is going to be another dog park in the area.”
Dog parks build community and promotes a healthy dog environment, said McPherson.
Alec Karys, a Framingham resident said, “The Framingham dog park has been many years in the making, maybe close to 10, and happy to see this is finally coming to fruition.”
Karys added, “I am sure the residents will love this new amenity in our City.”
“This is a recreational need, and it has been a need for a while,” said Begin. “We are happy to speak with anyone who would like to donate towards this park or are interested in donating a bench and [or] tree through our donation program. If the public is interested in this program, they can contact me directly at TJB@FraminghamMA.Gov or at 508-532-5976.”
Caroline Lanni is a 2021 spring SOURCE intern. Lanni is a senior communications major with a minor in journalism at Framingham State University. She wants to pursue a media career in broadcast journalism. She is a member of the dance team at Framingham State.