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Friends of the Fells Misinterpret the RMP

posted Nov 3, 2011, 1:13 PM by michele biscoe
This is what the  the draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) says about off-leash dogs and commercial dog walkers:
  • “The RMP concludes that there is a potential for impacts to sensitive resources, public safety and recreational experiences from additional off-leash dog opportunities at the Fells, and therefore does not recommend any additional opportunities beyond the designated area at the Sheepfold at this time” (ix).
  • "The team identified the need for strict enforcement of a 3-dog limit per person and that commercial dog walking should require permits" (63).
Last week the Executive Director of the Friends of the Fells published in the Melrose Free Press a strange interpretation of RMP's conclusions about off-leash recreation and commercial dog walkers (Mike Ryan: DCR must put conservation first in the Fells):

"Concerns about increasing incidents of off-leash dog encounters have been overridden by DCR planners to satisfy the wishes of vocal dog owner groups. Already the Sheepfold has been converted into an off-leash dog park, and the Fells RMP suggests that off-leash dog access could also be permitted on multiple hiking trails, “under voice control,” and that DCR would consider permitting commercial dog walkers to legally bring groups of dogs into the Fells Reservation."

It is clear that the Friends of the Fells will not be satisfied unless the final RMP explicitly says that trail-based recreation with off-leash dogs will never be allowed in the Fells.

Ryan complains about the participation in the public process for the Fells Resource Management Plan (RMP) of “vocal dog owner groups”. If the Friends of the Fells really cared about the protection of natural resources on public land, they would welcome and encourage more people to take time out of our personal lives—as hundreds of dog owners have done—to get involved in and become educated about the issues.

The Friends of the Fells’ desire to keep people out of the Fells exposes the Fells to the real threat to conservation:  that no one will care enough to protect it. 

Given that the DCR has found that at any given time dogs can outnumber hikers in the Fells, and given that the DCR has found that 85% of dogs at the Fells are off-leash, the reasonable management goal should be to accommodate current responsible usage and keep off-leash dogs on well-established trails.

The official trail system is precisely what protects the sensitive natural and cultural resources of the Fells.  Official trails are a significant reason why “the natural resources currently within the Fells have co-existed with high levels of recreational use for decades, if not over a century” (49).  This is because, “on well established trails, even large increases in use will result in minimal increases in impact.”  Conversely, “where use levels are low, such as off-trail, small differences in the amount of use can result in substantial differences in impact.” (p 49-50).

By treating visitors with off-leash dogs at the Fells as interlopers, the Friends of the Fells is, in fact, encouraging people who love the Fells and who could be great allies in conservation, to go rogue and blaze their own trails where "just a few passes" can have a “substantial” impact on environmental resources.  It is the “vocal dog owner groups,” including the Fells Dog Owner Group, as well as the New England Mountain Bike Association, whose efforts are directly targeted at preventing rogue recreation off official trails.

This week, Adam Glick, President of the Greater Boston chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (GB NEMBA), offer corrections and alternative viewpoints to those held by the Friends of the Fells (Adam Glick: An alternate perspective on the Fells management plan).  

Please read the DCR’s draft Middlesex Fells Planning Unit RMP and submit comments before the deadline, November 14, to rmp.comments@state.ma.us or by mail to
Fells RMP Comments
136 Damon Road
Northampton, MA, 01060