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  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    A woman walks her dog along a trail that borders Swan Lake at Benson Park in Hudson, Thursday afternoon. Hudson selectmen are promising stricter enforcement of pet owners removing their animal's waste from the park.
  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    A woman walks her dog past the iconic a-frame at Bensons Park in Hudson. Hudson selectmen are promising stricter enforcement of pet owners removing their animal's waste from the park.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hudson selectmen, police cracking down on dog waste, trash at Benson Park

HUDSON – Mike and Natalie Undercofler aren’t dog people. But the last thing they want to see sprout up around their beloved Benson Park is a slew of “no dogs allowed” signs.

While selectmen and the town’s animal control officer don’t see a dog ban coming anytime soon to the historic former animal park turned passive recreation area, they’re promising stricter enforcement of town littering and dog-waste ordinances in a united effort to change the habits of violators they call the “2 percent.”

Natalie Undercofler, a Benson Park Committee member, and her husband spend countless hours landscaping and otherwise sprucing up the park.

“Ninety-eight percent of our visitors abide by the rules,” she said. “It’s that 2 percent who leave trash, don’t clean up after their dogs and let them off-leash who are ruining it for everyone else.”

Animal control officer Jana McMillan said a recent investigation showed that while dog waste does exist throughout the park, she also found that trash – empty juice bottles, food and candy wrappers, even soiled diapers – appears to be a more pervasive problem.

“I was shocked at how much trash and garbage I found,” she said. “I wouldn’t call the dog waste I found excessive, but any amount is too much.

“I want people to know whether it’s dog waste or trash, I will fine anyone I see violating the ordinances.”

Selectmen reviewed McMillan’s report at a recent meeting and tossed around ideas that might help stem violations.

“My observation is the waste isn’t the issue we thought it was, but it is a problem,” Selectman Rick Maddox said. “I think issuing more citations would help us get across the goal line. Anything more would unfairly punish dog people and that 98 percent who follow the rules.”

Placing more trash barrels in the park and installing “bag stations” for public use also were considered.

“Maybe just two barrels isn’t cutting it,” selectmen’s Vice Chairman Ben Nadeau said. “Maybe six would be better.”

But many say adding more trash receptacles or putting a second Dumpster just outside the park, which was also brought up, gets away from the initial intent of making Benson Park a “carry-in, carry-out” park.

“We had a policy from day one we’d be carry-in, carry-out, and that went very well until recently,” Natalie Undercofler said. “But suddenly, it’s not working.”

Selectmen noted trash complaints began to rise when the playground opened in the fall. Nadeau, the selectmen’s representative to the Benson Park Committee, said more barrels in the playground area might help, but others suggested stepping up volunteer patrols.

The problem with those kind of patrols, Undercofler said, is volunteers or committee members often are ignored by offenders who know they lack the authority to issue citations.

McMillan, however, does have that authority – but she’s also just one person patrolling about 166 acres.

“I can’t fine people I can’t find,” she said.

Still, offenders who fall within McMillan’s gaze will come away owing a $25 fine for a first offense and $50 if it’s their second offense. Third-time offenders, McMillan said, could be handed a higher fine or receive a summons to court.

Visitors also should realize dog owners are required to keep their pets on a leash no longer than 6 feet. And the waste ordinance requires they not only collect waste, but dispose of it properly, as well.

“I have a very low tolerance for this,” McMillan said of those willing to leave trash and animal waste behind. “It’s not only a nuisance, it’s a public health problem. It can’t be tolerated.”

Undercofler, meanwhile, said she and her husband are among a number of regular visitors who take it upon themselves to carry a bag and pick up trash along their walks.

Rarely, though, do they find dog waste, which seems more common along trails and other out-of-the-way spots. But that doesn’t mean they don’t come across the occasional unsavory find.

“One day I found a soiled baby diaper just 30 feet from the Dumpster,” Undercofler said. “They couldn’t have walked just 30 more feet?”

Though fully aware of one of society’s unfortunate realities – “Some people, no matter what you do, won’t abide by the rules,” she said. Undercofler said the couple’s overall experience has been a delight.

“We’ve met so many wonderful people we otherwise wouldn’t know,” Undercofler said.

“It’s a real joy to be out in the park and seeing people enjoying it so much.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or