Dog Owners and Baseball Players Bicker Over Bickford Park
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Dog Owners and Baseball Players Bicker Over Bickford Park

Proposed changes to Bickford Park's layout have reignited an age-old feud between different groups of users.

Bickford Park  Photo by kaeko, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Bickford Park. Photo by kaeko, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

In a community centre gym by Christie Pits on June 20, three large posters showed three proposed layouts, windows into a possible future for Bickford Park, located at Harbord and Grace streets.

With yellow feedback sheets in hand, residents had their say at the open house, placing red dots on preferred features.

Poster A removed the north baseball diamond, replacing it with a landscaped off-leash dog park area bordered by shrubbery and trees. A landscaped path would run behind the park’s south diamond, along the hill parallel to Grace Street. Posters B and C didn’t remove the north diamond, but proposed to move either the north diamond (B) or the south diamond (C), and place a fenced-in off-leash area somewhere in the park. (Click through the image gallery at the bottom of this post for a look at all three posters.)

There were lots of red dots on Poster A’s shurb-lined off-leash area.

“I’m a dog owner and lover, so I think a natural barrier like this is a really great idea,” said resident Meaghan Dorian, who lives on Grace Street. “I think fences are eyesores, and the park is my opportunity to enjoy nature, and how I do that is with my dog.” Others—particularly those who use the park for sports—weren’t as enthusiastic about the idea.

Bickford is already a popular destination for dog owners, but the rules for off-leash canines are fuzzy, and, resident Arjun Chatterjee thinks, unenforced.

“There’s dogs running around the minute people walk into the park. It doesn’t matter where the off-leash area is,” he said. “We play soccer every Sunday, there’s always a dog on the pitch. Even now, the dogs literally come running over when there are little kids playing. They’re attracted to the noise.”

“Funny thing is, it takes two people to create a dog off-leash area,” Chatterjee adds, “and there’s no responsibility or accountability…I agree the park needs to be looked at, but it needs to be looked at from the perspective of the people that use it and live here.”

The century-old park is constantly busy, and conflicts between dog owners and permit users are commonplace. By convention, dog owners have congregated at the north end of the park, right beside the north diamond, where Toronto Playgrounds Baseball holds its tee-ball games.

For Mike Zimmerman, who organizes the league for 160 kids, removing the north diamond is out of the question. Instead, he hopes the park remains in its current configuration.

“Kids come out to play ball every year. People come out and play soccer, people go down there, strum their guitars and play bocce, sit down and have a picnic. These things happen naturally,” said Zimmerman. “My experience is also [of] a small group of people who feel that they have more say than others about the park, and they want to see something different.”

“They want to see something different when they look out at Bickford Park, they want to see something more classic with more trees and fewer kids running around having a good time.”

Bickford has been in need of an update for years, and the task, for local Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), isn’t easy. Layton wants to seek a compromise that everyone will be happy with.

“It’s not an easy process,” he said. “There’s a very finite amount of space, and there are more and more demands on the space.” His office has collected survey data and held bimonthly meetings with a cross-section of park users.

“I think it’s important we involve all of the players, pardon the pun, in the conceptual piece and also into that implementation.”

He won’t have much time to find a solution. With likely capital funds lined up for Bickford in the City’s 2014 budget, Layton’s office only has until July 15 to hear feedback. A finalized layout plan should come shortly thereafter.

Poster images courtesy of the City.