Cat Rock Park: Past and Future
One of the most beloved town-owned properties in Weston, Cat Rock Park is also the one that inspires the most passion. Dog walkers love it for the open space and swimming for their pups at the Hobbs Pond, and dog-free walkers love the white-pine-lined trails, views from the top of the hill, and the occasional bald eagle and hawks from above. Students from Cambridge School of Weston come out for strolls, kids on new bicycles test them out on the packed dirt trails. In winter, the former ski slope is alive with the happy screams of kids hitting warp speeds down the steep slope. Sadly, its popularity is causing its current suffering.
Cat Rock and 80 Acres were one of the first acquisitions by the Town of Weston in 1957 when it was bought from the Cat Rock Trust. At that time, it was perhaps best known for its ski slope with a view–180′ of vertical drop with two rope tows operated by the town’s recreation department from 1957-1978. A fascinating history with interviews and photos can be found on the lost ski areas of Massachusetts site here.
In 2003, in his treatise “Land Protection and Stewardship in Weston,” Brian Donahue wrote:
“The largest challenge that Weston’s land will face in the coming years may be increased public use of our trail system. Overall, I believe this is a good thing–Weston now depends on the city of Boston for its existence and suburban conservation lands are inevitably a metropolitan resource. On balance the educational value of city people walking in the woods far outweighs any minor ecological disturbances. But recreational use does pose some difficult issues…heavy dog traffic that makes the trails uninviting for other users may prove the greatest challenge of all, and the Conservation Commission is already confronting it.”
While no numbers exist for the usage of different Conservation properties within Weston, there is no doubt that Cat Rock is among the top three in popularity. Unfortunately, with popularity comes challenges–several of which are coming to a head now in Covid times. More than ever, people from all around the Boston area are looking for nature walks and open spaces. And google searches come up with Cat Rock Park.
Cat Rock has been reported to be one of the best places to take your dog in the area–and also the one most likely to find people disobeying town leashing and voice control rules. As of this article, dogs must be leashed after 10 am on all public property–and yet, recent walks at Cat Rock show the vast majority of dogs off leash at all times of day. Enforcement on the property is almost impossible–a recent walk the Owl took with Weston Animal Control Officer O’Reilly netted almost 100% non-compliance. One walker unleashed before we were even out of sight.
Cat Rock was also the scene of a recent ice rescue of two dogs and their owner. At 3:45 pm on a Saturday, those dogs should have been onleash. And yet, not. Complaints of dog poop being left on the trails, the scent wafting in the spring breezes, are endless. Last week’s walk by a Weston Forest & Trail Association trustee netted 12 abandoned dog poop bags in the forest. Surely people see that this is not sustainable…and yet…
One of Weston’s Girl Scouts did a weeklong project called the Red Flag Project, where she placed 100 red flags at the locations of abandoned dog poop. She ran out of flags by the time she got to the bridge at Drabbington Way (less than 50 feet from parking lot). While talking with passersby about the importance of picking up and disposing properly dog poop, the reactions of walkers were not reassuring. Here is part of her report to Conservation and WFTA:
“Most of the waste we encountered was at Drabbington ball-field and all over/along the trails. There was also a lot at the dam. The day we flagged was warm out, so we probably encountered around 15 groups/sets of walkers. We engaged with probably half of them- comments were mostly supportive but also ranged to slightly sarcastic and argumentative responses. One person had a few reasons for why people don’t pick up after their dogs, probably meaning herself I’m assuming. She mentioned something about it being too cold or the ground being too frozen as part of the reason. “
Parking is a constant woe. Weston takes its fair share of abuse from non-residents upset about weekend parking rules that restrict the parking lot to Weston residents. In fact, this decision was made due to a number of public safety issues. Cars idling up and down Drabbington waiting for spaces is not exactly climate-friendly (nor lawful), and visitors show a startling lack for respect for abutters to the property. Some Drabbington residents were asked for bathroom usage in private homes, dogs ran free in private yards scaring resident children, and ultimately a chicken met its demise from the sharp canines of … a canine. While the vast majority of guests to Cat Rock Park are responsible, not all are– and because of the few, this park suffers.
At a recent land stewardship conference, one of the speakers noted the historical difference in attitudes between the colonists to the United States, and the indigenous people. While colonists spoke of their “right” to the land, indigenous people spoke of their “obligation TO” the land. We, not only as visitors to Cat Rock, but as responsible citizens of the world, are obligated to protect this natural space. The overuse of trails is causing root damage, tree catastrophe, and severe repercussions to the wildlife. A Cat Rock Summit is needed and best options discussed–not only for the human and canine visitors who somehow feel entitled to the space, but for the sake of the ecosystem.
Should dogs be banished from Cat Rock? Should it be volume-controlled from all parking areas, like many of the Trustees properties? Should a special fee be assessed to pay for more enforcement or for dog poo fairy salaries? Or most radically, should Cat Rock be closed to all for a year to let nature rest?
Time to talk, all of you who love and are obligated because of that love. Cat Rock Summit 2021. Let’s do it.