By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — For more than 20 years, dogs have run free on Battery Park’s main lawn early in the morning.
The unused grassy area was a place for dogs and their owners to socialize, the only large open space downtown where dogs could run around.
But that changed this summer, when Parks Department officers began issuing $150 tickets to dog owners, enforcing a leash policy that had long been ignored.
Now, the Downtown Dog Owners Association is fighting for a trial period to prove that their dogs are helping, not hurting, the park.
"This has been going on for a long time, and successfully," said Cathy Yee, a Financial District resident and member of the dog association. "I don’t see why it’s a problem now."
Yee said the large off-leash space has done wonders for Piper, a lab mix she rescued two years ago. Piper was skittish about being around other dogs at first and used to growl at them while on walks, but once allowed to roam free on the Battery Park lawn, she grew calmer and friendlier, Yee said.
Yee and other dog owners also said they make the park safer by being there at off-peak hours, and they help clean up the garbage and dead rats on the lawn.
The Downtown Dog Owners Association has gathered about 800 signatures in support of a six-month off-leash trial period between 6 and 9 a.m., starting Nov. 1. Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee voted in favor of the trial period last week and volunteered to set up a taskforce to monitor the lawn’s use.
However, the trial cannot happen without the Parks Department’s support. Parks officials have declined to attend two public meetings about the park, and a spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment this week.
In more than two-dozen other parks around the city, dogs are allowed to go off-leash between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, said she did not have a position on the trial period, but she is concerned about the negative impact dogs sometimes have on the park when they stray into planted beds or when their owners don’t pick up after them.
The conservancy is planning a multi-million-dollar overhaul of the lawn area over the next couple years, including the a fish-themed carousel called Sea Glass.
Yee hopes dog owners can be part of the park’s transformation, so that it becomes known as more than just a tourist destination.
"We can change people’s perceptions about the park and make it a place for the community too," she said.