public comments on dogs in the mile-around woods

The Fund for North Bennington received extensive public comments during the winter of 2021 on the question of whether dogs should be more strictly regulated in and around The Mile-Around Woods. Below are excerpts from the 22 single-spaced pages of public comments.

The new dog policy developed in response to these comments can be read here.

If we want to keep our quality of life and our healthy outdoor lifestyle, we need to be sure our citizens understand they are responsible for their actions — including keeping The Mile-Around Woods free from all types of litter.  It should be a simple rule that dogs in public areas be kept on a leash and the dog’s owners should clean up their mess. 

The clean-up problem would be helped if dogs were under leash control of their owners but if it remains a problem a total ban might be needed. 

This property has become one of the most cherished parts of our lives and it would be somewhat devastating if we were not allowed to walk our dogs there.  While we enjoy allowing our dogs to walk off-leash, we walk with leashes and leash our dogs when we see other walkers. I am requesting that you initially add more signs to the property, requiring all dog owners to keep their dogs under their control. If a more restrictive measure is being considered, consider requiring dog owners to leash in The Mile-Around loop. While I understand that The Fund does not want to promote this property as a “dog park”, would The Fund consider installing a dog waste bag holder with bags at entrances to the property? I used to walk the area every day but with the popularity it attained with Covid I have scaled back my times there. I still love walking and skiing there though — it is a beautiful space. In some ways the woods and fields are victims of their own success.

The Mile-Around Woods is not a dog park. I recommend that there be a ban on all dogs at The Mile-Around Woods.  

I had written to The Fund early in the pandemic when it was first becoming popular and made the suggestion of making the Woods a leash-only area but leaving the fields available for off-leash-controlled walks. People think there is so much open land the poop isn’t a big deal but with it congregated along the trails it is unhealthy and frankly disgusting. Dogs who go to dog parks have much higher parasite loads and I would worry bout that happening there as well. I have walked several generations of dogs along these trails since before The Fund took them over and when the trails were less extensive. It is a godsend with the pandemic as an outdoor place where I can meet friends, get some exercise and let the dog run. It would be sad to let the few lazy people destroy the opportunity for the majority of dog walkers. 

I know that having a place where they can run off-leash is wonderful, but it may not be possible as there are so many.  It is important for people to be able to walk there and be in nature without dogs running all over.  There are people who are terrified of dogs.

Require dogs to be leashed at all times and more signs about cleaning up after them.

I personally have been thinking of spring and bringing a large bag to pick up some waste as we walk, as a way to give back. Do you already have a spring clean-up day/weekend? 

I would suggest leashes, at least in The Mile-Around, but it may be better to have them everywhere.  Has the idea been floated of carving out one section as a dog park? This may not be possible, but your email made me see things from a dog owner’s perspective, and try to see if there was some way to compromise.

Oh my, this IS a problem.  I am not walking there with my dog because of it, and thus am not walking there. Loose dogs are a problem…it’s a public space so maybe require leashes at all times… and all places…

My vote is to require leashes at all times and all places in North Bennington.  Also to ban violators after any offense of not cleaning up after their dog.  

I hope an equitable resolution can be found so that dog walkers can continue to enjoy the natural spaces as we always have. 

Thank you for not just summarily lowering the boom in response to poor behavior by a minority of visitors.  Dog walking is a major reason we visit and therefore support your noble efforts. We understand the area is NOT a dog park, but walking (etc) in this wonderful area with a dog allows several attendant positive activities, including human exercise and appreciating and valuing the place we choose to live. We encounter the greatest number of people and dogs between the primary entrance and the stone gates / aerial map at the entrance to MAW proper. Might this be considered as a Leash Required zone rather than all of MAW? This would also mean that dogs would usually be on-leash while “doing their thing” near the entrance area and receptacle. We like to think this would be motivational with respect to owner clean up. It could also allow a calming down period for freshly arriving dogs. 

I would start with education and [requiring] leashes. However, once you set up real rules, you have to have enforceable consequences, since we can no longer rely on integrity and good citizenship. Can you really envision patrols?

I’ve always wished dogs in The Mile-Around were required to be leashed.

Require leashes at all times and all places.

Ban violators after ONE offense.  Leash rules are insufficient and unfair because some people can’t control their dogs even on a leash, and others (including some I have seen at The Mile-Around) have their dogs perfectly controlled by voice.  I would hope that no drastic measures will be taken as this is a true treasure of North Bennington and the surrounding area. The vast majority of the people and dogs that walk on a daily basis are kind, respectful and relish in the opportunity to let our dogs run. I would hate for folks, like me, to lose access to such a space. 

People often believe that rules apply to others, and that their dog would never hurt anyone or misbehave, and needs and deserves to run freely. [Requiring leashes at all times and places] is the only viable option. Also ban leaving bags of poop to be picked up later. 

If severe restrictions are placed on our ability to use the trails as we have (virtually without incident) for all of these years, my interest in the property will greatly diminish, my use of the trails will cease, and I certainly will not continue to support the trail system as I have in the past.  In my hundreds of outings on the trails, covering thousands of miles and thousands encounters with other people and their dogs, I have never encountered an aggressive dog.  I realize that the land was not conserved, nor the trails developed and maintained, to be a “dog park,” but it is worth recognizing the fact that a very substantial percentage of the users of the property treasure it because it is a place where they can go walk or run while their dogs do the same.  I believe that an attempt to quantify and classify users together with an online survey would be a fairer and more reasonable way to begin to address these perceived problems than by posting a list of progressively more severe sanctions directed at dog owners and their canine companions.

I like dogs but have been jumped a number of times by dogs, clearly not under control by their owners. I think a “all dogs leashed” on the trail would be a good rule. And a “pooper-scooper” rule, as well. Rely on community standards to enforce?

I have a dog and have been mostly avoiding using The Mile-Around and the fields because of all the dogs who are off leash.  An owner’s declaration of “it’s ok, he’s friendly” does nothing for the situation as I’m being yanked around in a circle by my 1-year-old, 85-lb lab who wants to play with the dog who is jumping on and all around us.  I have runner friends who have been jumped on and one friend was even knocked down by a “very friendly” dog.

I began walking my dog at The Mile Around last year in the spring.  As the year progressed it became more and more uncomfortable for me to walk my leashed dog. Every walk featured at least one and at times several instances of being approached by unleashed dogs.  Owners generally greeted me with “Don’t worry, he’s friendly” if they were close enough to be heard. My fear of unleashed dogs comes from my dog being attacked by “friendly” dogs, twice. Thankfully my dog was not harmed either time but now he’s afraid of approaching dogs.  It’s so much easier to maintain appropriate distances when passersby have their dogs leashed.

We try to be respectful of others on the trail while walking our dog, which includes cleaning up after her.  If someone approaches with a leashed dog, we do the same.  If their dog is unleashed we have a mutual conversation to find out if our dogs are friendly and just want to play together.  You might consider our self-imposed approach to this situation as a guideline in resolving the problem that some people are reporting. If it comes to the point that all dogs must be leashed at all times on the trail, we would suggest that perhaps the open fields be excluded from that requirement so that some dogs may get the exercise they need.

The establishment of a dog park might be the answer for visitors who were not leashing because they wanted their dogs to get some “real” exercise (and/or) contact with other dogs. On a simpler subject…Would it be possible to add another “poop” can and bags at the gate [at the westerly entrance on McCullough Road]. 

I would advocate that persons who feel they have an issue with a dog owner pursue action through existing legal means provided in the ordinance and the town animal control officer. It’s one thing to ban a person from a facility, quite another if the owner us under threat of impoundment, or worse, because of their dog’s behavior.  Post excerpts from the Town Ordinances dealing with waste, dog behaviors and legal recourses. The threat of The Fund reporting violators carries far more weight than a ban from the property. After all, they could lose their dog!  Provide a formal reporting process or a recorded hotline to The Fund so The Fund can report errant owners. Post hunting cameras randomly. They can be reviewed after a complaint. Then The Fund can report the owner to the Town with evidence. Actually, they don’t even need to work. Just the sight of a camera might dissuade some of the violators.  Remove the dog waste bin. I believe it has worsened the situation. It creates the impression that the trail is, indeed, a dog park. “If it’s not a dog park, then why do you have a dog waste container?” It’s not working anyway. People leave waste in bags along the trail, which is worse than letting nature take its course.

For those many years I have walked the trails in and around The Mile-Around Woods, I have almost always been accompanied by my dog of the time.  More often than not without a leash.  Those walks and the pleasure of their memory are a source of great joy to me.  And not just to me, frequently on those walks we have encountered other walkers. Almost always in those encounters people have demonstrated a neighborly courtesy in our meeting: pleased to be greeted by a happy dog with a short and friendly greeting.  My sense has always been that, like me, they have enjoyed that quintessentially “country” look of a man and his dog walking a country lane. I think it would be a mistake to kill that. I appreciate that this is a difficult problem for the Board but I urge the Board to stand back for a moment and take a long view.  Adding new restrictions and all the mechanisms required to implement and enforce them, the inevitable hard feelings and acrimony that will result, these are not where any of us want to go.  Surely, it is that quality of just getting along with each other without being ordered how to do it, that we most admire in our fellow Vermonters.

As someone who runs on the trails, I have found unleashed dogs to be extremely frustrating.  There have been a number of times I have had dogs charge at me, jump on me, etc., and indeed this has increased in recent years.  Most dog owners are responsible and keep their dogs on a leash, but there are a handful who are not, and are often times of the opinion that their dog’s behavior is okay.  I’ve even had folks yell at me that I should not be running there…  Personally, I would just like to see a leash requirement.  I do believe everyone should be able to take advantage of the space and it’s a great spot to walk your dog, but it also means everyone, be it runners or families with little kids (I fall into this category, too), should feel safe when using the space.

How does the Fund rank the beneficiaries of the property? For me wildlife and people are neck and neck, and dogs are last.

I want to agree with your notice and emphasize that you have pinpointed the heart of the issue in your sentence, “the problems seem to be intensifying as more and more people use these paths.”  In other words, the crux of the problem is the increase in human traffic, and corresponding human behavior. I am far more alarmed about human debris than dog waste which degrades quickly. Often I pick up (in the aforementioned bag) candy wrappers, cigarette butts, bottles, cans, etc. I have even come across human excrement, complete with accompanying underpants. One person regularly discards compost in the hedgerow to the west of the Ag gate.  I concur with the notion of requiring dogs to be leashed in the Mile-Around, but allowed off lead (and under voice command) in the fields and the Trillium Woods. This is mostly the custom already. It provides a place for people who are fearful of, or dislike, dogs to walk without having to encounter dogs off lead. It also allows people and dogs the opportunity and pleasure of walking together without a leash in an area where it is safe to do so.  As to the root of the problem–the increase in numbers of people using these trails–perhaps thought could be given to restricting human access. As to your last suggestion, banning all dogs entirely–that would be an overreaction, and would be a tragedy for my family, and for so many others who rely on this area for exercise, contact with nature, and joy. However, I highly recommend banning those who litter. There is no excuse for leaving human garbage in these woods and fields.I have always appreciated the use of the Mile-Around to take the dogs for a walk in the woods but have not been in years for exactly the reasons listed on your website. People have no control over their dogs and simply yell “he’s friendly!” as they casually walk 300 yards behind their dog that is running at me. I would love the opportunity to come back to the woods with my dogs but will never do so until I can be sure that I am not putting myself or my dogs in a potentially dangerous situation. I would be fully in support of leash requirements on the property and would also recommend that you contact law enforcement to reinforce the seriousness of the matter with people who may choose to disregard the law. I doubt I will be back to mile around any time soon due to the aforementioned concerns, but I wish you luck in this endeavor! 

I have been walking Park McCullough for 20 years. Often without a dog and sometimes with a dog. I ALWAYS love to see dogs and their humans enjoy the woods and meadows. The relaxed nature of the park lends itself to culture of Vermont and I wouldn’t want see that change as I think it would be a change for the worse. In my experience, the responsible dog owners far outweigh the irresponsible owners. I wouldn’t want to see dogs banned or limited in fun (for dogs or humans) if they all had to be on a leash.  I find that 98% of people who have dogs off leash on trails, dogs parks, and beaches do the right thing. I don’t think the irresponsible people should control the majority.

I would support any policy that limited/controlled dogs including a ban. A ban on dogs on all Fund property is the clearest policy.  That said, I have friends who like to walk their dogs in the Woods and it seems counter-productive to possibly alienate people who are or may become supporters of the Fund. Although most of my interactions with dogs and their owners have been okay, I support a leash policy because:

Dogs have jumped on me.

Dogs have jumped on me and torn my clothing.

I have been “blamed” for a dog’s snarling/growling/aggressive behavior, and told: “Oh, she/he doesn’t like people who wear sunglasses” (or, in one instance, big hats).

Dogs run through the woods chasing animals or each other.

As dogs have bounded toward me I’ve been told by the owner/s “she/he’s friendly” but I don’t know that, and the owner telling me that as the dog runs towards me is not particularly reassuring—especially when said dog proceeds to jump on me with its muddy paws. (“Oh, she/he never jumps on people.”)