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Trout Brook Dog Owners Say Trails Are Peaceful

Dog owners who use the trails at Trout Brook Valley Nature Preserve in Easton and Weston dispute claims by animal control officers that dogs running off leash are becoming a serious problem .

“There are a few dogs that come here that I would say need to be on leash,” Chuck Thomas of Stamford said at the Weston entrance of Trout Brook Valley on Bradley Road. Thomas said he has been hiking the trails with his two dogs for two years and “very rarely” has seen unruly dogs.

“There is one pair of dogs up here that will run around and chase squirrels, but I haven’t seen anything serious,” he said.

Dogs had been allowed to roam free with their owners at the preserve since 1999. But in October, the Aspetuck Land Trust announced that dogs must be leashed for the next year while a wildlife study is under way.

“It is important to understand that because of the size of the Trout Brook Valley conservation area, 1,009 acres, and the fact that it is part of a much larger open space area, including one of the last great open fields in the Northeast coast in the orchard which provides important hawk habitat, we have an obligation to try and do right by this land,” said David Brand, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust.

Hawks were not the only species spotted at Trout Brook Valley during the ongoing study, according to information provided by Brand. This fall, the Connecticut Audubon Society, which is conducting the survey, found more than 50 different bird species in the orchard area, including geese, bald eagles, waxwings and finches.

The study includes the preserves many vernal pools, which “form the basis of the forest’s food chain,” Brand said. Vernal pools are glacial bowls that fill with snow melt and rain.

The study's goal is to gain a better understanding of the types of animals that live in the area, where they live and how many there are, Brand said.

Thomas, who was hiking with his friend Col Stone, also of Stamford, said he has rarely seen dogs on leash since the new rules went into effect at the preseve. “We did an informal survey, and about 75 percent of the people who come out here are with their dogs,” Stone said.

“I haven’t noticed that many people with dogs on leash,” said Stone, who added that he has been hiking at Trout Brook Valley with his dog for the last nine months. During that time, he said, he hasn't seen any aggressive dogs on the trails. Both Stone and Thomas had thier dogs on leash on Monday.

Easton resident Beverlee Dacey said she finds Trout Brook Valley “a refuge from life's congestion and chaos.”

“I hike the trails side-stepping the horse manure, jumping over the fallen trees, giving lead to the bikers, and taking charge of my dog when another walker passes. From my experience, my fellow walkers have a similar experience. Predators are part of the ecosystem and keep everything in balance. What seems to me imbalanced right now are the few ruining it for the many.”

“Everyday life's rules, restrictions and guidelines are making us feel like caged animals. It's places like Trout Brook Valley that allow us to be free to just be. I know how invigorating and healthy this experience is for me; I can only imagine how much better it feels for my dogs,” Dacey said.

The Aspetuck Land Trust says it hopes to allow dogs off leash come November. But for now, it is asking residents to keep dogs on leash while the wildlife study is conducted.

“We don’t ban dogs on most of our nature preserves, which is common among land trusts, and in fact, we allow dogs off leash on the vast majority of our nature preserves,” said Brand.

“I can assure you that many of our board members have dogs and we want to find a way to continue to make the off-leash dog walking privilege available in Trout Brook Valley. We are not angling to permanently restrict dogs to leashes under the guise of the study."

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