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Minutes of Park and Recreation Commission, 05/03/2021

AGENDA: Park and Recreation Commission

RECEIVED 05/17/2021 11:15am
Kathleen R. Miserendino - Redding Deputy Town Clerk

Park and Recreation Commission
May 3, 2021 via Zoom
Meeting Minutes

Present: Kevin Jones (Chair), Pete Graziano, Mitch Edwards (7:50), Lorcan O’Connor, Scott Palmer

CALL TO ORDER
Mr. Jones called the meeting to order at 7:33 pm.

REVIEW OF DIRECTOR’S REPORT
Mr. Blick reviewed his report:

  • Our new staff person, Michelle Waring started with us last Thursday April 22.
  • Enrollment in Day Camp is going well with numbers in the mid 20’s after just a few weeks.
  • We are readying for a May 29 (weekends only) opening of Topstone Park. We open daily starting June 14.
  • Things will operate in a normal fashion this summer with masking rules yet to be determined.
  • The RCC fields stayed very wet this spring. We were able to open RES and JRMS a few weeks ago but not the RCC fields. Just as the fields were a day or so away from being ready, we got a significant amount of rain. The ball fields were finally open Monday and should remain open on a daily basis.
  • The Tennis courts have some significant cracks that need repair. We have not budgeted for the amount of cracks so I will be proposing that we allocate some of our fund that were not spent due to the pandemic from our Rec Programs account to pay for crack repair. Commission approval is needed for this request.
  • The Park and Recreation Pavilion will be voted on in the referendum on Tuesday.
  • Donations for the Concerts on the Green are coming in. We have a few new first time sponsors. With the shortened 8 week series, we should have enough money to run the series this year and create a larger fund balance.
  • We have a lineup of spring programs that start next week with a few programs moving inside. Once the gym is no longer needed for vaccinations, we can expand our offerings and hopefully resume our open gyms. The last Vaccination Clinic is Friday, May 21.

APPROVAL OF MINUTES FROM April 5, 2021
Motion to approve the minutes: O’Connor, Graziano (second), unanimous.

LETTERS OR CORRESPONDENCE
There were numerous emails received regarding the dog leash rules at Topstone.  The letters received are posted below, after the minutes.

PUBLIC COMMENT
Several members of the public came to be heard regarding the leash rules at Topstone Park.  Mrs. Pemberton gave a brief history of where the current leash rules came from, and how the town arrived at approving the new leash rules for the rest of town.  Mr. Jones acknowledged both sides of the argument, stated that each member of the Commission had received the correspondence and read it before the meeting.  He also stated that there was a conversation about it in the last months meeting.  Mr. Jones asked for one volunteer from each side of the argument to make their comments in two minutes or less, allowing the Commission members to have an open discussion after.  One member of the public spoke for each side.

DISCUSSION OF PREVIOUS BUSINESS

The discussion of the dog leash ordinance took place after member of the public stated arguments for and against changing the current [policy at Topstone.  Mr. Palmer stated that Topstone is now the only open space in town where dogs can be unleashed (on the trails only, dogs must be leashed in the parking lot and any areas leading into the trails).  He suggested that if we do not change the policy, we should revisit it after we can determine if the volume of dogs off-leash at the park increases.  Mr. Graziano asked how many incidents occur per season? He recommended that we keep track of any health and safety issues that arise from dogs off-leash.  Mr. Blick commented that the current rule (implemented 8 yrs. ago) cut down on incidents significantly, but that 5-10 per year still occur.  He stated he is also in favor of no change, but supports revisiting the issue if data shows a need.  Mr. O’Connor also agreed, if there is an uptick in incidents, we should look at it at that time.  Mr. Jones also concurred.

Mr. Palmer asked Mrs. Pemberton how this process began.  Mrs. Pemberton explained it began with Land Trust using an environmental argument, over a period of about 6 months.  It was not brought on by a single event or injury.  The Pandemic brought temporary leash laws to all of Redding due to a sharp increase in trail use.  Mr. Palmer asked if there was any discussion on how it would affect Topstone Park if it became the only place in town dogs were allowed off leash.  Mrs. Pemberton replied that neither Land Trust nor Conservation had that discussion.

ADDITIONAL NEW BUSINESS OR INITIATIVES
Mr. Blick explained the wages for summer help had gone up in accordance with the minimum wage increases.  $13 for student workers, $13.50 for college students; $14/$14.50 for Lifeguards.

The crack repair on the Tennis Courts, usually done every 5 years, has caught up to us.  In an attempt to repair the cracks the correct way, Mr. Blick needs permission from the Commission to ask the town for some unspent funds to complete the repair and avoid a future closure of the courts due to safety issues.

Motion to allow Park and Recreation to use for the purpose of tennis court crack repair $16,000.00 from expense account 180027-5220 to be transferred to expense account 180029-5220. Motion Graziano, Palmer second, unanimous.

SUPPLEMENTAL PUBLIC COMMENT
None.

ADJOURNMENT
Motion Jones, Graziano (second), unanimous. Adjourned at 8:37 pm

Submitted: Kevin Jones

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Letters regarding Dog Leash regulations at Topstone Park.  Note: currently dogs are allowed off leash on Topstone trails.

Rob,

I am writing this email as I am concerned about the possibility of dogs no longer being allowed to take hikes off leash at Topstone Park. I have been taking my dog, Wrigley, to Topstone to go hiking and swimming for almost 3 years now (his whole life) and it is one of his favorite places to visit to be able to run freely and decompress. I consider myself a very responsible dog owner and I always have a leash on hand ready to leash my dog up if necessary, I always pick up and dispose of his waste properly, make sure he is respectful of other visitors AND wildlife, and keep him close by when hiking. I can say from personal experience that every dog owner I’ve encountered at Topstone seems to do the same. As a dog owner and a dog trainer, I can speak to how truly valuable it is for dogs to be able to have a place to hike off leash – it is a completely different experience than a nearby fenced in “dog park”.

I grew up in Redding and the parks/trails this town has to offer is what I feel makes the town so great. I came to Topstone as a kid to swim and hike and being able to enjoy the park with my dog now holds lots of meaning to me. It would really be a shame if there was nowhere in town our well-trained dogs could enjoy the best thing about our town in the best way they know how.

I appreciate your time and your consideration! I have attached a few pictures of Wrigley enjoying himself off-leash at Topstone.

Meg Ronk

 

Mr. Blick,

It came to my attention that there is discussion on whether dogs should be required to be on-leash at Topstone Park. I am a Redding resident and a very frequent user of Topstone Park, both the beach with my kids and the trails with my family and dog. I consider it very reasonable for dogs to be required to be on-leash on the road and main trail around the lake where the vast majority of park users are. My sincere ask is to not change the rule that dogs can be off-leash on the smaller, much less frequented trails in the park. Topstone is the only park in the area which affords this and is important to dog owners and families in Redding. The side trails get very little traffic and it is rare to come across other walkers and hikers.

Thank you for your consideration.
Peter

 

Hi Rob,

I have been enjoying Topstone Park for many years as a Redding Resident. I love walking my dog there, he is very well trained and is great off leash. In our numerous walks at Topstone Park we have never encountered any issues with other dog walkers with off leash dogs. We have always had clear communication with other dog owners at Topstone when we encounter other dogs on the trail. We have never encountered any irresponsible dog owners. If the owner tells us their dog is not friendly we immediately leash our dog. This has rarely happened at Topstone. Moreover, our dog loves swimming at the swim hole where we take off his collar. When he is done we usually don’t put his collar on until mid way through the loop so that he can dry off. He is again very well trained and listens clearly to voice commands off leash and with no collar. We have spent a lot of time (years) and energy making sure our dog is well trained and can be a good off least dog. We really love that Topstone is a leash free park and we would love it to continue to be leash free.

Sincerely,   Michelle

 

Dear  Commissioners and Rob,

I adopted Bowie (15 lbs) in Feb. 2020 from Animal Welfare Society in New Milford, and Greta (12 lbs) in Nov. 2020 from PETA.

As a new dog owner, I am in favor of dogs being leashed in all or most situations when not on the owner’s property, or with permission on someone else’s property. I will cite a few examples of how leashes protect the public.

  1. A cute yellow lab puppy comes bounding up to our then toddler, Alex. The dog was playful and friendly, but knocked our child down! We were not expecting this, so did not stop it. Our child was ok, but obviously scared.
  2. My adult cousin has  lifetime fear of big dogs, and gets a tiny Maltese, Snoopy.  While walking Snoopy on a leash in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, an unleashed big dog approaches, barks and growls.  The tiny dog and my cousin are scared.  My cousin doesn’t take Snoopy out on walks anymore.
  3. I walk my little dogs on the 1 mile loop of High Ridge Road. When alone, they are happy and playful. When we encounter people, dogs, and sometimes trucks, they bark like crazy. I am very happy they are on leash, and most other dogs are on leash, since animals are unpredictable.  Bowie gets along with some dogs, but never stop barking at others.  Greta, especially seems fearful of other dogs. She was rescued from Virginia, where her prior owner kept her crated all the time as a puppy. She was about 1 when we got her. She never learned to get along with other dogs and play.  Every week, I encounter owners with their dogs off leash, which makes Greta anxious, bark nonstop, and me anxious about her discomfort. I pick her up and she is trembling with fear.

People with dogs off leash always say “he’s friendly.” Many people and dogs DO NOT want to be approached by off leash dogs AT ALL, even friendly ones. Iit could be fear, dog allergies, severe allergy to poison ivy, trouble with balance. They should not be subjected to dogs approaching on town owned property. There are liabilty issues for Redding.

Several dog owners say dogs need to run free. They do not need to run free on town property!

I am not sure how many town owned properties the leash rules are being discussed for, and what the leash rules are at Putnam and Huntington Park.  If Putnam or Huntington allow off leash dogs, my vote is to not increase off leash rules at town parks. If state parks do not permit dogs off leash, then we could allow some park, partial hours for off leash dogs.

Example:
Open space 1  off leash dogs permitted Mondays and Wednesdays from 5pm till dusk
Open space 2 off leash dogs permitted Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-noon
Open space 3 off leash dogs permitted Tuesdays and Fridays from noon-5pm
Open space 4  dogs permitted on leash. no off leash permitted
Open space 5 no dogs any time

If any areas in question have fenced off areas, hours could be extended to an off leash area, and on leash only. I would not budget for new fencing for this purpose.  I vote for no off leash dogs in the area of Topstone where the beach is, during hours it is open, especially during swim lessons and when day campers come.

Thanks for your consideration,
Laurie Mayper

 

——from facebook post——DOG WALKERS AT TOPSTONE!

The Commissioners that oversee Topstone are meeting at 7:30 pm on May 3 to consider making changes to the leash requirements at Topstone. Since the town recently adopted an Ordinance requiring all dogs to be on leash while on town open spaces, Topstone is currently the only park in Redding where dogs are allowed to be off leash on the trails. If you want the Commissioners to consider your thoughts about changing the leash laws, then please, either attend the meeting or send a message to Rob Blick at mailto:rblick@townofredding.org. It is important that they hear your voice. We love our town, its open spaces, and its history of allowing responsible dog owners to decide how to spend time in its woods.

Based upon the post below, I have to agree to keep Topstone lease free since it is the only trail system currently in town that allows dogs to be free.

Thank you,   Richard Jarvis

Sarah Tuttle Upson

Redding 411

8m

calling all DOG WALKERS (AT TOPSTONE!)

The Commissioners that oversee Topstone are meeting at 7:30 pm on May 3 (by Zoom) to consider making changes to the leash requirements at Topstone. Since the town recently adopted an Ordinance requiring all dogs to be on a leash while on town open spaces, Topstone is currently the only park in Redding where dogs are allowed to be off-leash on the trails. If you want the Commissioners to consider your thoughts about changing the leash laws, then please, either attend the ZOOM meeting or send a message to Rob Blick at mailto: rblick@townofreddingct.org. It is important that they hear your voice. We love our town, its open spaces, and its history of allowing responsible dog owners to decide how to spend time in its woods.

Written and borrowed from my friend!

Hi Rob

I have lived in Redding for over 20 years and have walked the trails at Topstone most days for as many years and more. Topstone is the perfect place to walk dogs off leash because it is far from the roads and I feel very safe as a  women who walks alone. I think it got very busy with Covid and also with out of towners but I’ve been there lately and it has been very quiet . I have never had a problem in all the years that I’ve walked there with my dogs. I think it would be a great disservice to us to take away our park and the freedom it gives us to walk freely in the woods. Please send this to the commission please.

Thank you
Beverly Wirth

 

Rob,

We have lived in Redding for 18 years and have enjoyed all of its beauty!  One of the beauties of living in this town is hiking with our dogs.  The dogs need a place to run without having to be leashed all the time.  I know you are having a meeting in the coming weeks to vote on topstones leash ordinance.  I ask that you consider my opinion that the dogs should be allowed to be off leash.  That being said it is extremely important that dog owners take responsibility for their pets.  If they are unfriendly or do not play well with others, the owner should take care and respect the others.

Thanks,   Lisa LeBlanc

 

Dear Rob,

I am a long time Redding resident and a dedicated dog owner. I am writing to you to raise my concerns over the contemplated expansion of dog leashing rules in Topstone Park.

Off leash dog walking is one of the greatest pleasures of dog ownership and it is also very beneficial for a dog’s psychological and physical well being.

It is my understanding that the main reason for expanding leashing restrictions is the worry around unsupervised dogs entering the beach area. Maybe a compromise can be found via increasing the number of feet from 50 to 150 for the required dog leashing around the beach? I urge you to consider such action versus prohibiting off leash dog walking in its entirety.

Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this matter.
Anna Kovtunenko

 

I’m writing to ask you to please allow dogs to be off leash in Topstone Park. This is extremely important as all other trails in Redding dogs need to be leashed.

Thank you!
Jennifer Scott

 

Hi Rob,

Rumor on Facebook is we should email you our thoughts on an upcoming discussion as to whether the new town leash law should apply to top stone park.  Apologies if that is just a rumor.

I am for enforcing the leash law at top stone.  I am a little confused how the town leash law wouldn’t apply to the town park, but since it is up for discussion I wanted to share my thoughts.

*I’ve been approached by unleashed dogs too many times.  Never bitten but sniffed and jumped on.  Owner of dog?  Maybe they show up 5 mins later. Maybe.  I am 6’8” so can handle being jumped on by a 75 pound dog, but there are people in town that can not.  It is wrong to allow this to happen, and we as a town are lucky the wrong person hasn’t been knocked down.

*my dog is a 13 pound dachshund who gets scared by bigger dogs, even goofy friendly ones.  If she reacts aggressively to an unleashed dog that approaches her and out weighs her by 70+ pounds, guess who wins that fight?  Because of unleashed dogs that approach everyone and everything due to not just being off the leash but out of any control what so ever, I can’t even consider taking my dog to the park. (even if the owner is near, almost no one has a dog trained well enough to just stop in their tracks and heel on command including myself.  My dog is always leashed when not at home)

Thanks,  Chris Racette

 

Hello Rob

Please let’s at least keep Topstone available for unleashed dogs. It is the only place in Redding where we can let them off leash.

To be clear, we need places to hike with our unleashed dogs, not just a “dog park”.

With Redding’s abundance of open space I think we can do this.

We have not been vocal about it up to this point because there are many people who think that letting a dog off leash is careless and well, they are very vocal.  I believe they just don’t understand. I will leave this essay by Mary Oliver here, it explains what the actual majority of dog owners know.

Thank you for your consideration,
Rose Witte

 

Hi Rob,

I hope you are well.  We have become aware of the possibility of having the leash laws at Topstone changed in favor of having dogs on leash in all areas of the park.  We would like to go on record that we are against doing so and would be in favor of keeping it off-leash on trails as it has been.  There are fewer and fewer areas in Redding that are allowing dogs off leash and it would be a shame if we lost Topstone as well.

Thanks for your consideration,
Wendy and Dan Sullivan

 

Dear Town of Redding and Parks and Recreation,

We moved to Redding 24 years ago and were so excited to have a new peaceful open space to bring up our fast growing family in. We moved here with two dogs, both Labradors! We are an outdoor type of family, with four dogs and four grown children. We love to garden, hike, fish and have truly explored the town of Redding and all it has to offer. Redding is fast changing with people moving in. The trails are busy and the parks are full of new explorers. I hike and walk 365 days a year and love every minute of it. Walking in the woods is very important to me; I take my dogs with me every day and we hike the forest trails. We need a few trails that are off leash, maybe even just a few hours a day could be marked as off leash so others are aware. Please keep Topstone trails (Park of Redding ) off leash! I understand that not all dogs can be off leash, it is up to the owner to leash or not leash depending on what’s appropriate for their dog. In my opinion, it is necessary that dogs have running space. I have owned, as an adult, 6 dogs and ran a dog walking service. I understand animals and have interacted with many over the years to know each is different. Pet owners must take reasonability to know whats best for their dog. Redding is growing and we must keep everyone happy as can be, leashed or unleashed. We need unleashed trails so that everyone can feel happy and safe.  Redding owns over 2,000 acres of open space. Here is info copied from the land trust; “Explore the best rated trails in Redding, CT. Whether you’re looking for an easy walking trail or a bike trail like the Walkway Over The Hudson and Norwalk River Valley Trail. With more than 80 trails covering 589 miles you’re bound to find a perfect trail for you.”. With 589 miles of trails, we must have a few trails designated for unleashed dogs.

Thank you for taking the time,
Sarah Upson

 

To the Commissioners overseeing Topstone Park,

Topstone Park is the jewel of Redding.  I have been walking its trails for close to 20 years and have likely logged well over 20,000 miles there. During most of this time, Topstone was designated off leash for dogs. Recent restrictions limited the off leash areas to the trails themselves, and not the more heavily used road and beach. I am writing this email to implore the Commissioners  to not change these reasonable rules.  While it is easy to just say “No” when from time to time issues arise or because the Town recently changed its open space policy, it is not in the best interest of Redding and its citizens, many of whom moved here because of the Town’s open spaces, to destroy the last place in Redding where people can enjoy the woods with their dogs, on or off leash as they choose.

I know Topstone from my years of walking there, and it is neither over crowded nor inundated with dogs.  The vast majority of people using the Topstone trails (not including the activities associated with the summer camp and beach programs), are people walking dogs responsibly. And for those who use it, they use it a lot, some like me, everyday.  It is a huge part of what makes Redding special for many people. It is rare in my experience that you encounter more than 3 or 4 other groups. I walk at all hours and it most typical that I see no one. And while I am sure there have been instances of uncomfortable interactions with dogs, it is not a problem that needs to be solved by closing off the trails.

I know you will you have some people tell you “I got scared by a dog” or “A dog ran up on the beach while kids were playing” or “I think all dogs should be on leash for the safety of the dog” or “Dogs should leashed to prevent damage to the eco system.” There are lots of people who will judge everything but the fact is that Topstone’s existing leash requirements make sense, have worked well, and should not be changed.  And to those people who want to judge, how much do you know about Topstone and how much do you use it? What makes you think the Topstone eco system needs to saved from dogs? Why do you think the way you parent your dog needs to be the same for me? Do you know that 99% of Redding’s trails are now not leash optional?  How about we leave one spot in Redding for people to choose how to walk in the woods with their dogs? Just anecdotally, but I can count on one hand the number of “dog incidents” I have seen in my years of walking at Topstone, and of those, none was major, with the most significant one being between two dogs that were on leash.

Changing the leash laws at Topstone is looking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Please, leave the leash requirements as they are.

Elizabeth Sager

 

Hi all. Leash rule at Topstone Park is established by a separate town ordinance and cannot be changed unless the ordinance is changed and that requires a townwide vote. During the discussions at the meetings of the BOS leading up to the passage of the amendments to current open space ordinance, the intent was expressed verbally to leave Topstone as is. This was also stated at the town meeting. Nothing in the Open Space ordinance amendment repeals or replaces the language in the Topstone ordinance which predates the amended open space ordinance.  I will be at the meeting to hear the discussion.  Also, I catch comments and tags on Facebook by chance so if you would like to be sure I see/hear your thoughts and opinions please text/call at 203-521-4940. Or email me at jpemberton@townofreddingct.org

 

Rob,

Please allow dogs to remain off-leash at Topstone Park.

The town of Redding is the epitome of a country community with a respect for nature and freedom.  Restricting dogs at Topstone park runs so contrary to the nature of our community, which is what I love most about Redding.

I have brought my dogs to Topstone in the early mornings to run free for more than 20 years and ask that you please vote against placing needless restrictions on the park and our community.

Thank you for your consideration & best regards,
Sean Owens

 

Dear Rob,

Topstone Park remains the only open space in Redding where dogs are allowed to be off leash.

John is a responsible dog owner and has trained “Ted” to be well behaved with other dogs and humans.

I am a strong supporter of having Topstone remain as an “off leash” area for our dogs.

Respectfully,
Karen Dolan

 

Dear Mr. Blick, First Selectman Pemberton, and the Redding Community,

I moved to Redding for the leash laws. I realize the previous statement sounds ridiculous, extreme, and possibly exaggerated, but it is an accurate statement. I chose Redding because of the freedoms permitted here. And that choice wasn’t just because I am a dog owner. Towns with off-leash spaces, especially trails and large areas, respect their residents. They understand that off leash dogs are not an inherent threat to people, property, pets, or wildlife. Indeed, there have been studies that show this. A study focused NON dog owners concluded:

“that the well-being and interests of dogs should not summarily and dismissively be compromised when dogs and people attempt to share limited space that can be used by all parties for recreational purposes. Indeed, a higher percentage of people reported that the quality of dogs’ experience of the outdoors would be compromised more than their own enjoyment if dogs could not walk off-leash in areas where this is currently permitted (Beckoff and Meaney).”

Additionally, it has been determined that off leash dogs rarely venture far from the trail, and that it is people who were most disruptive to wildlife (Beckoff and Meaney 1997; Lenth et al ). Towns with public off leash areas understand that residents make decisions regarding their pets that are in the best interest of themselves, others, and their pets, and that allowing dogs to be off leash doesn’t infringe on the rights of those who don’t want dogs off leash. These towns know that exercising dogs off leash is healthier for the dogs and their owners (Sedeva et al 2017).

While many of the arguments for requiring leashes claim that off leash dogs are dangerous, the opposite has been shown to be true (Beckoff and Meaney 1997; Rezac, et al 2011; Sedeva et al 2017). I recognize some people may be concerned about, or even fear, dogs off leash, but there isn’t evidence that off leash dogs in public are more likely to cause harm to people (Rahim, et al; additional sources upon request). Off leash trails allow dogs to get the exercise they can’t get at home, even in a town with 2 acre zoning. It allows the dog owners to enjoy the trails themselves, and get high quality exercise, something that isn’t happening when dogs are leashed or even in a dog park (Rahim, et al; Lee, et al).

We are reaching a time in Redding when we will lack any public off leash area. We all know that restrictions once put in place are rarely removed. A suggestion that any dog owner should have to go to another town, or buy a bigger property, is an invalid argument that redirects the discussion, demeans the needs of dog owners and would be dog owners, and is akin to saying, we don’t need a public playground/lake/tennis court/ball field, because your yard is large enough. Today’s discussion is not about public versus private space, it is only about public space.

Redding now only has 1 public space left that allows dogs off leash. Topstone Park is designated as a recreational park, not conservation space. Even so, off leash dogs are no more damaging to habitat than the people, with or without dogs, are themselves. Dog parks, which some have suggested as an alternative, do not currently exist in Redding, will take years to plan, will face equal push back from some residents, and do not result in exercise for dogs and their owners. Please allow Topstone Park to remain an off leash area.

Thank you,
Tara Karlson