Regardless of how officials handle a renewed effort to ban leashed dogs from a 17-acre parcel that the town acquired eight decades ago, far more than disallowing canines would be needed to restore the former bird sanctuary that adjoins Mead Park to its original, deeded purpose, according to the head of the New Canaan Police Department’s Animal Control unit.
The Town Council during a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday will host an informational discussion on the property commonly known as the ‘Bristow Bird Sanctuary’ (its name officially changed in 1986 to ‘The Helen and Alice Bristow Sanctuary and Wildlife Preserve’).
A push to ban even leashed dogs, which goes back to at least April 2014, re-emerged in May from the Park & Recreation Commission. Advocates for the change say dogs often run off-leash in Bristow, in violation of a local ordinance, and that the property’s binding deed should be interpreted as an outright ban on dogs. (The deed itself makes no mention of dogs specfically—more on that below.)
Even so, the more pressing problem with re-introducing ground-nesting birds into Bristow is that deer have “obliterated” all ground coverage, according to Officer Maryann Kleinschmitt.
“The idea that dogs walking through there are creating problem for the birds—that is not the case as it stands right now,” Kleinschmitt said when asked for her view of Bristow.
“If they are trying to get ground birds back on the ground, they will have to do a lot more than just prevent dogs from coming in there. I continually walk through it, and there are trees that have knocked down fencing and it’s only a five- or six-foot fence. Deer are hopping over it and consuming all of the vegetation. There are no more nesting birds in there. To bring them back, you need to start with some very expensive fencing, eight feet or higher, to keep out the deer because right now they’re in there. There are also coyotes, and the birds are in the trees now.”
An organization called the ‘New Canaan Bird Protective Society’ in 1934 sold the 16.83-acre park to the town for $1, according to land records filed in March of that year with the Town Clerk. The deed lists among its “express covenants and conditions” that “the land so deeded shall be forever maintained as a Bird Sanctuary and Wildwood Preserve, and used for no other purpose whatsoever.”
It’s been used as a public park ever since, though for a time there had been a ‘No Dogs Allowed’ sign at the Old Stamford Road entrance to Bristow (as well as a dog litter bag dispenser). Kleinschmitt said her unit’s officers ticket dog owners found to have released their animals from a leash, as they do at public properties such as Waveny and Irwin Parks.
Wednesday’s Town Council agenda item represents a discussion only, rather than a formal vote: “Bristow Sanctuary: Informational discussion regarding the Bristow Sanctuary history, deed and community usage.”
No future deeds regarding Bristow, whose address is 47 Old Stamford Road, altered the original language cited above about its being “forever maintained as a bird sanctuary.” A structure used to sit on the property, known as the ‘Sanctuary House,’ that was to be used by the Bird Protective Society for “meetings, library, museum etc.” A 1976 quit claim on the structure transferred it from the Bird Protective Society’s successor, the New Canaan Audubon Society (later subsumed by the New Canaan Land Trust) to the town.