Is Bristow a town park? Or is it a bird sanctuary?
And if Bristow is a bird sanctuary, should dogs be allowed there?
Those nagging questions came up again during last Wednesday’s meeting of the Park & Recreation Commission, when commission member Francesca Segalas provided an update on the condition of the preserve, which is adjacent to Mead Park.
Segalas’ update wasn’t really supposed to focus on the issue of dogs in the park – but the commission acknowledged that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed again at some point in the future. A recommendation to ban dogs from Bristow originated in the spring of 2014 with the Park & Recreation Commission and re-emerged in May of 2015. In September 2015, an attorney for the town rendered an opinion that there was no legal problem with allowing dogs in Bristow.
“I just want to get Bristow on our radar,” Segalas said, adding that Bristow is an “eclectic 17-acre bird sanctuary – it was the second one ever in Connecticut – and one of the first nationally.”
But this “gem” of a park, she said, “has gone into disrepair.” Mainly, there is a chain link fence in the park – installed there in 1924 when the land was first acquired – which is badly in need of replacement. In addition, the parcel is badly overgrown.
Segalas said she wants to get the park back on the commission’s radar so that when budget time comes around, there is a request for funding the fence replacement.
Present at the meeting was resident George McEvoy, who lives near the park and who will be heading up “a committee of people who want to bring the park back into our consciousness and back to life,” Segalas said.
“We will address what we need to do in order to make that happen…,” she said.
Segalas added that the foot bridge in the park that had been in disrepair “has been replaced and it looks beautiful… and that was done by an Eagle Scout… “ She says that same Eagle Scout might possibly be available to do more work in the park.
“The last time we visited Bristow … it was suggested that we ban dogs,” said commission chairwoman Sally Campbell. “So, we brought it to the Town Council for a decision … and it was several meetings to decide whether it was a bird sanctuary or if it was a town park… but [ultimately] they didn’t vote.”
Some commission members recalled that there was previously a sign in the park, put there by Animal Control, that said no dogs were allowed off leash – but Steve Benko, recreation director, says that sign has since been taken down.
Segalas, however, says the goal for now is just to replace the fence and get the park looking nicer.
When asked by Campbell whether the fence was needed, Segalas said because the railroad tracks are nearby, it is needed for safety reasons. “And on the other side you have a day care center and you have the creek that the bridge goes over,” she said.
“It is a beautiful park,” Campbell said.
“It’s not a park, it’s a bird sanctuary,” Segalas replied. “In the deed, it is called a sanctuary.”
McEvoy, who was present during the meeting, said he has lived in town for 47 years and has many fond memories of the park. He said he used to bring his son there when he was six years old “because he had an interest in frogs.” Now, he brings his six-year-old grandson there.
“A group called the New Canaan Bird Protective Society was started in 1917 – and in 1924 they bought the property that is now the Bristow Bird Sanctuary,” McEvoy said, relating the park’s history. “It was four plots and it was owned by three people – and a summer resident, who lived in New York, put up a total of $10,000 for the 17 acres.
“Soon after they purchased it, they figured out that if they wanted to protect the birds, they needed to build a fence to keep out feral cats and dogs,” he related.
“So, in the deeds, which the Town Council did not look at [in 2015], the last time this was discussed, very specifically say it is a bird sanctuary,” he added. “And I spoke with the [woman] at the State Attorney General’s office, who is a deed expert, and she said, ‘The deed is the deed, forever, and when the town took the property on, it took it on as bird sanctuary and it cannot be anything else. It can’t be tennis courts – it cannot be an active recreation area.’”
The town’s website describes the park as “a quiet secluded spot to walk on wooded trails and enjoy nature.”
“The fact that dogs are allowed in other parks in New Canaan does not make them automatically allowed in the Bristow Bird Sanctuary,” McEvoy said. “And to the best of my investigation, dogs have never been allowed in Bristow. Beside the fact that they built the fence to keep dogs and cats out, nearly 100 years ago, there were signs up for many, many years – going back 40 years ago – that said no dogs allowed.”
Campbell said at this point the commission will rely on the town’s attorney to guide it with regard to any decision on the park’s status and whether dogs should be allowed. She said the matter would need to go before the town council for a vote, since redefining the park’s designation is also a town matter.
McEvoy, however, said based on discussions with the town’s attorney and members of the town council, “they are of the opinion that because the Park & Rec Commission voted two times before to ban dogs in the park” it thus has the power do so again.
“We’re happy to revisit this,” Campbell said.
After e-mailing the deeds to a charitable trust expert in the State Attorney’s office and asking for an opinion if Bristow is a park or a bird sanctuary, an answer came back within the hour that Bristow is, in deed, a bird sanctuary. The Bristow deed supersedes any town ordinance and it should never be called a park nor viewed as passive recreation.
A fence was erected in Bristow to keep dogs out. Mr. McEvoy researched all bird sanctuaries in Connecticut and none permit dogs. This information was communicated during a Town Council meeting last summer and also sent to members of Town Council.
Yes, two unanimous votes to ban dogs in Bristow should count.
Thanks for the update.
Well for the last 73 years it’s been a bird sanctuary why should it change .and where did it get the name Bristow if you want to name it the man who took care of the little building and the property was Mr john ventures he was kind of a park ranger .i know because he would shag us kids out if he did like what we were doing .no damage just fooling around and back then no dogs were aloud . Come don’t dogs have enough places to walk .
It’s time to get on the bandwagon and have New Canaanite admit in print that Bristow Bird SANCTUARY and Wild Wood Preserve is, in fact, a SANCTUARY, and only a SANCTUARY … and not a park or anything else. It is also the second oldest BIRD SANCTUARY in Connecticut, as well as one of the oldest in the United States.
The original deed refers to it as a SANCTUARY. The state attorney general’s office has declared, after reviewing the deed, that it is only a SANCTUARY . First Selectman Rob Mallozzi has stated that it is a SANCTUARY (and has said, like the CT AG agreed, that local laws and ordinances do not out trump state one). Bill Walbert, Chairman of the Town Council has declared it a SANCTUARY. Francesca Segalas who is the key person on the Parks & Recreation Commission responsible for Mead Park and Bristow has declared that it is a SANCTUARY. And Sally Campbell, who is chairperson of P&R also seems to agree that Bristow is a SANCTUARY.
Since it is a SANCTUARY, and not a park, dogs on leash laws do not apply here and currently there is no Town law or ordinance that allows them to be in the SANCTUARY …leashed or unleashed.
The founders of the SANCTUARY put up a fence to keep feral cats and dogs out. A sign has also been up for many, many years (until its disappearance last year) that NO DOGS ALLOWED. There is no Town ordinance that allows dogs in Bristow.
The 17 acres of Bristow right in the middle of New Canaan is in need of serious restoration … some of us have met to start to think about how this might be accomplished.
I agree there is some disrepair in Bristowe but it is not the fault of dogs. The Oxford dictionary definition of Sanctuary is a “safe quiet place of refuge”. Dogs walking quietly on leash are not noisy like people on cell phones. If we have to ban dogs from Bristowe, then we should ban people too. Birds and wildlife are disturbed just as much by people walking and talking as by a dog walking quietly on leash.
In the earlier meeting(2014) regarding Bristowe, there was mention of vandalism in the Sanctuary. This is not caused by dogs but rather by kids with nothing better to do after school.
My husband, aged 77, has walked through Bristowe once a week with a leashed dog for the past 18 years to visit friends. If dogs are banned, he would also be banned. Responsible pet owners do not cause any detriment to the wildlife, birds or pathways of Bristowe.
For those who say there are many other places to walk dogs in New Canaan, I would agree, but the same applies to the dog-hating people who argue against allowing dogs there.
Bristow Bird SANCTUARY is not a park … it is a bird SANCTUARY.
Issues are less with dogs themselves than with dog owners … many of whom let their dogs run in Bristow unleashed and also leave piles of dog crap for people to step on and spread around. I have been using Bristow for some 40+ years (i am also 77, thank you) and didn’t like the idea of my son, and now my grandson being “mugged” by a loose dog. It takes the edge off of a nice walk in the woods.
The CT Audubon Society in Greenwich has told me that even dog urine can scare nesting birds away. There are plenty of places to walk in New Canaan already, and plenty of ways to get around if you have to bypass Bristow. Bristow is not one of them if you have a dog.. By the way, it is Bristow, not Bristowe
I spent countless hours researching articles and deeds for Bristow Bird Sanctuary and all of the deeds associated with the Town’s parks.
The deed allows for the public to enjoy this bird sanctuary as a bird sanctuary only….not as passive recreation. It is NOT an extension of Mead Park. A “NO DOGS ALLOWED” sign was posted and respected.
There was a warden who maintained the sanctuary for many years. He maintained the trails and locked both gates. The sanctuary was only open to the public from 9 a.m. to about
I sent all of the deeds to an expert in charitable gifts at the Connecticut Attorney General’s office. She reviewed all of the deeds associated with Bristow and opined that it is a bird sanctuary only — not a “park”. Further, the mention of “dogs” would not be in deeds written during that era. People knew that a bird sanctuary was a bird sanctuary. Guided tours were given and there was a fee, I think. The bird sanctuary was strictly for bird lovers.
The New Canaan Bird Protective Society, whose members gifted the property to the Town, stipulated that it was to forever remain as a bird sanctuary only and used for NO OTHER PURPOSE whatsoever. When the Town of New Canaan accepted that gift, it also accepted the responsibility to maintain it as a bird sanctuary. It did for a while (The New Canaan Garden Club and Boy Scouts helped) but now it is in disrepair. Over the past 10 years how much money was spent in Waveny Park and Mead Park versus Bristow???? Bristow is low priority.
The sanctuary fell into disrepair for years. However, Town should honor its end of the deed and restore and maintain it.
Even Mapquest recognizes the site as Bristow Bird Sanctuary:
Bristow Bird Sanctuary
Old Stamford Rd & Oak Grove Pl,
New Canaan, CT 06840