Dog owners will be required to have their pets on a leash in Portland’s Baxter Woods during certain months of the year and at certain times of the day.

Members of the Portland City Council voted 8-1 late Monday night to adopt changes to an off-leash dog policy that will require dog owners to keep their dogs on an 8-foot leash at all times between April 1 and July 31 to protect migratory bird nesting sites in Baxter Woods.

From Aug. 1 through March 31, the new city policy will allow dog owners to let their pets run unleashed in Baxter Woods between 5-9 a.m. and from 3-10 p.m. But dogs would have to be on an 8-foot leash from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during those months, a restriction the city felt was needed to protect school children, day care populations and other visitors who are uncomfortable around unleashed dogs. Under the plan, the city also agreed to set aside 5.5 acres of Baxter Woods as protected bird habitat to support migratory bird reproduction.

Several councilors called the new leash policy a reasonable compromise that addressed safety concerns of those who want to use the park without having to worry about dogs jumping on them or attacking their dogs. They pointed out that dog owners, who have brought their dogs to Baxter Woods for years, can still let their dogs run freely through the heavily wooded park.

Friends of Mayor Baxter Woods argued that dogs should be allowed to run without a leash 12 months a year, but several councilors said that idea did not make sense to them.

“I think having dogs on a leash is the right call. In fact, we may have gone too far,” Councilor Belinda Ray said, referring to the provision that allows dogs to run unleashed during restricted periods.

“I agree with my colleagues that this proposal goes too far,” Councilor Jill Duson said.

Ray and Duson were among eight councilors who voted in support of the new leash laws for Baxter Woods. Only Councilor Nick Mavodones supported the Friend’s request.

City officials said the public discussion on the issue of whether dogs should be leashed in the popular 32.5-acre park, which is located in Deering Center between Forest and Stevens avenues, began in 2014, but it wasn’t until last year that dog owners, city officials and park users began to hold meetings in an effort to forge a compromise.

Members of the Portland City Council’s  Standing Committee on Sustainability and Transportation met in February and voted to accept a  proposal from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Facilities that places restrictions on the times that dogs can run free in the nature preserve. The proposal was brought before the Portland City Council during its virtual Monday night meeting.

Transportation Committee Chairman Spencer Thibodeau said he initially felt that dogs should be allowed to run freely in Baxter Woods, but after hearing from constituents, who told him some dog owners are unable to control their dogs by voice command, he changed his mind.

“Public spaces must be operated for the benefit of all the people,” Thibodeau said. “People want to feel safe in a public space. I believe that we, as the peoples’ voice, have to speak up when folks bring up concerns.”

Baxter Woods was deeded to the city of Portland in 1946 by former Maine Governor Percival Baxter, who stipulated that the park “shall forever be kept in its natural wild state and as a bird sanctuary for wild birds.” City officials said they are trying to respect the wishes of Percival Baxter by setting aside a section of the park for protected bird habitat.

“This proposal attempts to balance the hours of off-leash activity so that the park is welcoming to all,” city staff wrote in their memorandum to the City Council.

The Maine Audubon Society told the city that creation of a protected bird habitat site would allow up to 12 ground-nesting bird species to thrive, including ground sparrows, woodcock, oven birds and wood thrush. The city plan calls for additional park rangers to be brought into Baxter Woods to patrol and enforce the leash law.

According to the city, there are several other parks in Portland where dogs can be off-leash and under voice control. They include: Evergreen Woods, Capisic Pond Park, University Park and Canco Woods. (Dogs in Evergreen Cemetery must be on leash at all times.) Two city parks are dedicated for use only by dogs and their owners. They include Quarry Run Dog Park off Ocean Avenue and the Valley Street Dog Park at the foot of the Western Promenade.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: