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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Who Let the Dogs Out? (WARNING: partial nudity)

Posted by | June 7, 2013 | Filed under: Opinion

vicious beasts

"Isn't that the place that doesn't allow dogs?" is the question I get almost invariably when I reveal where I work.

"That's right," I smile. No Pets, No Bikes* say our signs. Which means, regrettably, no dogs allowed here, even though I can think of few things that make me happier than boyhood memories of autumn walks with my favorite mutt, Buck, at my side.

Alas, dogs (along with bikes, horses, snowmobiles, ATVs, stereos, lasers, monster trucks, etc.) have been barred from the Wells Reserve at Laudholm's trails since the early 90's.


Well, the short answer is: to preserve the nature here at the Reserve.

But here's my longer answer.

In a state with millions of acres of accessible nature, do we need another place like everywhere else? I say no. The Wells Reserve at Laudholm's 2,250 acres are unique for many reasons: the historic architecture, the rare species (flora and fauna), the pristine beach, the fragile marshes, the ongoing research and education. There are very good reasons for what some feel is an unjust sanction. Here are three:

No dogs allowed means being able to hear birdsong over barking.

No dogs allowed means not having to watch where you step.

No dogs allowed means that we can let our kids off the leash.

That last one is a biggie for my family. We moved here from away, from a place where dogs were not to be trusted. Free-ranging pitbulls and mastiffs give any city parent qualms. My 5-year-old has a canine phobia; my 3-year-old, newer on this earth, has the annoying opposite. Both of their reactions are stressful. Even though I'm a lifelong "dog person," I'm wary whenever a dog gets near my kin. Odds are, nothing bad will ever happen. My little men might even find their best friends.

But my wife and I want to introduce our boys to dogs on our terms, at our speed. And so that's why we we like to walk here. We can let our boys range far ahead, far out of sight, and not worry that we'll come around a corner to find our 3-year-old getting mauled. Maybe it's irrational, maybe it's silly — but we can relax on the trails here. This place is safe. Our boys are free to be free.

And they're also free to encounter the smaller, quieter, subtler nature this place is home to. That's the other biggie. When we walk through the forest, dog-less, we see more, we hear more. Dogs, wonderful as they are, can push wilder nature back; here at the Reserve, they don't. Case in point: I had to stop my car on our entrance road last week so three preening tom turkeys, each almost the size of a dishwasher, could cross slowly in front of me. Last month, it was a ragtag band of 4-foot chipmunks. Last year, it was a solitary coyote.

No dogs allowed, but plenty of other wild friends in this wild place. And even if the largest creatures we encounter out on the trails are springtails, we've still had a great and relaxing time together outside. "Unstructured time in nature," the experts call it now, to combat "nature deficit disorder." I call it "not sitting on the bleachers watching a soccer game," or in a recital hall, or poolside. Not that those are bad activities... just that, perhaps nowadays, they're too often the only activity (besides "screen time").

I could go on and on about that. Suffice it to say, on a sunny afternoon at the Wells Reserve, my wife and I get to walk and talk, slowly, while our boys race far ahead.

We hear their footsteps on the wooden boardwalks; we know they've found something interesting when the footsteps stop.


The entire family gets exercise together, along with a rejuvenating bath in "clinically proven" forest chemicals.

In summer, we go all the way to the flat empty beach for a easy swim.


Later that night, the boys will drag themselves into bed, happy, contented, perhaps unbathed but at least unscathed. In a word, safe.

What more does a parent want?

That's a great day, brought to you by the great outdoors.

* Bikes are allowed on the paved surfaces here, which is fortunate, because this Sunday, we'll have hundreds of cyclists here for the American Diabetes Association's Kennebunks Tour de Cure. Did I forget to mention that we also have one of the few accessible water fountains in the area? Fill up your water bottles here!

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