Locals Create a Petition For Off-leash Hours for Dogs at Mills Reservation

Mills Reservation

If some local dog owners have their way, their pups will be running free at Mills Reservation located in Cedar Grove and Montclair.

A petition was created asking Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. for off-leash hours:

Mills Reservation is a beautiful wooded area that provides a great place for people to walk, run, picnic, birdwatch and to enjoy the great outdoors. Currently, dogs are allowed in the park only if they are leashed. We are asking the county to consider allowing some hours each day for dogs to be off-leash. There are many benefits to dogs and their owners if dogs are allowed to run free. We also respect the wishes of those who prefer to walk in the park without dogs running freely and off-leash hours would benefit them as well.

Many parks now have off-leash hours, including locations in New York City, Boulder CO, Dallas TX, San Diego CA, Raleigh NC, and many more. These programs have been very successful and allows everyone to enjoy the park. Some NYC parks allow dogs off-leash from sunrise to 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM to sunset. We request that Essex county provide off-leash hours so that dog owners can legally walk their dogs off-leash.

Do you think off-leash hours for dogs at Mills Reservation is a great idea or will it cause Mills Reservation to go to the dogs? Take our poll:


(Photo: Flickr)



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  1. A fair share of dog owners are ahead of the curve in taking their pets off leash at Mills Reservation. Maybe giving them specific hours would make it more predictable for visitors who prefer our four-legged friends stay connected with their owners.

  2. The original stipulation of the donation of the land to create the reservation was that the land be kept in its “natural state”. People walking through the reservation on the trails does not disturb its natural state. Dogs pursuing deer, chipmunks and birds and driving those natural animal populations out of the reservation disturbs its natural state.

    Unless the petition signers have enough money to acquire the land and re-donate it to the county with no stipulation in regard to it being maintained in its natural state, this petition is an exercise in futility.

    Lastly, please let me know how eager the Essex County Sheriff and/or any local ambulance company would be at the prospect of dogs running off leash and potentially biting people deep in the reservation. Something tells me that they, and the County’s liability insurance carrier, have absolutely no interest in off-leash hours.

  3. I just signed the petition. It is a great idea, it will legalize a common practice and has no impact on the “natural state” of the reservation.

  4. No impact on the natural state? There are dozens of studies or advisories that describe the damage that an off leash dog can create.

    Here are three from a quick Google search:




    Any claim that off leash dogs have “no impact” on the wildlife in Mills is flatly incorrect. No room for debate.

  5. vanb, good point about the original donation of the land. I’d love to hear more about this and how it applies.

    I’m not a fan of dogs off leashes– having been chased by “good” dogs as I’ve run though parks around here. And having seen off leash dogs running wild after folks- I’ll vote no. These experiences were NOT at Mills, but I would love to hear other’s experiences specific to Mills.

    (I hope disagreeing with the petitioners here isn’t seen as being nasty….”)

    (If passed, how long before the “Dog Killed by Bear in Mills Reservation” story?)

  6. There’s no such thing as “good” or “bad” dogs. A dog is an animal driven by instinct. If you choose to own an animal, it has no inherent right to “run free” in a county park paid for by tax dollars.

    Keep them on a leash.

  7. relax speaks the truth.

    “Good” dogs are usually “your” dog. And “your” dog is great. Never hurt anyone. Yet.

    Re: vanb’s info (from the County website) the “natural state” seems to do with development, rather than use. So a strong argument can be made that an off-lease policy within its original gift to the County.

    Still, I disagree with off-leash laws that are as long as what’s here.

    Perhaps I would limit it to dusk to 8am (changing based on daylight-savings or seasons).

  8. As far “good dog / bad dog” is concerned, of course that argument does not exist, as it implies moral imperative, consciousness and free will. The behavior of some breeds is just more naturally aggressive than others, ergo the need to be publicly leashed.

  9. The Davella Mills Foundation was very specific about what could be done with this parcel of land when it was gifted to us in 1954. Trust me, I’ve read the entire document. As members of the community, we should honor their wishes and do our best to protect and preserve it. If you’re looking to convert a county park into an off-leash dog park, I would strongly suggest aiming your sights elsewhere.

  10. I think it is possible to allow dogs off-leash during off-peak times, but it would be easier not to.

    Mills is a lightly used 110 acre reservation – not a park – and my experience is that dog owners are in the majority during these off-peak periods. The reservation has much more use & enjoyment because of this activity.

    That said, dogs should not “run free”. Dogs should be under control of their owners at all times, on or off leash. That is ultimately the standard that is used across the country. Quite frankly, if you have your dog under control and are alert, and avoid peak periods, the chances are high you can avoid getting a ticket – and also prevent potentially unsafe encounters with people without dogs. That’s how it has worked for years. There have always been a small number of bad dogs, bad owners, and bad walkers, too. That’s is why this idea comes and goes every few years.

    A new off-leash rule for open space should also include basic a dog management plan with minimum requirements like ensuring dogs are licensed, owners are registered and id’s issued, and that professional walkers have stricter requirements – all for a reasonable fee.

    From pragmatic standpoint, the enforcement resources and fines are becoming distorted because they are not prioritized on any safety risk scale. Last I heard, the 1st time minimum fine & court fees for just an off-leash dog at Mills, depending upon the jurisdiction/judge, was $237. A few violators were warned a 2nd offense would bring up to a $1,000 fine. Considering the number of problems at Mills, this doesn’t seem to be the most efficient prioritization of our Sheriff’s Department.

    It is unfortunate, but today’s realities are such that a simple rule change for unmanaged off-leash times is not going to happen. This is where the city and suburbs don’t meet.

    PS: I think the Mills Foundation deed didn’t allow shooting deer either.

  11. My personal experience with unleashed dogs at the reservation has not been a good one. My son who was only 8 at the time sat on a concrete foundation leftover from WW II to remove a rock from inside of his shoe. The next thing I see are two large dogs coming up to his face and him fleeing towards a cliff with only one shoe on in fear of these large unleashed hounds. I was able to get the dogs off of his heels (who were only trying to play I admit)by clapping my hands, but waiting for their owners to finally make it to the plateau we occupied took nearly a minute. There were four adults and four unleashed dogs in total and when I asked them to put their dogs on leashes for the sake of my son’s fear of dogs, they replied “Oh they’re harmless!”. I had returned to the reservation on another late afternoon and the very same owners with the same unleashed dogs were there cavorting around. This time when they came over to play I had to shout at them to go away, only after that did the owners try and call them back. When I was in the small parking lot getting ready to leave I realized they must live nearby because none of them entered any vehicles, they just walked down the hill. So these might be some of the “residents” who would petition for the right to be irresponsible for part of the day.

    A reservation isn’t your typical park where you find people playing ball, tossing a Frisbee or a dog park. Domesticated dogs running amok in an area deeded to stay in it’s natural state is an outrage to me. Beyond my personal experience at Mills reservation, I have seen how a dog will chase deer, rabbits and birds. It is not their fault that they have predatory instincts but it is a reality that must be considered when it comes to protecting habitat. I think dog owners should consider themselves lucky to be allowed leashed dogs on a reservation to begin with and nearby residents should consider themselves lucky to have pristine wilderness in their backyard instead of 20 story buildings with a view.

  12. If three or more dogs are together without their owners they’ll revert back to pack behavior and get much more aggressive. As a parent I don’t want to worry about who is going to burst out of the bushes when I’m out with my family. Let’s keep the reservation on-leash.

  13. I fear all this “negativity” (you know, those who disagree with this petition) will be seen as mean, nasty, unruly and bullying, rather than a simple disagreement.

    It seems that for some, their opinions are not to be questioned. Only followed.

    To this, these few examples answer my earlier questions- and changed my view.

    This is a bad idea and I do not support it, regardless of any time specific qualifier.

  14. Frank–what is your point about deer shooting at Mills? Are you trying to be funny? As far as I know, there has never been a controlled deer hunt at Mills.

  15. Part of me feels like this is rewarding bad behavior that is already happening in the reservation. I am not a fan of off-leash hours personally; those hours make the reservation primarily for the dog owners instead of everyone at those time, versus everyone (including the dogs) enjoying the park without them. We’d also need to see stepped up enforcement to ensure people abide by those hours, and that is likely not the most efficient use of enforcement’s time. I love dogs, but I don’t know if your dog is friendly, how it might react to small children (often different than adults) and experiences like Eric’s are bound to happen more often as off-leash dogs do not stay in the control of their owners or even near them.

  16. You are correct. I was seriously wrong and apologize for this stupid error. I need to get back on Luminosity. Thank you for correcting me.

  17. I have a dog that needs lots of exercise and love to take her running at Mills. As much as I’d love to take off the leash I know that the first time she spotted any local fauna it would be off to the races. Perhaps in the future we can find a designated area for dogs to run around, but for now I’m fine keeping Fido on a tether.

  18. samwich, There is a very nice dog run in Brookdale Park. I think there is in one in South Mountain also.

  19. If you like to run / walk with your dog, try the reservoir next to Turtle Back Zoo. It’s paved but along the side is unpaved. It’s approx 2 miles round, there is a bathroom area w/ water, parking. There are stations w/ poop bags and disposal. It is dog friendly, there are no bikes or skate boards allowed. Posted dogs must be on leash.

    Joel. Montclair Feed

  20. I’m happy that the Essex County Park system has opened the various dog runs and created more dog-friendly areas in our county parks. However, I agree that Mills is not the kind of park that is right for off-leash use and the current rules should stay in place.

  21. @ samwich, years ago after a runner was tragically killed while running the street. Someone posted that we needed some designated area where runners and walkers could be safe.

    Dear ‘ol RoC, wrote back simply: “We do. They’re called Sidewalks.”

    Your request for a “designated area for dogs to run around” can be answered similarly:We do.

    They’re called Dog Parks. And Essex County offers 3 of them. Here: https://www.essexcountyparks.org/parks

  22. Editor’s Note: Yes, comment moderation is currently turned on for all comments from all commenters.

    [Is”Your comment is awaiting moderation” a new feature?]

    [Will this comment be {redacted]}

    I’m confused……….

  23. I’m of the opinion that dog parks are miserable places where dogs get little exercise and owners just stand around. Also I’ve seen very aggressive dogs; there have been incidents.

    I’ll offer an experience to counter @eric’s which is that when our kids were little and before we got our own dog, we would walk through Mills specifically to pet the dogs, most of which were off leash. We taught the kids to ask the owners whether it was okay to approach, whether on or off leash. The only bad experience we had was at a different local park when one of my kids was bitten by a dog that was on a leash. Luckily it was a minor thing, more like a scratch, and the owner was mortified.

    I can see this is an issue where there is no common ground and the law-breaking will just continue.

  24. Why do we have so many people with pets they can’t provide with proper space ? It really isn’t everyone job to manage you and your pet. As pointed out there are dog parks already.

  25. Ah, townie,

    You just gave another reason for leashes. Had that dog that bit your kid (hope it wasn’t bad) been off leash, what do you think would have happened? Yours is another argument that dogs cannot be trusted and should be on leash.

    And if you find dog parks “miserable places where dogs get little exercise and owners just stand around,” I don’t think anything will make a dog happy save for life on a farm.

  26. Thanks ProfWilliams for your thoughtful input.

    Most dog owners agree that dogs on leash are more aggressive, certainly with each other. It has something to do with being restrained. Had the dog that bit my daughter been off leash it would most likely not have allowed her to get right up its face (which she did) and basically freak it out. The greater likelihood is that she would not have been bitten. As I wrote it was just a scratch, the dog was a cute little 10 pound thing and the owners were very upset as it had never bitten anyone. Again the fact that it was restrained and that my daughter got up in its grill freaked it out.

    I had an interesting experience last year walking my friend’s dogs. This was in another country and we went to a large park in the early evening where many people were walking their dogs and I was astonished to see that all were off leash. There was one spot where the path trailed off down a hill, thus providing a vista, and we could see 30 or 40 dogs all loose, most more or less following their owners but some running here and there. There were a few Pit Bulls on leashes but the lesson was not lost on me that in the USA, we are fearful and allow the slight possibility of potential harm to infringe on liberty.

  27. Semi off topic – two of my mothers loved, trained and trusted with babies dogs had their annual roll in cow poop spring celebration the other day. As behaved as they are the other days of the year she can’t train that annual spring fling out of them. No dog owner can say with certainty that their dog will behave.

  28. townie, so only in heartless American where we violently restrain dogs on leashes are there dog attacks?

    As I wrote above, I’ve been chased any number of times while running in Brookdale (usually near the dog run) by off leash dogs. So forgive me if the idea that dogs will be LESS likely to cause harm or apprehension to someone when off-leash.

    Did I mention that several folks told me: “he’s usually so friendly…” as they ran after their dog?

    I know. Only in the USA are our dogs so dumb as to attack when off leash.

    But Mills Reservation is in America. So let’s try to keep folks safe.

  29. It’s not about you and your dogs freedom as much as it is about MY freedom to take my family to the park without having to worry which dog is dangerous or not. Oh and yeah, I nearly forgot, the wildlife at Mills!

  30. “we are fearful and allow the slight possibility of potential harm to infringe on liberty.”

    —which constitutional amendment is violated by dogs on leashes?

  31. I’m really tired of visiting both Mills and Eagle Rock Reservations with my lawfully leashed dogs only to find the remnants of others sojourns in the reservations- soda bottles, candy wrappers, juice boxes – I pick up after my dogs – obey the leash laws- and yet have to pack your trash out for you.

    If you bring it in – take it home with you

  32. I love the neurotic handwringing on this board. Oh please..the wildlife will be at risk? Three or more dogs somehow become to feral packs? I’m guessing you can take the Brooklynite out of Brooklyn, but can’t take the Brooklyn out of the Brooklynite. As someone above said, the issue is one of control. If you have a Pit Bull, Rottweiller, or other aggressive breed, on some level you must know the potential danger on letting them run free. Goldens. Labs, Beagles, etc., not a problem. Letting a dog off leash is also not a license to avoid cleaning up after them, and there’s never an excuse for leaving trash.

  33. Yes the wildlife will be put under stress as they are now by people skirting the leash law there. That is not neurosis that is just a fact. [redacted] but the Mills foundation seemed to care when they donated the land.

  34. For those of you in fear of being accosted by off leash dogs, having designated off leash hours will enable those people to use the park during all the other times. It’s the responsibility of everyone to pick up after themselves whether it’s doggie poo or wrappers, or plastic bottles or cigarette butts. Dogs are a part of the natural world (they are descendants of wolves) and “wildlife” is much more at risk from human activity. I hope someone else starts a petition for mountain bikes too, so they can have a time to ride without breaking local ordinances.

  35. I’m among the regulars who walks my dog at the Mills, I’m on my second so its been about 20 years now, and without incident. We have a really great community of responsible dog owners who would love to be able to do this without being penalized.
    I don’t see that many folks out there in dead of winter and the other crappy weather, but we’re out there almost every day, and as soon as it gets nice out we’re the villains,
    and now we’re asking for a few hours a day of off-peak time so that people who have a problem with dogs know they can come in during the rest of the time and shouldn’t see any dogs running around. It works in Central Park and many other places, so why not give it a chance ?

  36. What is the average weight of a leash anyways? If your dogs are so well behaved it should not be such a burden to hold.

  37. Eric,

    Did you know Albert Einstein’s brain was 10% smaller, by weight, than an average brain?

  38. @deadeye makes a most excellent point about the dog’s breed. Anybody that’s ever spent one minute with a Golden Retriever can attest that they’re about as dangerous as a newborn baby. However, I can’t imagine any potentially discriminatory law being passed in Montclair. For humans or animals.

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