By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Brewzer, an energetic 3-year-old plott hound, had a vast stretch of the beach in Sea Isle City all to himself Wednesday to romp in the sand and water.
His owners, Shannon and Tom Brower, laughed as the friendly Brewzer playfully stormed up a beach pathway while tugging on his leash.
During the quiet offseason months, the city lifts its ban of dogs on the beaches, giving Brewzer and other canines a chance to get out and frolic on the wide-open shoreline.
But come summer, the vacationers take over the beaches and dogs lose their sandy playground. Without a place to call their own, dogs and their owners usually are out walking along the streets and sidewalks in the summer for exercise.
Sea Isle is working on plans, though, to build its first dog park to give the canines their first exclusive play area. After considering a number of possible locations, Sea Isle officials have settled on city-owned property in the north end of town on Landis Avenue near Seventh Street for the dog park.
“It’s still a front-burner project for the city. We hope to start construction next year,” Sea Isle Public Information Officer Katherine Custer said Wednesday while providing an update on the dog park.
Shannon and Tom Brower, who live in Sea Isle, said they love the idea of being able to take Brewzer to a dog park.
“It would be awesome,” Tom said. “No one would have to worry about their dog running in the street and getting hit by cars. It would be safe.”
Brewzer is a rescue dog. The Browers adopted him last year from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Shannon explained that Brewzer has anxiety when he rides in the car, so it is difficult to take him to dog parks in other shore towns.
“Brewzer does not like the car. So, if he could stretch his legs at a dog park here, that would be fantastic. We would love to take him to a place nearby where he could run,” Shannon said.
A timetable has not yet been announced for building the project. No architectural renderings of the dog park are available yet.
Custer explained that the project is still in the preliminary phase because Sea Isle officials are in discussions with the Cape May County Open Space Board about a possible grant to help fund the dog park. They first met on Oct. 26. The next step calls for Sea Isle to submit formal plans to the Open Space Board.
“They seemed to like what we said we wanted to do,” Custer said of the board’s initial reaction to the project.
Custer wasn’t sure how much the city will seek from the Open Space Board. Earlier this year, Sea Isle officials indicated the city plans to apply for a grant in the range of $800,000 to $900,000.
Sea Isle officials hope to obtain an Open Space Board grant for the dog park to help ease the cost on local taxpayers.
“We would be grateful if the Open Space Board would fund this project,” Custer said.
Even if the grant is denied, the city is expected to move forward with the project, Sea Isle Business Administrator George Savastano said earlier in the year.
The city already has a relationship with the Open Space Board for recreation projects. This year, the board provided the money for Sea Isle’s nearly $1 million fishing pier and kayak launch site that opened May 1 on the bayfront near 60th Street.
Knowing that many families choose their vacation destination based on its pet-friendly reputation, Sea Isle has been looking to build its first dog park for years.
A communitywide survey conducted in 2015 included responses from local residents urging the city to create more recreation attractions, including a dog park. About 40 percent of the approximately 3,000 respondents to the survey supported a dog park.
While the focus of the dog park would be on its four-legged users, the facility may also have something for the human visitors. Sea Isle officials have discussed plans to build a handicap-accessible observation tower high enough to peer over the surrounding dunes and marshlands, providing panoramic views of the ocean to the east and the back bays to the west.
Custer noted that the city wants to preserve as much parking as possible in the area of Seventh Street and Landis Avenue while mixing in the dog park in the same section of town.
Two new public parking lots were built in the same area in 2019 as part of a restriping plan to make the Landis Avenue corridor safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Pet owners using the dog park would be able to use the same parking lots.
“We’re finalizing the plans for the exact location. It’s a big parcel up there and they want to see how it would work,” Custer said of the Open Space Board.