By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
For a precious few months during the fall and winter, dogs are allowed to romp on Sea Isle City’s beaches as long as their owners keep them on a leash and clean up their messes.
However, those dog day afternoons (and mornings, too) on what is effectively a gigantic sandy playground came to an end Monday, much to the chagrin of canine lovers.
Sea Isle prohibits dogs on the beach and oceanfront Promenade starting March 15. In prior years, they were allowed on the beach and Promenade from Sept. 30 to May 1.
City spokeswoman Katherine Custer explained that the date was changed from May 1 to March 15 after Sea Isle updated its Beach Management Plan in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. She didn’t immediately know when the change was made, but thought it was about two or three years ago.
There were concerns from the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife that dogs could disturb the nesting season of migratory birds such as the piping plovers if they were allowed on the beach past March 15, Custer said.
Dogs are prohibited on the beaches during Sea Isle’s busy spring and summer tourism season. But dog owners are well aware that the beaches open up to canines during the quieter off-season months.
However, comments circulating on social media Monday suggested that some dog lovers thought that the old date of May 1 was still in effect.
“March 15? That’s a bit early. I get May 1 but not March 15 … always leash my dog and he loves running on the beach on his extension leash,” Jeff Pollock said in one post.
Adding to the confusion, some people posted a screenshot of an outdated notice on Sea Isle’s tourism website that says, “Dogs are not allowed on the beaches, beach approaches or Promenade from May 1 to September 30.”
Sea Isle’s regulations state that when dogs are allowed on the beach they must be restrained on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Owners are also responsible for curbing their dogs at all times and cleaning up their messes “without delay.”
“Please remember that children play along our shoreline throughout the year and stepping in a dog’s fecal matter can ruin a day at the beach,” City Council said in a statement last fall when dogs were allowed back on the beaches for the off-season starting in October.
Sue Fitzgerald Williamson, another social media poster, wrote Monday that, “unfortunately, people are not cleaning up after their dogs.”
“Almost every day that I walk the beach I see several messes, and I only walk between 84th and the inlet and back,” Williamson said.
In the meantime, Sea Isle is working on plans for an area where dogs would be able to play year-round.
City officials are discussing the possibility of building a dog park in the north end of town between Fifth and Eighth streets, an area now used as a parking lot. Construction would likely start in 2021 or 2022, City Business Administrator George Savastano said in an earlier interview.
In its new five-year capital plan for 2021-2025, Sea Isle has proposed spending $200,000 in 2021 for the dog park. The capital plan, though, is considered a broad blueprint of municipal projects that may be built within a five-year period.