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Sheila Stevens watches her dog, Olive, have fun on an exercise ramp.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Sheila Stevens was driving around the north end of Sea Isle City last weekend when she discovered something that came as a complete surprise to her – a new dog park that gives the town’s four-legged residents their exclusive playground.

No humans are allowed.

Just kidding, folks.

Humans can hang out at the park, too.

Stevens and her dog, Olive, have already visited the park three times and are expected to be regulars throughout the summer.

“I love it. So does she. I think she loves meeting little dogs like her and socializing. She’s made plenty of new friends,” Stevens said of Olive, a fluffy, mocha-colored Cavapoo, a mix between a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and a poodle.

Olive, just a year old, gets so much exercise at the park that she sleeps soundly when Stevens takes her back home to Cape May Court House.

The dog park is on Landis Avenue between Sixth and Eighth streets close to the Sea Isle-Strathmere border.

Little dogs and big ones each have separate play areas surrounded by fences to keep them in a safe, confined environment. The dog park’s sandy surface is just like being on the beach.

For exercise, there are obstacle courses featuring hurdles, ramps and play tunnels to test the dogs’ stamina and agility.

Then, when the pooches get pooped out from all that running and jumping, they can rest under two shade pavilions and quench their thirst at the doggie water stations.

The dog park is on Landis Avenue between Sixth and Eighth streets in the north end of Sea Isle.

The $968,000 dog park was funded with the help of an $850,000 grant from the Cape May County Open Space Board. Sea Isle officially opened the park in May.

There is no fee for dog owners to use the park. However, dogs will need to be licensed and have their vaccinations.

Knowing that many families choose their vacation destination based on its pet-friendly reputation, Sea Isle officials had been discussing the possibility of building the city’s first dog park for about five years.

Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio and his daughter, Carmela, visited dog parks in Ocean City, Wildwood, Upper Township and Egg Harbor Township for some ideas on amenities that would make Sea Isle’s canines and their owners happy.

The Desiderio family has a Shih Tzu named Bruno, who was one of the dogs making new canine friends at the park’s groundbreaking ceremony last November. The city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 4 to formally celebrate the park’s completion.

Margaret Thomas tries coaxing her dog, Benny, to jump into a play tunnel.

Although Stevens discovered the dog park by accident, Margaret Thomas had been closely watching the progress of the project during the construction phase and was anxiously awaiting its completion.

Now, Thomas and her mixed-breed dog, Benny, have visited the park every day in the past week.

Benny, short for his formal name, Benjamin Franklin, is 15 years old and still likes to get out and socialize with other dogs.

“Because he’s an older dog, he likes meeting other dogs,” Thomas explained.

Thomas lives in Coventry, Conn., and has a vacation home in Sea Isle on 85th Street. The dog park is on the opposite side of Sea Isle from Thomas, but she doesn’t mind the drive across the island to get there.

“I say it’s an A-plus for this dog park,” she said.

Carol McConnell holds her dog, Max, while he gets a drink from one of the water stations.

In addition to the park’s amenities, Thomas has been impressed with the way the dog owners have helped to keep the area nice by cleaning up after their pooches.

“Everyone I’ve met has been so responsible. It’s so clean here. We want to keep it that way. We want people to know that it’s not a dirty place,” Thomas said.

Carol McConnell, another dog owner, was also impressed with how clean the park was when she visited it Saturday with Max, her 10-year-old Shih Tzu.

“This is fantastic,” McConnell said. “This is absolutely wonderful. I think it’s going to be well-kept.”

McConnell, who lives in Deptford Township, was staying at a campground in Ocean View for a weekend getaway at the shore. She said she plans to return to the dog park with Max.

“I think he likes it,” she said. “He doesn’t get to socialize with other dogs much, so this is a way for him to meet new friends.”

Shade pavilions provide shelter from the sun and heat for both the dogs and humans.

Although the focus is on the dogs, a third shade pavilion has been built next door to the park to give the human visitors refuge from the sun and heat. It will also be a place for picnics.

Other amenities included in the project for the humans are bicycle racks, a bicycle repair station, trash and recycling receptacles and landscaping.

The dog park’s location is next to the marshlands in a secluded area away from residential neighborhoods, so homeowners will not be disturbed by barking or other noise.

Parking was another consideration why the city decided to build the dog park on Landis Avenue between Sixth and Eighth streets. Two new 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 will be able to use the same parking lots, which are free of charge.

Now that it is completed, the park gives dogs their own playground, saving their owners from the hassles and worries of finding their pets a place for walks and runs year-round.

During the quiet offseason months, the city lifts its ban of dogs on the beaches, giving canines and their owners 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. Before the dog park was completed, dogs and their owners usually had no other place to go for summer walks except along the streets and sidewalks of Sea Isle.

A sign lists the dog park’s rules.