originally published in Avenue magazine, July 2005
By Joel Mangum
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH – Summertime has arrived and maybe you want to take your dog to the beach. The problem is, dogs are not permitted on most of our area beaches from April 1st to September 30th (they are permitted, on leashes, during the other months) and there are many good reasons behind those ordinances.
Yet dog owners can take their pets many other places in Wilmington, as well as an area at Fort Fisher State Park. Wrightsville Beach Park Ranger Shannon Slocum noted many situations and past experiences while working animal control and explained why the former dog beach at the northern tip of Shell Island ceased to exist several years ago.
“The (N.C.) Fish and Wildlife Association came in and did a study, before the inlet had eroded significantly, and designated the land a conservation area and bird sanctuary, so that was one of the reasons that dogs were not allowed, because some of the birds there were endangered species,” Ranger Slocum said.
As most locals remember, the sand extended several hundred yards north beyond the Shell Island Resort and many people took their dogs there to run or play in the water in the mid 1990s. Severe erosion brought the inlet within several feet of the hotel by the late 1990s.
A dredging of the inlet and the replacement of sand was done by the Army Corp of Engineers and other groups to bring the area back to its original form.
Ranger Slocum said he and his staff write numerous citations for dogs on the beach during the summer months, with many people simply not aware of the ordinance. He also said many of them are not aware of the responsibilities they have or can be liable for, by having their dogs on the beach during the summer months.
First there is the issue of dog waste and the owners who do not bother to clean up after them. That can be a problem for beachgoers, visitors and locals alike.
Ranger Slocum also said that dogs can cause harm to sea turtle nests or other endangered species on the beach and surrounding wetlands. He noted a case several years ago of a dog destroying some loggerhead turtle eggs and how the owner was held responsible. Destroying sea turtle nests is a crime in North Carolina.
There are also liability issues for dog owners in the event someone is bitten or injured in some way by the animal.
Ranger Slocum noted an unusual case when he worked at a park in Phoenix, Az.
“A man was frightened by an overly aggressive dog to the point of having a heart attack and died as a result. The owner was found responsible and charged with manslaughter,” Ranger Slocum said.
Then there is the issue of lack of space at Wrightsville Beach to allow dogs on the beach or designate an area for them, and the masses of people that flock to the island during the summer months.
Ranger Slocum added that just about everyone employed by the town were dog owners and it was not an issue of the town not wanting to accommodate dog owners, there were just various and logical reasons why they cannot be allowed on the beach during the tourist season.
“We want people to know that they can bring their dogs on the beach from October through March, but they must be on a leash and their waste has to be cleaned up by the owners. And they can walk their dogs around the loop any time of the year,” said Ranger Slocum.
The “Loop” is a two and a half mile scenic sidewalk that is centered in Wrightsville Beach. The loop provides drinking fountains for dogs as well as benches, shaded areas and ample lighting at night for anyone jogging or walking this popular piece of sidewalk.
So even though dogs are not allowed on the beaches in our area during tourist season, there are several options for people and their dogs to go for recreation.
Hugh MacRae Park, Empie Park, Carolina Beach State Park are among the most popular. They each provide many acres of space and scenic walking trails. There is also an area at Fort Fisher, just south of Kure Beach, which is designated specifically for dogs and their owners.
So with the summer season upon us and people looking to recreate with their dogs, there are still options, but dogs and throngs of people simply do not mix on the beach strand during the tourist season.