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New fence to help keep paws off the sea grass

The city puts up fences to protect natural sea grasses along the beach at the Davis Islands dog park.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002


The view at the Davis Islands dog park is about to change for the sake of sea grass.

The city of Tampa last week began installing chain-link fences along the beach near the Peter O. Knight Airport.

Dogs might not mind it, but some of their human companions certainly do.

"I think if you build a place for dogs to run in the water, you shouldn't block it off," said Karen Handlos, 24, who brings her dog, Rusty, to the beach every week.

City park officials decided to put up the fences to protect natural sea grasses along the beach. Heavy traffic from dogs and their owners was damaging the grass, which protects against erosion.

"If we don't put up the fence, we will lose the beach," said Bruce Engler, a parks department manager. "We're not depriving anyone of using the park."

The fences caused quite a stir among regulars who take their dogs to the park to socialize and swim. Many said it detracted from the waterfront park, a favorite among many dog owners.

One man said all the fencing made it look like a prison.

The black fences extend the length of the sandy beach area. Two rows run parallel between the grasses, which the city will replant. Visitors can access the beach at both ends.

Phillip Andrews, 39, said he preferred the park without the fences, but understood the city's dilemma. He drives from Temple Terrace every week or to let his Akita named Cisco romp in the water.

"They've got to do what they've got to do," he said. "I'm just happy to have the park, period. Cisco doesn't care."

The city created the park last year after months of disagreement over the location. Some neighbors opposed a dog park near houses on Martinique Avenue, where dog owners had gathered for years.

Mayor Dick Greco, a former Davis Islands resident, struck a compromise by picking a place next to the airport, near the Seaplane Basin.

Attendance has proved its success. On weekends, dozens of dogs pack the beach to play fetch in the water and run on the sand. Owners agree it gets crowded, even without the fences.

Ann Elhart, a daily park user, said she has heard a lot of grumbling since the fence posts went up. Many say the fences encroach on the space and look ugly.

Ideally, Elhart said the city should have cordoned off the sea grass during construction of the park, not afterward. That way, people would be accustomed to the fences and less likely to gripe.

Still, she isn't complaining. Her Pomeranian named Spike still loves the place.

"You've got to keep things in perspective," she said. "It's a dog park."

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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