32963 dogs – who currently have no place for an unleashed midday romp on island beaches – may soon get their own place in the sun.
County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan raised the possibility of establishing an off-leash, dog-friendly beach park – at either Seagrape Trail or Turtle Trail – last week and the commission voted 4-1 to instruct County Administrator Jason Brown to explore options and offer recommendations.
There’s nowhere in Indian River County where dog owners can legally let their pets run unleashed along the ocean’s shoreline between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“It would be nice to have an off-leash beach dog park in this county,” O’Bryan said. “I think it’s something that would be well-received by the community.”
Commissioner Susan Adams agreed, saying, “There’s a group in the community that would love to see this happen. … From my constituency, there’s definitely a need and want for something like this.”
Currently, the only beaches that allow dogs to be unleashed belong are in the barrier island towns of Indian River Shores and Orchid. There are firm restrictions, however.
Dogs may be unleashed only from sunrise to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to sunset. Also, the dogs’ owners must pay registration fees, provide proof the dogs’ vaccinations are current, and submit veterinarians’ statements that the pet has no history of biting people or other dogs.
O’Bryan said he wasn’t sure if the county would impose any of the same restrictions, but he wants to allow dogs to be unleashed from sunrise to sunset.
The county owns the Seagrape Trail and Turtle Trail beaches – to the mean high-water line – but both are within Shores town limits.
“The county owns the land, so we could have our own rules,” O’Bryan said. “Certainly, we’d have to work with the town to make sure people stay within the county boundaries and not stray off into the Shores.”
Shores Town Manager Jim Harpring said it’s too soon to comment because he doesn’t know exactly what the county will propose.
“We’ll wait and see what they decide,” Harping said. “All we know now is that the commissioners have asked Jason to look into it and come back with options and recommendations.”
Harping said the town’s off-leash dog ordinance, which was adopted in June 2019, has worked well and not produced any complaints, adding, “People in Indian River Shores are very responsible dog owners and very environmentally aware.”
Orchid adopted a similar ordinance this past June.
O’Bryan said he suggested the Seagrape Trail and Turtle Trail locations because those beach parks are smaller and aren’t “heavily used.” Seagrape Trail “might be more amenable” to more of the county’s dog owners, he added, because it’s only 1 ½ miles from the intersection of A1A and the Wabasso Causeway.
If the Shores objects to his suggested locations, O’Bryan said the commissioners could consider other county sites – perhaps Ambersand Beach on the island’s northern tier, though he’s not sure the parking would be sufficient there.
O’Bryan said he decided to propose the county designate an off-leash beach dog park after making numerous trips with Stoli, his 6-year-old Labrador/pit-bull mix, to St. Lucie County’s Walton Rocks Beach, just south of the Florida Power & Light nuclear plant.
Not only is the beach open to the public without restrictions, but, according to the St. Lucie County website: “This off-leash dog park was established on 24 acres of property so canines can romp in the sand and surf.”
O’Bryan said he spoke with St. Lucie County Commissioner Cathy Townsend, who told him the beach is popular with dog owners. She said the county has received no complaints about dogs digging up sea turtle nests or other problematic behavior.
The beach is equipped with dispensers containing small plastic bags dog owners use to pick up after their pets.
“The people I see there do a good job of picking up the No. 2,” O’Bryan said. “Obviously, you can’t do much about No. 1.”
Indian River County Commissioner Laura Moss, who voted against O’Bryan’s proposal, said she loves dogs but expressed concern about the environmental impact of the dogs’ waste getting washed into the ocean.
Commissioner Joe Flescher voted in favor of having Brown’s staff explore the possibility of establishing an off-leash dog park at a county beach, but he didn’t commit to the concept.
He said his biggest concern was for beachgoers who “don’t have a pet and are intimidated by large dogs.” At Walton Rocks Beach, however, it’s rare to find anyone not accompanied by a dog.
O’Bryan, who will retire next month after serving on the commission since 2006, said establishing a designated off-leash beach dog park would be another step in making the county more dog friendly.
In addition to the town beaches in Indian River Shores and Orchid, the only other public-access, off-leash parks in the county are the 5-acre Vero Beach Dog Park on Indian River Drive and 7.5-acre Sebastian Bark Park on Keen Terrace.