Willard Beach in South Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette photo/Press Herald

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council is trying to come up with a solution for Willard Beach dog leash rules.

On March 22, the city council agreed that the dog leash rules will remain in effect for the foreseeable future at Willard Beach and Hinckley Pond. The councilors collectively agreed to vote on the recommendations from the Dogs & Sharing Public Spaces advisory committee at a future meeting.

The meeting is expected to take place before the winter dog leash hours end on April 30; the dog leash hours that were put in place in November. Currently, on-leash hours are in effect from Oct. 1 through April 30 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The May 1 through Sept. 30 on-leash hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Dogs & Sharing Public Spaces advisory committee met 11 times since November 2021. They met to discuss multiple solutions to help ease the tension between dog owners, residents and visitors, but the group never agreed on the best way everyone can share the beach. Councilors decided against having committee members continue working toward a solution. In a previous statement, two council members said that committee members have done everything they could to come up with a solution but it is done and the ball is now in the council’s court.

“I think the committee has done everything that it can up to this point,” Councilor Linda Cohen said Tuesday. “I appreciate everything that it’s done, but I think it’s done.”

The Dogs & Sharing Public Spaces advisory committee suggested that Hinckley Park should allow dogs to be off leash at all times.


However, according to a previous statement made by Councilor Jocelyn Leighton, due to the environmental impact on Hinckley Park and the algae in the water, having dogs off-leash at all times isn’t the right route.

“A lot of this conversation started with the environmental impact on Hinckley Park and the algae in the water,” Leighton said. “Having free and full access for off-leash dogs doesn’t make sense to me.”

The dog-leash policy had been an issue off and on for many months.

Dog overcrowding at Willard is a problem committee members agreed, but they could not come up with a solution on how to resolve the issue.

The committee considered a number of measures like restricting off-leash dogs to a particular section of the beach, requiring parking stickers and making it compulsory for dog owners to obtain a beach pass.

Recommendations by the committee included: the creation of a dune and wildlife ordinance, prohibiting people and dogs from the dunes and making it illegal to harm animals. Proposed tweaks to current regulations include requiring owners to carry a waste bag at all times and that aggressive dogs must be leashed.

It also suggested a dog park be created to alleviate overcrowding at the beach, and that the town’s part-time animal control officer’s position become full time. While the council will not pursue these recommendations immediately, councilors said they may be considered if all else fails.

The town will hold its annual April Stools and Cleanup Day on Saturday April 2 from 9 a.m. to noon at Willard Beach, Green Belt (Mill Creek Park) and Hinckley Park. The community effort allows residents and pet parents to help clean up local parks and beaches of refuse, dog waste and rubbish. Supplies will be provided by Loyal Companion, Maine Healthy Beaches, and the city of South Portland.

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