EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Years in the making, the Egg Harbor Township Dog Park is open for business.

Numerous community members turned out for the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the park, on Swift Road across from the Egg Harbor Township branch of the Atlantic County Library. A sizable crowd of people, and almost as many dogs, attended the event, which included tables from numerous community groups and a surprise visit from Santa Claus, who handed out bags of dog treats.

In a speech before cutting the ribbon, Friends of the Egg Harbor Township Dog Park committee chairwoman Donna Burns spoke of the long process of taking the park from an idea to reality. She also thanked many individuals, groups, businesses and community members for their help. Those included Boy Scout Trevor Kopp, who built the kiosk in the front of the park for his Eagle Scout project.

Burns also thanked township officials, and the members of the dog park committee. They, in turn, presented her with a plaque commemorating the opening.

“It took us eight years, but we got here,” she said.

The park is fenced in, with an electronic gate at the entrance. Members receive a key fob that will unlock the gate, leading to a small area to unleash dogs. To the right is the small dog section, for breeds under 30 pounds, and on the left is the entrance to the 90-by-200-foot area for larger dogs, where several breeds were already playing on Saturday morning. Dividing them is a narrower dog run, where owners can take dogs who do not play well with others.

Water is available for the dogs as well. The park rules prohibit aggressive dogs, and ask owners to pick up after their pets.

“It looks awesome,” said Charlotte Hannon of Mays Landing, there with her dog Loki. “I’m excited to let him run around.”

“I like it,” said Kristen Zarra of Somers Point. “It’s a nice, big space.”

Several of the dog owners at the grand opening said they used to travel to other dog parks, some as far as the beachfront park in Wildwood, and are pleased to have an option in Atlantic County. Others mentioned the dog friendly beach at the foot of the Ocean City-Longport bridge, a state-owned area on the Great Egg Harbor Bay where many let their dogs run off leash. But the new dog park is fenced in.

It’s also open only to members, who must show proof their dog is licensed and up-to-date on its rabies shots, and agree to a list of safety rules in order to join. The cost for Atlantic County residents is $40 a year, $50 for those who live outside the county.

During her remarks, Burns said she was a member of the dog park in Ocean City, at 45th Street and Haven Avenue, and when she considered launching an effort to open one in Egg Harbor Township, members of the committee that ran that park invited her to attend some meetings, to see what worked and to learn from what didn’t.

The Egg Harbor Township park includes several elements found in Ocean City, including a separate dog run, separate areas from small and large dogs, and a two-gate system providing a space to unleash dogs. Many other dog parks use similar systems as well.

Burns took the idea to Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough, who liked it, but said he would not spend taxpayer money on it. But the township did provide the land, which the committee that operates the park leases for $1 a year. She said the township has been very supportive. The total area is about 3.6-acre, which includes the parking lot and buffers. In all, about an acre is within the fenced-in area.

With township land but no funding, the committee launched a fundraising campaign. Burns said they’ve raised a considerable amount of money, but declined to give more detail than that.

The fundraising continues. The Friends of the Dog Park are selling paving stones to be installed at the park, for $50 to $100 depending on the size. For more information on the fundraising efforts, or to join the dog park, see ehtdogpark.com.

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