The debate over dogs on Willard Beach in South Portland has now turned into a referendum with slogans of “Save the Beach” and “Share the Beach.” What are we saving it from?
From Colonial times until the early 1970s there was a large fishing fleet that sailed out of Willard Beach at the foot of Deake Street. In my childhood, the fisherman still hauled their boats up on the beach to store them for the winter.
The beach’s heyday was at the turn of the century after the Portland Trolley Co. extended its line to the foot of Willard Street. Large crowds of people would come from far way to enjoy the beach. Summer hotels and restaurants sprung up in the neighborhood. By the mid 1950s the beach became an open sewer. As a teenager I recall seeing feces, toilet paper and condoms washed up on the shore. This is no longer a problem. The threats to the beach today are sea-level rise and non-point pollution.
Dogs are not degrading the beach. The sharing of the beach by children and dogs poses no proved health risk. Dog owners clean up after their dogs. With pollution reduced, the demise of the commercial fishing, and fewer beach-goers than years ago, the beach is now as clean as it was in Colonial times. Willard Beach has been born again in my lifetime. Let’s continue sharing it and keep it as a center of our community. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.