For better or worse, the dogs -- both hot and pet -- have been banned from Havre de Grace's waterfront promenade.
The beer cans and plastic containers buried in the marshy shallows of the Susquehanna along the wooden walkway will not be subjected to the insidious pollution of half-eaten buns and scraps of mustard-smeared wieners. The sensitive digestive systems of Chesapeake aquatic life, from the waterfowl and scavenger fish to worms and algae, will be saved from the decomposing organic discards of human consumption.
Visitors along the proud planked promenade -- don't you dare call it a boardwalk! -- will be spared the feared predations of audacious sea gulls and the excretions of their sensitive digestive systems. The hot dog ban will no doubt add decades of life to the structure, preserved from such nitrogenous avian insults.
Likewise, strolling canines will remain unwelcome, so as not to threaten the tranquil contemplation of the upper estuary by those genteel human promenaders. Leashed or not, licensed or not, these animal companions pose a disruption to the flow of pedestrian traffic along the scenic passage from the Concord Point Lighthouse past the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum to Tydings Park.
The fact is that Havre de Grace's promenade is a proud focal point for the city, a magnificent scenic linkage between the city's main attractions.
It is a welcome amenity for residents and an enchanting lure for tourists who visit the old-fashioned waterfront town in search of maritime history, recreational boating and antiques.
Indeed, this walkway is not to be confused with those boisterous, gaudy commercial boardwalks in places like Ocean City or Atlantic City. Havre de Grace doesn't want to, doesn't hope to, compete for that type of tourist crowd. If there's one thing the city offers, it is small town charm and history -- a harbor of grace, as the Marquis de Lafayette originally called the settlement.
Preserving that essential character should be the crucial point in any decision to keep the promenade free from hot dog carts and from dog walkers. It's not necessarily how messy or how tidy these activities are, but that their very nature disturbs the essential ambience of the walkway. The promenade sells tranquility, even when beautiful days draw large (and noisy) VTC crowds along its narrow passageway. Admittedly, there are disruptive elements, insensitive visitors who detract from enjoyment of the walkway at times. But that's no excuse to institutionalize activities that offer even more opportunity for changing the peaceful appeal of the waterfront structure.
And it's not as if the strollers will succumb to inanition in their trip along the waterfront. There's an established snack stand in the parking lot of the city park, run by Happy Hebditch, and there are plenty of food vendors downtown.
Since the first section of the railed promenade opened in 1992, the city has been earnestly trying to make the facility appealing to the broadest spectrum of users, with a minimum of rules but some common-sense guidelines. Most people respect and appreciate those boundaries.
Mayor Gunther Hirsch is quite right to insist that any ideas for enhancing its enjoyment be fully considered and that promotion of tourism is important for the city. The idea for the weekend hot dog stand was a reasonable one, not a crass attempt to cash in on a public resource. But, as the extensive public outcry confirmed, it was just not appropriate for this distinctive new landmark of Havre de Grace.
The only problem in this case was that Mr. Hirsch and City Manager Robert Lange appeared to have pre-approved the proposal before the city council got to look at it. They made it sound as if only the details remained to be worked out. In fact, the two men could have solicited further details from the entrepreneurs without sounding as if they were in final negotiations over contract terms.
As for confirming the prohibition of dogs on the walkway, that's a decision that makes perfect sense. As even a dog lover can tell you, these animals have minds of their own, even on a leash and with years of obedience training. They can become frightened or excited or overly exuberant, creating unpleasantness for others on a confined passageway. Dogs can't read the human signs that say "rest rooms," either, no matter how well-intentioned their owners may be. Their owners can find other places to share a walk with a human's best friend, even if it does not have the same aquatic vistas.
There's certainly no problem of wild dogs rampaging along the peaceful promenade, eating the mallards. But when unleashed canines are roaming the walkway (and they still do), then patrols by animal control officers should clear up the problem and
disobedient pet owners should be fined.
With a third section of the city promenade scheduled for construction this summer, Havre de Grace city fathers need to maintain the pleasant character of the promenade for the enjoyment of all. Because no one wants to see this scenic span go to the dogs.
Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.