With spring and summer just around the corner, the BARK Ranger program is a great way for you and your pups to explore national parks around the United States! While not every part of the National Park Service is open to people or dogs, there are plenty of amazing parks that allow our furry canine friends. In addition to being a great pun, the BARK in this program stands for:
- Bag your pet’s waste
- Always leash your pet
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
Bagging your pet’s waste is incredibly important, particularly in national parks. Dog and cat poop are known carriers of parasites and other diseases like T. gondii, hookworms, parvo, and giardia. Additionally, pet waste has been known to create nutrients for weeds and algae in local waterways.
Always leashing your pet is essential in national parks, no matter how well-behaved your pup may be. First, not everyone in the park that you come across likes dogs and doesn’t want to say hi. That includes dogs too! Even dogs who aren’t great with other dogs deserve to be out and about in safe ways for everyone involved. Having your pet on a leash also helps you know when and where they poop and means they aren’t chasing or harassing nearby wildlife. This leads into…
Respecting wildlife means a lot of different things. Giving wild animals a wide berth and admiring them from afar keeps everyone (people, dogs, animals) safe. By keeping dogs on a leash, owners can make sure their dogs aren’t chasing or harassing wildlife (and thus, causing a lot of stress for the animal!).
Knowing where dogs are allowed is always helpful, and several really dog-friendly National Parks exist. Some of the most dog-friendly parks include Acadia National Park in Maine, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Wildlife Shepherding and Search & Rescue
Unfortunately, wildlife habituation does happen and that can be dangerous for animals and humans alike. But staff at the Glacier National Park came up with a great program back in 2016 that relies on a very special dog to keep everyone safe! Mark Biel, Glacier’s Natural Resources Program Manager, and his dog Gracie worked together to herd habituated wildlife away from some of the more popular tourist areas. As a border collie, Gracie is perfect for the job and spent 10 weeks in Florence, Montana for training.
Similarly, an Australian Shepherd/Cattle Dog named Bandit is a Bark Ranger at the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia. Bandit works with his human, a ranger at the parkway, to be a part of active missing person searches and training scenarios.
BARK Ranger Ambassadors
If you and your pup are abiding by the BARK principles, talk to a park ranger at a National Park about getting a BARK Ranger dog tag and becoming an official BARK Ranger! Some parks will even have a customized tag for your pup while others just have a generic one. It’s also important to note that many parks invite dogs and their humans to become BARK Rangers but not every participating park is dog friendly. Olympic National Park right here in Washington State, for example, does participate in the BARK Ranger program but is very restrictive when it comes to pets on the trails.