We’ve been looking to get Milo’s Bark Ranger tag at the Olympic National Park all summer, but hadn’t mustered the motivation to drive 3+ hours out (10+ hours total to come back) to visit Kalaloch Ranger Station on the Washington coast. So when Labor Day weekend rolled around, we knew we had to take the opportunity to make a clockwise loop around the Olympic Peninsula.
The Bark Ranger program does not yet have much of a presence online. What can be found is scattered event listings and isolated information from participating national parks and monuments. So when we set out to get Milo’s tag, we also wanted to connect with park officials at the original flagship location. The goal was to write a comprehensive resource about the program for our friends at National Park Paws, an online resource for all the pet friendly outdoor areas in the United States.
We arrived at the Kalaloch Station around noon. Right as Milo and I walked through the door, we were welcomed by Ranger Birdie, who said “I see our newest Bark Ranger!” I told her that we came all the way out here for Milo to participate, and she seemed a little surprised but happy that we did.
Ranger Birdie chatted with us for a while about what the BARK principles are before handing us our brand new Bark Ranger tag. Milo’s photo was taken for the Bark Wall and she was nice enough to take a picture with Milo outside too! Milo seemed to enjoy the attention and wasn’t quite holding his obedience commands well, but overall he behaved nicely even with people and other dogs coming in and out of the ranger station on a busy weekend.
His tag was accompanied with a note that said that in the Olympic National Park, dogs are allowed on Peabody Creek Trail, Rialto Beach parking lot to Ellen Creek (1/2 mile), the stretch of beach between the Hoh and Quinault Reservations, Madison Falls Trail, and Spruce Railroad Trail, along with the principles of BARK.
With Milo’s new tag hanging on his collar, we carried on along the Hoh River, looking for a place to camp overnight. Although the Hoh Rainforest is not listed as officially listed, we found out from the rangers stationed there that pets are allowed to be in the campgrounds, walk anywhere that is paved, and play in the Hoh River (on leash, of course). They are not allowed on any of the trails, nature walks, or in the visitor’s center. Despite not being officially pet-friendly, we saw quite a number of dogs while there and everyone seemed to respect the regulations. After a long day of driving, a walk around the campsite, and playing in the river – Milo was knackered.
The second dog-friendly location we visited was the Spruce Railroad Trail. This is one of the officially listed dog-friendly trails. This was our second time to Lake Crescent and we came to check out the Punchbowl this time. There were a lot of dogs on the trail since it is also a mountain bike path. Everything went fairly smoothly and we used the opportunity to train Milo on a better heel and for impulse control with other dogs around.
On the way back to the car, we encountered two people who had three small to medium off leash dogs. Two of them rushed up to another dog further up the trail and they got into a snarling bark off before the leashed dog’s owner dragged their dog away. The owners of the off leash dogs made no effort to call their dogs off or to leash them. We put Milo in a heel between the two of us and calmly braced for whatever would come. The same two off leash dogs approached Milo head on, which in human body language, is the] equivalent of running up to a stranger and giving them a huge unwanted hug.
Milo followed our urging to leave them be, but if it had been last summer in the height of his reactivity or another leash reactive dog trying to enjoy a day with their humans, I’m sure a fight would’ve broken out. I sternly told the people that all their dogs had to be leashed or else someone was going to get hurt, to which one of them responded with a dismissive “Sorry!”
Putting it behind us, we made it back down to the car and packed up to leave. As we started driving to exit the parking lot, we ran into the two people with their off leash dogs again. They had apparently turned around (perhaps they didn’t even had leashes with them and ran into a problem further up the trail?). Their dogs were completely unaware and meandering around as cars were driving by. They could’ve easily been hit multiple times if drivers weren’t careful in the busy parking lot. Meanwhile, I was furious because the dogs didn’t know better and the humans still made no effort to get them out of harm’s way.
Looking back, this is why the principles of BARK is so important. Even without the tag or participating in the program, these regulations are in place ultimately for the prevention of problems in all kinds of situations, for the protection of the ecosystem, and for the safety of pets. Of course it is always possible that we will run into people who think they’re above the law, but being a good advocate for your dog and for the park means to help inform, educate, and start conversations with people.