Updated October 16th 2010
(Updated Mar 20 2010) I must begin by stating I LOVE DOGS, but I also LOVE and respect the wildlife that lives in our protected National Parks. I have been licked, cuddled and played with by many Dogs I have met on the trails. Most of whom have not been on leashes as the Park requires. I have also been snapped at and been the recipient of menacing grows, on one occasion several of us had to get off the path to keep from being bitten by two large dogs.
As most know I hike in the Hot Springs National Park almost daily and I would like to address the easiest way to prevent the declining wildlife in the park. Ban Dogs from the Park your, mission is to conserve the wildlife and the eco-system, it is not to provide a dog walking venue. Every week I encounter people with their dogs off leash, destroying natural habits by running off the trail sometimes at the encouragement of their owners. I also have to avoiding stepping in the deification Dogs leave behind because their human companions did not clean it up. The National Park Service Mission is “…to promote and regulate the use of the…national parks…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C.1.
Please follow your own National Park Service recommendation: “The NPS offers several explanations as to why the presence of pets is regulated in the parks. Dogs, the most common traveling companion, are natural predators that may harass or even kill native wildlife which is protected within a park’s boundaries. Domestic dogs and cats also pose several threats to natural resources. They retain a primitive instinct to mark their territories with scent and can spread diseases to other wildlife. Many national parks include narrow trails, and since pets are sometimes hard to control, even on a leash, they may trample or dig up fragile vegetation. (TRAVELING WITH PETS TO NATIONAL PARKS) Your own statement is backed up by evidence presented in the New Scientist. “Peter Banks and Jessica Bryant from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, monitored bird life in woodlands just outside the city to assess the impact of dogs being walked there (Biology Letters, vol 3, p 611). They showed that bird life in areas frequented by dogs, even when kept on a lead, had 35 per cent less diversity and 41 per cent fewer birds overall. Areas with off-lead dogs seem to suffer even more: ongoing studies in the UK indicate that dogs are aiding the decline of some rare species of bird, such as European nightjars (Ibis, vol 149, p 27). (New Scientist)
Many hikers have indicated that over the past 20 years they have noticed a decline in the wildlife population within the park. A simple way to address this is to follow your own National Park Service rules and ban dogs from all Trails with the exception on the brick covered Promenade at the bottom of Hot Springs Mountain, the Arlington Lawn and the side walk along Bathhouse Row. Hot Springs is a NATIONAL PARK not a City park, please follow your own NPS rules.
Update: March 03 2010 I met 2 Tourist form Wisconsin on the Goat Rock Trail and they told me the following. On the Saturday they arrived they tried to go hiking but the trail between the campground and Hot Springs was a constant flow of people walking big dogs. They told me at least 50% were off leash. Their waitress at Ruby Tuesday’s told them she regularly takes her 3 Great Danes into the Parks and lets them run free off leash. They felt intimidated by having to share the trails with so many dogs, this is why they were taking one hike on the Wednesday I met them. They also mentioned of all the Parks they had visited during their long camping adventure this park was one that seemed to have no wildlife.
Update: March 06 2010 On the Short Cut I was nearly knocked over by an 85 lb. Boxer who was off leash. Although there was nothing vicious in the actions of the dog it could have easily hurt a child or elderly individual. The woman hiking behind me left the trail and headed up the Hot Springs Mountain Road clearly not want to have the same contact with the dog. No one should have to leave the trail because of a dog. This large playful dog was also freely digging and roaming in the protected (using this term loosely) habitat of many small mammals. This is another reason I am an advocate for banning dogs from the Hot Springs National Park.
Update: March 07 2010
As I was focusing on a log I hear a loud bark and discovered I was being stared at by a Terrier without an owner. I looked up the trail and saw I man up a head, the little dog ran to catch up but first stopped to mark the forest as his territory. The man was carrying a leash he had no intention of using, unless he got caught.
Update: March 15 2010
I encountered a big Lab off leash and I reminded the couple walking him was a park rule to have your dog on a leash at all times. It was especially important with all the small children in the park. They looked a bit guilty and fastened the leash.
As I leaned over to photograph a wildflower I was charged by an on the loose Pomeranian, making an off leash dash up the trail. The owners were frantically calling and clapping, but the little dog kept running and was not captured until they were all at the top of the trail. Although it was a funny sight the little dog could have have been hurt if had darted off the edge of the path and down onto the rocks below.
Update: March 19 2010
From the Floral Trail I head to the Lower Dogwood and decided to head to the west end on the trail and hike to the Upper Dogwood. I stopped to photograph a rock, as I was focusing I could hear growling and barking. I look to my side to see a big dog coming toward me, it’s owners are far behind. I yell out “excuse me your dog needs to be on a leash”. When they catch up and grab their dog “Lucky” they tell me they did not think it mattered as they are alone on the trail. I ask them again to put their dog on a leash, I advise them their dog is a predator and should not consider the park his territory.
Update: March 20 2010
Unfortunately the previously mentioned large 85 lb. boxer is not on a leash when he and his owner pass me on the trail. The Boxer stops to dig next to me damaging the plants along the side of the trail. Why do people see this place as a Dog Park instead of a protected National Park? I believe it is in part due to the fact that many at the NPS Hot Springs see the park as ending at Bath House Row. In the fourth month I have been hiking regularly in the park I have NEVER seen a Park Ranger above the Promenade. They stroll along central avenue in their uniforms instead of hiking in the park.
Update: September 10 2010
I had given up on photographing dogs off leash in the park, it seems no one really cares about their impact on the wildlife. It appears as it cools off people are happy to let them run free again. I was greeted by a couple of small dogs LONG before their human companions reached me. These woman felt it was their right to let the dogs run free in the park… IT IS NOT A RIGHT! When will Hot Springs National Park enforce it’s rules???? NEVER!!!! Once I have photos of unleashed Dogs on every Mountain I will send my complaint to National Park headquarters as clearly they do no care locally.
Update: October 16 2010
Three Groups of joggers running on the Hots Springs Mountain Trail ALL with dogs off leash. I was snarled and barked at even though I moved off the trail when I heard them coming. I wonder when the National Park Headquarters will force the local administration to ENFORCE the existing regulations for dogs in the park. Better yet banning all dogs from unpaved trails to protect the wildlife. Yes that is a novel idea for local park officials to actually care about the welfare of the wildlife in Hot Springs National Park. This is a NATIONAL PARK NOT A CITY DOG PARK! I have come to the conclusion I will have to take a print out of all the photos and this text to the National headquarters in DC when I am visiting this fall. Four loose dogs, who knows how many more were allowed free reign to hassle the wildlife and pollute their envioronment on other trail today. No one locally appears to pick up after their dogs messes, often the Goat Rock Trail looks like an unflushed toilet.
Update: November 04 2010
On the Short Cut Trail today the LARGE boxer was roaming free as it headed down the path at me. The owner spotted me and did not realize I had already seen his dog off leash. He grabbed his dog put it on a leash then walked past me as it the do dog had been on the leash all along. Then when he got past me he unhooked the leash, his dog going to hurt someone likely knocking them ov as it loves to run at people and then jump on them.