Devils Postpile National Monument in California's High Sierra has just taken a four-legged step to engage local dog owners and their canine companions in the monument's volunteer program.
The Paw Patrol program employs dog owning volunteers and their pets as representatives of the monument, to connect with dog loving and dog walking visitors—and serve as examples of great canine behavior and conduct.
The program got its start at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio during 2010. Cuyahoga’s Interpretation and Visitor Services Ranger Scott Van Houten pretty well sums up the appeal—“Dogs are a great way to make visitor contact at the park,” he says. “They’re just another reason to stop and talk to a uniformed representative.”
Cuyahoga became a unit of the national park service in 1974 and got its current name in 2000. After the tow path recreation trail opened in the early 1990s, visitation to the park doubled. With cycling so popular, the park saw the potential for engaging recreationists with special interests and introduced the bicycling Tow Path Trailblazers in 1993. A horse patrol was started too.
The canine idea came about in 2010 and it’s been a hit. “All the volunteers are trained in first aid,” says Van Houten, “and it’s a good way to meet people. Anything that makes representatives of the park more approachable is great.”
Devils Postpile Supervisory Ranger Maureen Finnerty thought the same thing when she discovered the program. "You're not going to believe this," she said, "but my Mom is actually a Paw Patrol volunteer at Cuyahoga Valley! We were talking about the various volunteers that parks work with, how it's often difficult to engage the visiting public, and she said, 'Boy, you ought to check with Cuyahoga Valley, the have a great dog program.'"
Finnerty did just that in a call to Brady Bourquin, Park Ranger Interpretation, at Cuyahoga Valley, the direct supervisor of the Paw Patrol program. The rest is history.
Devils Postpile’s Paw Patrol Program has also proven to be a huge success with dog owners, monument visitors, and the volunteers. “But these aren't just any dogs in the program,” Finnerty says. “Dogs selected for the pilot program had to pass a rigorous and nationally recognized series of behavioral tests." The monument uses the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Test to ensure that all canine participants in the program are models for good dog behavior and that their owners help demonstrate to park visitors responsible pet ownership not only in national park sites that allow dogs but at home as well.
Of course, there are many national park settings where dogs are not allowed, even on leash. "We are pleased to have such as an innovative offering like Paw Patrol in our volunteer program," says Cuyahoga Valley superintendent Stan Austin. "It was unique to Cuyahoga Valley because we are one of the few parks that allows dogs. We were interested in launching the program to help visitors recreate with their dogs in the park safely. Additionally, it provides for a unique volunteer opportunity for people who enjoy experiencing the park with their pets. Paw Patrol volunteers and their canines have been a wonderful addition to our volunteer program!"
At Devils Postpile National Monument, the new Paw Patrol Volunteers have contacted more than 300 visitors to date.
There’s more going on during these visitor interactions than just educating park users about dogs and regulations pertaining to dogs. Paw Patrol volunteers also introduce visitors to monument resources and the topics of resource protection and safety.
Volunteer Paw Patroller Sarah Seaborg, who patrols at Devils Postpile with her black lab Sprocket, said, "Visitors love the dogs. Even if they don't have dogs, they just come up to you and start talking. It's a great way to connect."
Devils Postpile is surrounded by the Inyo National Forest, which allows dogs both on and off leash, and is accessed by a dog-friendly mandatory shuttle system. More than 1,300 dogs and their owners take the shuttle service each year at Devils Postpile—another reason why dogs just seem to fit.
There are about 8 miles of trails in Devils Postpile, and of course, dogs must be on leash and dog owners who hike with their pets are responsible for cleaning up after them. To make that easier, the monument’s trailhead is equipped with Mutt Mitt ® disposable plastic bags!
Finnerty says the program hopes to educate dog owners and other monument visitors about pets in parks, but the effort is also intended to connect volunteers and visitors to monument resources through the eyes of their canine companions.
Inside the monument, the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trail run as a combined trail and the Ansel Adams Wilderness is just outside the boundary. Devils Postpile National Monument was established in 1911 to protect the Devils Postpile formation, a “rare sight in the geologic world” which “ranks as one of the world's finest examples of columnar basalt.” The symmetrical columns soar 60 feet high. Devils Postpile is also famous for 101-foot high Rainbow Falls.