ASSATEAGUE – Assateague State Park could be going to the dogs, or cats, next year if proposed changes to expand pet access in state parks across Maryland are approved.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this week announced it was seeking public comment on proposed changes to the pet policy in state parks in Maryland including Assateague and other locations in Worcester County. The proposed plan includes increasing areas in state parks such as Assateague where pets have long been forbidden.
The Maryland Park Service (MPS) recently reviewed the existing pet policy in state parks and is proposing adjustments to the long-standing policies. The intent is to expand pet access in the state parks while continuing to provide a safe, enjoyable outdoor experience for everyone, according to MPS Superintendent Nita Settina.
“We want to give Marylanders the chance to enjoy more of our parks with their whole family, including pets, while minimizing any potential conflicts with other visitors,” she said. “Maryland’s state parks have always been places where families can come to engage in a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities in beautiful surroundings, and, increasingly, there is a desire for pets to be included in that experience.”
While the MPS has historically created opportunities for visitors to recreate with their pets, certain areas have been off-limits. As part of a continuous effort to improve visitor experiences in Maryland State Parks, a comprehensive review of the existing pet policy was conducted and proposed changes were developed. The last phase of that review is to solicit public comment on the proposals before the final policy is implemented.
If the plan is implemented, pets could gain access to areas of Assateague currently off limits. The proposal for Assateague includes allowing pets in the day-use beach area between Labor Day weekend and Memorial Day weekend. In addition, pets would be allowed in the marina areas of the state park, if only to board vessels, and also in certain designated camp loop areas. Similar changes would be employed in the Pocomoke River-Shad Landing state park.
Meanwhile, the federal Assateague Island National Seashore already has a fairly liberal pet policy in place. Pets are currently permitted in the Maryland portion of the National Seashore, but must be held on a leash of no longer than six feet at all times. However, pets are prohibited in certain areas including all back-country campsites and nature trails and the life guard-protected beach areas.