Dear Davi,

How do I earn a Bark Ranger Badge?

Maury the Mastiff



Earning your Bark Ranger Badge is a fun way to learn about park pet policy while hiking safely with your human.

You can become a Bark Ranger by completing the program at any National Park, particularly during the National Parks’ centennial celebration in August. Just follow these Rules of B.A.R.K:

  • Bag your poop
  • Always wear a leash
  • Respect wildlife
  • Know where you’re allowed to go

Got it? Good.

I scored my badge at Fort Caroline National Memorial, on the banks of the St. Johns River. Before I put my paws on the path, I had some questions for the park ranger:

How long should my leash be?
We recommend using a six-foot leash — not retractable — to keep you safe and under control.

I hear Timucuan Visitor Center has a fascinating collection of artifacts. Can I go inside the building?
Sorry, but only service dogs are allowed in the buildings.

Where can my human throw away my mess? 
Poop bags are available near the trail entrance. There are trashcans throughout the park, so be sure your human doesn’t just drop the bag on the ground.

How can I drink water on the trails?
There are no water stops on the trail, so you’ll need to bring a bottle. You can refill it at the water fountain in the breezeway by the Visitor Center.

How can I protect myself from things that want to bite me?
There can be wild animals within the park, and there are mosquitoes. Make sure your shots and heartworm preventive treatments are up-to-date. A study was done in the park; it showed 33 percent of the mosquitoes were vectors — a species that may carry the heartworm virus.

The fort itself is a short walk through the woods from the visitor center. The trail is paved with ancient shells and Spanish moss — watch out for chiggers!

Halfway down the trail, I saw a board with pictures of dogs — official Bark Rangers! Soon, my picture will be among these cool canines.

I reach the fort’s open gate. Small moats couldn’t protect the fort from invaders, or from my sniffing snout. Fun Fact: Fort Caroline marks the general location of the first French settlement in North America. The exact location isn’t known, which is why the park has been designated as a memorial, not a historic site.

I took time to explore grassy berms and 16th-century canons before starting the trail. In a wag of my tail, I was walking among oaks and palmettos where Timucua Indians once walked. The 1.3-mile loop winds through hilly woods, so be prepared for a steep climb, and watch out for tree roots sticking out underpaw. I tried to alert folks about the Coontie palm — it’s poisonous — but they were too busy reading signposts about Indian life to heed my warning. Hey, I tried.

In a flash, I was back in the parking lot and ready for home. Getting my Bark Ranger Badge was a real treat and makes Fort Caroline National Memorial a wag-worthy adventure!


Davi the dachshund doesn’t do much horseback riding, but he is an enthusiastic Bark Ranger.