This National Public Lands Day, Do Good for the Dogs
Story and Photos Contributed by Ruffwear Ambassador Katie Boué
Turns out, the only thing better than America’s public lands is sharing them with your dog. My pooch, Spaghetti, has been a proud public lands lover since the day we adopted her. Snoozing in the back of her beloved van while we camp in Sawtooth National Forest? Her favorite. Hiking along the South Rim Trail at Grand Canyon National Park? No big deal. Paddling down stretches of the Colorado River in Moab? *buckles into her Float Coat* Let’s do it.
Every time we step outdoors, we have a responsibility to the land we’re on. It’s a deep belief of mine, and I believe it is an honor we have bestowed upon us to take care of the land–and the water, and the air. The way Spaghetti’s eyes light up as she zoomies through a sand dune? What a privilege I have to advocate for those dunes.
Every time we step outdoors, we have an impact. Our boots on the ground, our cars on the road, our kayaks in the water–it all leaves an impact on our public lands. And when we take our four legged adventure buddies out, they leave an impact too. On us, certainly, but also, an impact on the land. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Everyone, everywhere has an impact–it’s simply part of existing on our planet. The key is our awareness of our impacts, and what we do to address and mitigate them. Our awareness is what empowers us to do good.
As dog owners, we’re gifted a special set of responsibilities when we’re outdoors. We’re responsible to the land, yes, but equally important, we’re responsible for the wellbeing of our pups. I’ve been adventuring outdoors my entire life, but everything changed when I adopted Spaghetti. I was no longer just considering my own gear needs, physical capabilities, necessary permits, or how much water I should carry – I’m making important decisions for Spaghetti, too. I’ve always been a research nerd before trips, but now, I soak up and seek out information about public lands with heightened intention. Because let’s be honest, I don’t plan trips for myself anymore, I plan adventures for Spaghetti.
Spaghetti and outdoor advocacy are the two suns around which my universe orbits. I am often reminded how intertwined it all is. Recently, we traveled to Sawtooth National Forest for the first time. While researching the best dog hikes in the area, I discovered that while dogs are permitted off-leash most of the year, from July 1 – Labor Day, they must be leashed. Curious, I started digging. Was this due to wildlife mating seasons or migrations? Peak visitor timing? Eventually, I found this forest planning document from 1998. How apropos, as I’ve spent the summer learning about the importance of forest planning through my work with Outdoor Alliance. A decision made over twenty years ago is still affecting how we experience the Sawtooths today. What a poignant reminder of how powerful our involvement in outdoor advocacy can be.
Here’s a guide to how I combine my dog mom and public lands super powers to be a powerful outdoor advocate when I get outside:
Check public lands’ websites and scour every bit of information before you go. Planning ahead can help you find optimal campsites, make sure you’re prepared with the gear you’ll need, and give you a heads up about any closures or changes you may need to make to your trip.
Stop by the visitor’s center, or call a ranger station. This is the best way to get the most up-to-date information on trail conditions, special regulations, weather, and where to ask rangers for the best dog-friendly hikes in the area.
Lead by example. Visiting the Sawtooths during on-leash season was a bummer, I admit, but it was the policy, so we leashed our pups up. At the trailhead, we saw a couple with an unleashed dog looking a little unsure about whether they should or shouldn’t let their pooch roam free. Within a half mile of the trail, seeing every other dog on lead following the rules, the couple leashed up their pup. Good ethics beget good ethics, just as poor behavior will beget more of the same.
Show up as a public lands advocate. After many years lobbying Congress in DC, showing up at city council meetings, and participating in community decision-making processes, I’ve learned one thing: the people who show up are those who get heard. Becoming politically active isn’t just about protecting public lands, it helps dog owners make sure our pups’ interested have a seat at the table too. Get involved with Forest Planning, participate in public comment periods, take action however you can.
Public lands are a gift, both to us and our four-legged family members. This National Public Lands Day, let’s commit to taking action to protect these places and doing good so our dogs can keep running wild and sharing our joy of being outdoors. Do it for the dogs.