Jane, a 3-year-old Labrador-griffon mix, and Tiger Lily, an 8-year-old “rescue-party mix,” made a little New Mexico history Monday. The two well-traveled dogs were the first to visit the log cabins of Valles Caldera since the national preserve amended where leashed pets are allowed.
The change is part of the protected area’s frontcountry expansion, said Dave Krueger, chief of interpretation at Valles Caldera National Preserve.
“We’re trying to provide more options for people that travel with pets,” Krueger told the Journal, “since we know a majority, or close to a majority, of people do travel with their pets and want to have at least some options when they go to national parks.”
The preserve, which is part of the National Park System, is located less than a 100 miles north of Albuquerque and 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe. It encompasses nearly all of a 13.7-mile-wide volcanic crater plus the meadows, streams, historic buildings and wildlife within it.
On May 15, the National Park Service roughly doubled the area designated as “frontcountry,” Krueger said. Frontcountry areas generally have more services for visitors like roads, restrooms and educational displays.
Previously, the frontcountry in Valles Caldera National Preserve consisted of the 2 miles of road from the park’s edge to the entrance station. Now it runs about 4 miles into the preserve, allowing visitors and their leashed pets to drive to the Cabin District and explore nine twentieth-century buildings built back when the land was privately owned and used for ranching.
“They can see more of Valle Grande, have a better chance to view elk from different locations as well as they have some other trail options up in the Cabin District that they can do, that’s now considered the frontcountry,” Krueger said.
Leashed pets are also allowed on La Jara Trail, Coyote Call Trail, Valle Grande Trail and in the parking lot of the Valle Grande entrance station. Pet owners must make sure their animals are respectful of the wildlife, the resources and of other visitors, Krueger said. Owners are also responsible for cleaning up after their pets.
“I’ll be there soon with doggie bags in my pack!” one Facebook user said in response to the preserve’s post about the change.
A few other Facebook users had questions or comments about animals in the backcountry portion of Valles Caldera. That area continues to be off limits to pets, Krueger said.
“We’re preserving the land, the landscape, for the wild ecosystem that’s out there,” he said. “Not having those wildlife-pet interactions is important.”
The land in the Cabin District, however, has already been impacted by people and their domesticated animals. It makes sense to allow pets there because the human imprint in that area makes encounters between wildlife and pets less likely, Krueger said.
Jessica Harbin, guardian of Jane and Tiger Lily, was “delightfully surprised” by the policy change that allowed her and her partner Jim Gascoigne to take their dogs deeper than they expected into the preserve.
“If they weren’t allowed past the entrance lot, we weren’t really going past the entrance lot!” Harbin said. “Since they were allowed to go up to the Cabin District, we got to see and learn more about the area, which was great.”
Rules for pets
- Pets must be kept under physical control at all times — caged, crated or on a leash no longer than six feet in length.
- Pet owners must clean-up and dispose of pet feces.
- Pet owners are prohibited from leaving an unattended pet tied to an object.
- Service animals are allowed in the park but emotional support therapy animals are not allowed on trails, other non-motorized areas or in vehicles that go into the backcountry.
For more information on pet safety and regulations at Valles Caldera National Preserve, visit www.nps.gov/vall/planyourvisit/pets.htm
Upcoming public comment
Valles Caldera National Preserve is also in the process of holding public comment meetings to share concepts and get feedback on their general management plan which addresses what infrastructure the park should invest in. The public comment period runs from May 8 to June 9. More information can be found on Valles Caldera National Preserve’s Facebook page or at https://www.nps.gov/vall/getinvolved/planning.htm