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Maryland weighs revising park pet policy

CUMBERLAND — Going to the park is a popular group activity, and visitors to Maryland’s state parks may soon be able to bring even more of their friends along.

The Maryland Park Service has begun taking public comments on a proposed plan to revise its pet policy and expand pet access in state parks.

According to the Maryland Park Service, the proposal was developed based on comments from park staff and visitors over the years.

Under the proposal, pet prohibitions in many of the parks throughout the state will be reduced. Parks that will allow pets greater access include Deep Creek Lake, New Germany State Park and Dan’s Mountain.

In particular, New Germany had previously prohibited pets entirely. Under the current proposal pets would be allowed year-round on trails and in the Pine Camp loop. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day weekend, pets will be allowed in the day-use area and lake.

Parks that will not be affected by the proposal include Big Run, Herrington Manor, Rocky Gap, Swallow Falls and Youghigheny Wild River. The policy already allows for pet access in these parks.

“We’re going to compromise with various opinions,” said Lt. Col. Chris Bushman, deputy superintendent of the Maryland Park Service. Bushman said that the Maryland Park Service has received comments with pro-pet and anti-pet views and intends to use them to fine-tune the proposal and address the unique nature of each park.

Park managers will still be able to prohibit pets from certain facilities in areas where they would otherwise be allowed, such as visitor centers and playgrounds. The policy will not affect service animals, which will still be allowed in all areas of the park open to their owners.

Bushman emphasized that the existing policies requiring pet owners to keep their pets on leashes and clean up after their pets will not change. “The park rangers and Natural Resources Police are on-site at these parks in the developed areas,” said Bushman. “We will not allow people to break those rules.“

After comments from the public and other parties have been reviewed and any necessary changes made, the new policy will be put into effect in early 2010.

Comments on the pet policy may be submitted online at http://dnrweb.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/petpolicy/comment.asp and through mail at Pet Policy Comments, Maryland Park Service, 580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis, MD 21401. Comments will be accepted until Nov. 30.

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