Domestic dogs and other pets are not allowed on the Restoration and Heron Trails, including the wetland boardwalk.
Leashed pets are allowed on all other park trails.
Question: Why can't I bring my dog onto the Restoration and Heron trails, particularly the wetland boardwalk? He's well behaved, and I always keep him on a leash. I'm sure he won't cause any trouble. Answer: We understand that people would like to take their favorite pets onto the boardwalk. However, the rule banning pets from the boardwalk is important and comes from both experience and scientific study. The main reasons:
1) The boardwalk is narrow. There is no shoulder or off-trail area. If two dogs or other animals meet and have an altercation, there could be injuries or there could be animals or people falling into the wetland. If a pet attacks a person, there is nowhere to go. Several people and pets have been bitten and injured on the boardwalk in these circumstances. Well-behaved pets can instigate an incident with a more aggressive animal, and animal behavior experts cannot predict how any two animals will react to each other.
2) Huntley Meadows is a wildlife sanctuary. Several rare and imperiled bird species nest in the wetland. Several studies show that even a leashed, well-behaved dog, cat or other animal is perceived by nesting birds as a predator. This can prevent birds from successful nesting. Studies have shown that a dog's presence can cause a 40% drop in bird numbers and a 35% drop in bird species. Several bird species that nest in the wetland do not breed anywhere else in Fairfax County.
Fairfax County is a pet-friendly county. However, it is important that we maintain wildlife-friendly areas. Many of the park visitors use the boardwalk for study, wildlife observation and nature photography. Domestic animals and pets interfere with those activities. Huntley Meadows is a 1,500-acre park. The Heron and Restoration Trails are the only portion off-limits to pets. Park staff appreciate your help in maintaining a park with room for people, pets and wildlife.