BAR HARBOR – Acadia National Park ranked ninth among the most visited national parks in the United States last year, with 2.5 million visitors.

But the influence of the dog lovers driving up those numbers cannot be underestimated. That’s because despite ongoing problems with dog owners breaking rules, Acadia remains one of a small number of national parks open to dogs — and canine fans know it.

“We see dogs in stores, in little shops. It’s all dog-friendly,” said Tyler Stark, who visited Acadia from Pennsylvania with his wife Heather and mutt Dora.

Many pet owners in the park and in Bar Harbor a week ago said they came to Acadia specifically because it’s a vacationland for pups.

“We take our dogs with us everywhere. We try to go places where they are allowed. You don’t feel unwanted up here at all,” said Jennifer Weiss, who came from Baltimore with her husband, Richard, and their dogs, Keety and Buddy.

In fact, on any given summer day parts of Acadia look like veritable dog parks.

Stop in for tea at the Jordan Pond House and dogs can be found seated under their owners with dog bowls set out by the service staff.

Around Cadillac Mountain, dogs stroll with human visitors as if in a pup parade.

Park rangers say the culture on Mount Desert Island when the national park there was created in 1919 probably demanded the open-door policy for dogs then, and Maine’s love of mutts is no different now.

But permitting pets in Acadia — one of just 14 national parks that allow dogs — is a balancing act, rangers say.

Acadia Chief Ranger Stuart West said park staff work to educate visitors on dog restrictions, and struggle sometimes to get them to comply.

West said they work hard so Acadia can remain dog-friendly.

“Only 14 national parks out of 58 allow dogs. We’re really lucky to allow dogs at all,” West said. “Every year we hear from people who would like to see the park without dogs. It’s important that dog owners treat it as a privilege, or it won’t be permitted in the future.”

Dogs need to be leashed to avoid disturbing wildlife and other visitors, or getting hurt by wild animals such as porcupines. In addition, while most hiking trails at Acadia are canine friendly, some can put a dog at risk.

Dogs have been carried off mountains in the park after growing fatigued or having their paws scraped by the granite that is everywhere in Acadia.

Local celebrity Martha Stewart’s dog was carried out of the park, said Acadia resource specialist Charlie Jacobi.

“We have five staff from the Friends of Acadia who are on hiking trails. Almost every day they meet dogs off-leash,” Jacobi said.

Those trail stewards find pet owners breaking park rules all the time, Jacobi said. He said owners often feign compliance around rangers, and let their dogs run off-leash in remote areas.

Over the past 10 years, Jacobi said, the percentage of pet owners who comply with leash rules has been as low as 38 percent and not often higher than 55 percent.

But West said park staff will continue the challenge of educating pet owners, because of the demand for dogs in the surrounding community.

Ten years ago the park sought user feedback on trail regulations through a survey. Jacobi said locals who responded used it to lobby for the dogs.

“We got 106 comments on hiking trails, and 90 percent were about dogs. They didn’t want to see us ban dogs,” Jacobi said.

Bar Harbor’s love of dogs is why Claudia Rosti of Rhinebeck, N.Y., came to Acadia with her poodle, Mazi Grace.

“I never go anywhere without her. Really, she’s less harmful than a child,” Rosti said outside the shops the two visited.

And the town’s canine culture was the only reason Carole and Ray Hayward visited from Tampa, Fla.

The Floridians Googled “national parks” and “dogs,” and said all signs pointed to Acadia.

As they strolled through Bar Harbor with their Tibetan terrier, Josie, a welcome vibe was everywhere and would bring them back to this vacation haven, they said.

Meanwhile the pup policy throughout the town caught others by surprise. Canadians Valerie and Macgregor Grant sailed from St. John, New Brunswick, to Bar Harbor knowing nothing about the town or national park.

It left them in awe. They dined on lobster outside with their golden retriever, Penny; hiked Cadillac Mountain in the park with her; and imagined their next trip to the region with their dog.

“We’ve seen people walk with their dogs into establishments. It’s fantastic. Dogs feel welcome here,” Valerie Grant said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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