Beginning March 1, new rules will take effect at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area designed to balance the need to better protect sensitive natural habitats atop the rock, including the vernal pools, and still allow visitors to continue to enjoy central Texas’ most popular destination with their pets.
Starting Tuesday, pets will only be allowed in specified camping areas, day-use areas and the Loop Trail. Pets will no longer be allowed to accompany hikers on the Summit Trail that ascends to the top of Enchanted Rock.
“Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is an incredibly special place for thousands of Texans who visit the granite dome every year,” said Doug Cochran, superintendent at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. “It is equally important for a number of plants and wildlife that inhabit the area. It is our responsibility to protect these natural and cultural resources to ensure its longevity for future generations to enjoy.”
Enchanted Rock’s annual visitation is nearing 300,000 people. In January alone, more than 34,700 visitors enjoyed the mild weather at the State Natural Area.
The surface of Enchanted Rock is covered with natural depressions, called vernal pools, which routinely fill with water and create miniature ecosystems on the bare granite surface. Many of these pools support a unique species of invertebrate, the fairy shrimp.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing these pools become more polluted with increasing human and pet encroachment,” said Cochran. “It is not uncommon for an estimated 100 pets or more to visit Enchanted Rock with their owners each weekend, and the impact on these delicate resources is significant.”
The new rules are the result of preliminary findings on a two-year research study on the conditions in the vernal pools. When compared with a baseline study from 1965, these initial findings have necessitated a need to take action as soon as possible to protect these miniature ecosystems.
Too often, the vernal pools are perceived as nothing more than convenient rest areas or “bathrooms” for people and pets, and have been subject to trampling, littering and various forms of waste. While the act of allowing pets to get a drink or simply lay in the pool to cool off may not seem like a big deal, the reality is that when compounded by hundreds or even thousands of pets doing the same over the course of a year, has resulted in some real concerns. By prohibiting pets from all hiking and climbing areas, except the Loop Trail, campgrounds and the day-use areas, the park aims to protect the fragile vernal pools and reverse the polluted water in these areas while also protecting animals at the same time.
Another main concern from park personnel is the increasing number of pet injuries ranging from heat exhaustion to burnt and cut paws from the hot and jagged granite surface. While people are protected from the direct heat of the rock by shoes, pets are not afforded the same protection.
As always, visitors bringing pets on site are required to keep them on a six-foot leash at all times, use the designated waste stations, and reminded to never leave pets unattended, both on site or in their vehicles.
A list of available pet boarding facilities in Fredericksburg and Llano will be available at the park’s office.
Most trails, including the Summit Trail, are closed 30 minutes after sunset, allowing park visitors to view the sunset and safely descend to the parking lot. The Loop Trail is the only trail open after sunset to gain access to the primitive camping areas.