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Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens BARK Ranger: How to become one

If you want to explore preserved wetlands in the heart of the city and see beautiful lotus flowers, you can have your dog become a BARK Ranger at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC. It’s great for those who are looking for something to do with their dog besides breweries and patios, and want an excuse to explore the city.

This is a brand new program, with the National Park Service announcing it on June 24, 2024. When I heard about it, I knew I had to take our dog, Lil Mikey. In the past 9 months, Lil Mikey (aka Ranger Wiggles) has earned four BARK Ranger certifications: Rock Creek Park, Great Falls Park, National Cherry Blossom Festival, and now Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It’s been a fun excuse to explore the DC area, and more parks in the area are starting to participate in the program (Rock Creek Park, Cherry Blossom Festival, and Kenilworth all had programs created in the past year).

Here’s everything you need to know about becoming a Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens BARK Ranger, including when you can get it, where to go, what to do, cost, and what you get. A BARK Ranger costume is completely optional!

What is a BARK Ranger?

Close-up of a "Bark Ranger" tag for Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens held in a hand, with a blurred background showing a dog in a ranger outfit and a park ranger adjusting the dog's hat.

The BARK Ranger program, a brainchild of the National Park Service, is all about educating pet owners on how to enjoy the park with their dogs. BARK stands for:

  • Bag your pet’s waste: Always clean up after your pet to keep the park clean.
  • Always leash your pet: Leashes help protect your dog and the park’s wildlife.
  • Respect wildlife: Give animals space to prevent stress and maintain their natural behavior.
  • Know where you can go: Stick to areas that are pet-friendly to minimize disturbances.
"B.A.R.K. Ranger National Park Service Code" poster with guidelines for pet owners: "Bag your pet’s waste – Always clean up after your pet to keep the park clean." "Always leash your pet – Leashes help protect your dog and the park’s wildlife." "Respect wildlife – Give animals space to prevent stress and maintain their natural behavior." "Know where you can go – Stick to areas that are pet-friendly to minimize disturbances." Illustrations include a person disposing of waste, a leashed dog, a squirrel, and a path through trees.
National Park Service’s B.A.R.K. Ranger Code

Individual national parks have rolled out the BARK ranger program in different ways, and they don’t have it at every national park. At Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in DC, you can get a badge from the visitor’s center. At other parks, you may need to sign a pledge or do a scavenger hunt (like at Great Falls VA). Some parks may offer tags or bandanas while others do not.

How to Become a BARK Ranger at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is one of my favorite places in Washington, DC. Best known for the Lotus and Water Lily Festival in mid-July each year, it has beautiful aquatic plants in 40+ ponds. The first place I ever saw lotus flowers was here, and I feel in love with their otherworldly beauty. However, the boardwalk into the marsh is my favorite spot in the park. DC has many quiet spots throughout the city, but the boardwalk is so peaceful.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens encourages you to bring your dogs! It’s a great way to give your dogs a little variety in sights and smells. Beavers, ducks, herons, turtles, bullfrogs, and deer are common sights at Kenilworth. While you need to keep your dog away from them, your dog will love picking up the scents of animals they don’t normally see.

Go to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

A vibrant pink lotus flower blooming amidst green lotus leaves, set against a backdrop of trees and a cloudy sky.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is located at 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC. It’s just off 295 in the Kenilworth neighborhood. There is a small parking lot at the park that fills up quickly when the lotuses are in bloom, but there is additional parking at Kenilworth Park or on the street.

From the parking lot, you’ll take the path into the park, which will take you right to the flower ponds.

While you’re there, you should adhere to the BARK Ranger Code and know where to go. It’s important to keep your dog leashed and out of the ponds, gardens, and wetlands. The plants are fragile and can’t bear the weight of your pup.

Stop by the Visitor’s Center

A dog in a BARK ranger outfit sitting on a wooden deck next to a building, with two people sitting on a bench in the background, and a park ranger standing nearby.

Once you enter the park, the visitor’s center is the building to the left. It is only open from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, so make sure you plan accordingly.

The visitor’s center has some interpretive displays that you can explore while you are there, but I only peeked my head in to avoid bringing my dog into the visitor’s center.

You’ll get a card that has the BARK Ranger Code and instructions to take 3 pictures of your dog following the code. You can skip this step if you already know the code, and just pick it up when you go to show your pictures after exploring the park.

Explore the park & take 3 photos

Now’s the time for the real fun: exploring Kenilworth! I have a whole guide on Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens that goes into more depth about when to go, how to get there, and things to do.

When you leave the visitor’s center, don’t miss the tropical ponds behind the visitor’s center. It also has a large picnic area with cherry blossom trees

If you’re visiting in the summer, the lotuses and water lilies in the main cultivated ponds are the main attraction for most. Take your time, though, because there’s more to the park. If you continue to the left past the cultivated ponds, you’ll be taken to the boardwalk, which is a year-round highlight.

Take 3 photos of your dog following the BARK code, and go get that badge.

Get your badge

Head back to the visitor’s center, and speak to a park ranger. Tell them you’re here to become a BARK Ranger. They’ll ask to see your photos and have you sign the BARK Ranger pledge, and then give you a badge. The badge is free, and the ranger did a little swearing in of Lil Mikey (which he loved).

The program is very new. When I went on one of the first days, I got a collar tag for the Kenilworth BARK Ranger program. There was not a pledge for me to sign. Not all of the rangers and staff were aware of the program. Later in the week, they had the cards. The program is evolving, and if the person you speak to at the visitor’s center isn’t aware of the program, it may be helpful to show them a picture of the badge.

What’s Next?

A white water lily with a bright yellow center floating on a pond surrounded by large green lily pads and small aquatic plants.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens has the last remaining natural wetlands in DC, and it’s something to be treasured. Now that you have your badge, don’t stop exploring! There is a trail connecting Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to the Anacostia River Walk Trail, which is nicely shaded. It’s popular with bikers and is a well maintained, paved trail along the river.


How can my dog become a B.A.R.K. Ranger?

At Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, it’s easy: take 3 photos of your dog following the BARK Ranger code, go to the visitor’s center, and ask for the pledge and a badge.

Can I bring dogs to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens?

Yes! Kenilworth encourages you to bring your dog, as long as you follow the B.A.R.K. code. Dogs love to sniff all the mud, but make sure they stay out of the ponds and the marshland.

What does the acronym B.A.R.K. represent in the context of a B.A.R.K. Ranger?

The acronym B.A.R.K. stands for the principles that all B.A.R.K. Rangers and their owners should follow: Bag your pet’s waste, Always leash your pet, Respect wildlife, and Know where you can go.

What are the responsibilities of a B.A.R.K. Ranger?

At Kenilworth, they don’t make your dog (or you) take a pledge to follow the B.A.R.K. code, but it is still your responsibility to follow the code. That means keeping your dog on a leash, cleaning up after it, not letting it chase or harass wildlife, and keeping it on the trails any time they are enjoying any national park.

What times can I get the badge?

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens has more restrictive hours than other parks. The park itself is open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, but the visitor’s center is open 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. You must go during hours when the visitor’s center is open (9-3) in order to get a badge, which means most people will need to go on weekends to get a badge.

Valerie Moore

Having lived in Washington, DC for the past 16 years, Valerie has a lot of thoughts about the best things to do, eat, and know around the city. She loves doing deep dives into the interesting things she finds, and sharing with the world. You'll often find her dog, Lil Mikey, along for the ride.

Comments (2)

  • Lisa Starlingsays:

    July 1, 2024 at 3:38 pm

    Hello Valerie. Thanks for the thorough article. I heard about the new program at Kenilworth from the BARK Rangers Facebook page. We went today (Jul 1, 2024) and there was a pledge card to sign and we had to take 3 photos to prove we were following BARK. But the gentleman who gave us the tags never actually asked to see the photos. Just thought you might want to add an addendum to your article.

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