Urban Outdoor Woes

I’ve been back in DC two weeks now, and I was in desperate need of my outdoor fix. I headed straight for the Billy Goat Trail, the best little outdoor challenge nearby. Hiking along the rocky outcroppings next to the Potomac River is one of my favorite ways to combine being outside with my balance and agility training.

About 1/4 of a mile up the C&O canal from Angler’s Inn my friend and I came to a section that was fenced off. Not a problem, we just dropped into the dry canal – we were in the outdoors, afterall. The breach was impressive, and it was clear that the combination of water and erosion had had their way with the poor historic trail. We walked the creek bed up and around the roped off area until we could scramble 4 feet back up to the trail.

We had a great time on the Billy Goat and made our way back toward the parking lot where we were abruptly confronted by a Park Ranger telling us that we had to backtrack 1/2 a mile to a bridge, cross over to the Berma Road, then walk the 1/2 mile – or risk being given a $500 citation. I did not receive this directive well, as you can imagine, and I suggested a few alternatives. Could I walk the dry creek bed? NO. Could I cross the creek bed and hike the hill up to the road on the other side? NO. Would she personally escort us through the dry creek bed to the other side? NO.

I could see that I would get nowhere with this line of questioning so I was forced to oblige, much to my great annoyance. This IS the outdoors, right? It’s a sad thing that the NPS so afraid of lawsuits that they can’t even allow me to have the right to scrape my knee or sprain an ankle while I’m outside of all places. This wasn’t the Lincoln Monument, or even the White House, yet I was being treated like a potential land terrorist.

Come on, NPS, in spite of our urban locale, let’s remember why we come to the outdoors in the first place! It’s a sense of adventure, of being alive that we want! I realize this wasn’t backcountry, but surely it is possible to keep us safe within Federal bounds without being so unreasonable. I wonder what my readers think.

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