This Land is Your Land, But You Still Need to Stay Out of It During the Shutdown

Thanks for closing our favorite parks, jerks. Image via

Are you sick of Congress and disgusted with the adolescent shenanigans that led to the government shutdown? If so, you’re surely not alone! Most of America is disgusted and many of us are looking for ways to show Congress how we feel.

This includes runners, of course. And many runners, furious about the shutdown that has closed their favorite running venues, the National Parks, have taken it upon themselves to register their complaints by jumping over barricades to run in the closed parks. One person commenting on this article about protesters jumping the fence at Zion National Park had this this to say:

Good for them. The parks belong to the people, not the Park Service, and the natural part of the parks should be accessible to everyone all of the time. 

Other runners aren’t out to make a political statement, they just want to run where they want to run when they want to run there. One runner had this to say on Facebook:

 I cross into closed areas daily but these are the same trails I always run closure or not. I am not doing any of this in protest of anything.

As the song says, this land was made for you and me, so why do we need the government to go play on it? Aren’t we entitled to access it whenever we want, especially if we “leave no trace?”

The shutdown has affected runners in more ways than just closing parks down. It’s the height of fall race season and many races around the country take place in the parks or use National Park land. The New York City Marathon on November 3 starts at a National Park on Staten Island. New York Marathon officials have said they’re working to ensure the race will go on this year, but with not much compromise seeming to happen in Congress, who knows if a solution will be reached by then. The Towpath Marathon (which has a special place in my heart) in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park was rescheduled from its original date, this Sunday, October 13, to November 3. Some runners are pretty upset about this. One in particular had this to say on Facebook:

Everyone should just show up & run it anyway as a protest demonstration.

Another internet pundit had this to say about the whole situation:

I don’t need to be governed running trails. Liberty precedes government.

Many runners feel entitled to enter the closed parks because they feel they respect the land and do everything in their power to leave no trace and are willing to bear the risk of their activities, not expecting help in case of an emergency. This is naive and very short-sighted. First, you may think you are leaving no trace, but is this really true? What if you have to use the restroom, but they’re all locked. No trace, huh? Ask any park employee and she will tell you that even the most conscientious park visitor can do more damage than they think they do. And you really think emergency personnel are going to let you die of thirst in the crevasse you fell into and can’t get out of?

Plus, when others see you, the conscientious person hopping the fence, they think they can, too. While you might be a steward of the park, other park visitors aren’t as respectful of the sanctity of park land. They leave trash and graffiti, damage plant life and generally tread heavily on the land. The land is federal land, set aside for preservation. It is not “the woods,” such that the closure is preventing you from enjoying nature. No one is entitled to be there whenever they want or do whatever they want there.  Liberty has strings attached. You are not at liberty to drive as fast as you want on the public highways or even drive on them if they’re closed for whatever reason. You are not at liberty to trespass on closed federal land even if you disagree with its closure. Rules are in place to protect the land and preserve it for our enjoyment.  Just because we may be “entitled” to use National Parks for recreation, we’re also “entitled” to a clean, safe environment. If we all had unfettered access to the parks, they wouldn’t be the parks we love to run in.

My friend Meghan is senior editor at, is a trail-junky ultrarunner who won the 2013 Marathon des Sables and spent 10 years working for the National Park Service at Yellowstone, Yosemite and Big Bend parks. She posted this great insight on Facebook:

I am disappointed by some people’s choice to both overtly and covertly disobey public-lands closures during the government shutdown. If I’m understanding that which I’m hearing and reading, people see their actions as civil disobedience or a way to send a message to our government leaders in Washington, D.C. or a way to simply go on with their recreation despite the law. While you may get a good run in, your civil disobedience is, I’m certain, far more effective in encouraging others to break the law and enter public lands, causing resource damage to those public lands by you and other ‘fence jumpers,’ and stressing the limited public-lands employees who remain on staff than it is in garnering government attention.

It’s so simplistic to say that “federal land is mine and the government shouldn’t manage what I do.” Without federal management of federal lands, the land would be shit, resources gone, graffiti on rocks, not a place you’d want to play. That’s why federal lands are closed right now, to prevent the damage that would come from ungoverned use of the land by the public.

It’s frustrating to not be able to go and play, I totally agree! But if you care about the quality of your public lands, stop going in the areas that are closed until the shutdown is over and encouraging others to do so, too. Write your congressfolk, protest outside the boundary of a federal land, voice your opinion about the government’s problems in a way that won’t harm the federal lands we love. 

Here I am running the 2009 Towpath Marathon and clearly thankful Congress was kind enough to fund the Park Service that year.
Here I am running the Towpath Marathon exactly four years ago to the day and clearly thankful Congress was kind enough to fund the Park Service that year.

If this isn’t enough to dissuade you, it really is a crime to ignore the closed signs. A ticket for using the park system when closed (shutdown or not, sometimes parks close areas for things like wildfires, landslides, unsafe trails, etc), can carry up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. It’s trespassing.

Lastly, make lemonade, people! Take this opportunity to run somewhere else. There are so many great parks run by state and local governments or scenic public roads that are open. Explore somewhere new. And remember it could be way worse than having to find a new running route. Have a little perspective.  Running outside of the National Park you love for a few weeks isn’t a big deal compared to what others are dealing with because of the shutdown. Be grateful this is your biggest worry. And while you’re at it, call or write your congressman and let them know how you feel instead of your Facebook friends.

So dear readers … are you with us? Or do you think we have it all wrong? Where do you stand on running in the National Parks during the shutdown?

Thanks to Coriander for all her help with this post! For the record, she wrote half of it and made my job 5000 times easier. She rocks!

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. Thank you thank you thank you! I wrote a post similar to this topic earlier this week with reference to the Towpath Marathon. I was hoping to get through to the runners who wanted to run anyways if the race was canceled. They were saying “f*ck the government” and “take back the trails”.
    I made the same reference about the bathrooms and cleaning up after yourself. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    1. Ugh. It really irks me when clearly people are using “civil disobedience” as a convenient excuse to do what they want to do anyway. It’s not about the political statement, it seems like it’s more about not wanting to be inconvenienced by having to find somewhere else to run. Sad!

  2. I completely agree with you. It is very short-sighted of people to think that just because they may not do any damage, that someone else might. With the lack of park police and rangers to patrol the area, there could be a lot of damage done. People have said, since there are park police to give out tickets to trespassers, then they should be able to patrol the parks. They are working with a skeleton crew, they are unpaid and they probably won’t get paid their lost wages. They don’t have the time and resources to ensure that the national parks are safe and clean for everyone who wants to use them. With the recent storms on the East Coast, some trails may have down trees. With the lack of staff, they aren’t going to be able to clear paths and could endanger someone who isn’t aware of the debris on the path.

    It is a very selfish and entitled person who completely disregards the signs. It isn’t fair, but you learn to live with it until the jokers in Congress finally get their act together.

    Last weekend, I had to come up with a whole new running path since part of mine was closed off due to the shutdown. I managed just fine and got to see parts of DC that I haven’t run past in quite some time. From what I saw, other people did the same thing.