A group of about 40 runners ran on the roads of Valley Forge National Historical Park on the morning of Oct. 13 to press officials to reopen the park for recreational use.
The group had alerted Valley Forge rangers that they’d be seeking entry at 9 a.m. But as expected, the main gate was locked and closed signs were posted, so the runners put in 5.4 miles on the state roads that surround and pass through the popular national park, which has been closed since the partial federal government shutdown began on October 1.
The shutdown has kept a number of runners out of popular training sites, including the C&O Canal towpath in Maryland and Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona. The closure of Valley Forge drew attention last week when marathoner John Bell said he was fined $100 for running in the park.
"No laws were broken, but our message was clear, open the trail,” George Fenzil, one of the protest organizers and president of Keystone Multisport Club in Montgomery County, Pa., wrote on the club’s website about Sunday's protest run.
Multiple running and triathlon clubs in the Philadelphia area participated, with runners ranging in age from 8 to 70, according to organizers.
The group stayed together, running on the road's narrow shoulder. Some wore t-shirts with the slogan "Running for the Right to Run." At times, the group was just a few feet from the trail they usually run on.
“Obviously, this isn't the largest issue facing the nation, but it’s an issue facing the local running community,” says Fenzil.
Pete Frey, a runner and cyclist from nearby Blue Bell, ran with his 12-year-old twins, both cross country runners.
“My kids told me after that what they learned was that if you don’t think something is right, you should say something about it,” he says.
The Valley Forge run was organized in support of Bell, of Chadds Ford, Pa., whose claim of being fined for running in the park has received mainstream media attention.
But Valley Forge chief ranger Gregg Tinkham told Runner's World Newswire that all tickets issued at Valley Forge since the October 1 shutdown were for parking violations and that no one has been cited for exercising.
“We can relate to the runners, and if they can relate and understand where we are coming from, that’d be great, too,” says Tinkham.
Tinkham says he did not meet the group at the main gate because he does not have the authority to grant them access. He added that issuing parking citations is a necessary part of a ranger's job and that the rangers were doing their best to maintain goodwill with the public.
“[Closing the park] is not our idea, not what we enjoy. No one wants to see this park open more than us,” Tinkham says.
“It’s been troubling to see the angst in the community,” he adds.
Tinkham's main concern is that runners won't return to the park when all this is over. He hopes that is not the case.
"No place will you find a park that appreciates runners more than Valley Forge," he says.