PHILADELPHIA – Dozens of people staged a protest run through Valley Forge National Historical Park on Sunday after a runner and others were ticketed amid the government shutdown.
Since the shutdown closed the popular site near Philadelphia, marathoner John Bell and others have gotten $100 tickets for allegedly violating the closure order, mostly for parking in the park.
Several running groups took part in what some called a "Patriot Run" to call attention to the shutdown.
"How can you close the outside?" asked runner George Fenzil, 46, of Philadelphia.
They ran on state and local roads that cut through the national park but remain open and are just a few feet from paved walking paths in the park.
"It's less safe, people running out on the road, with no shoulder, with traffic coming at 40 miles per hour. We're literally running three feet from the trail that they say we can't be running on," said Bell, 56, of Chadds Ford, who plans to fight his Oct. 6 ticket in federal court.
The National Park Service says at least 20 people have been issued tickets at Valley Forge, and more at parks across the country. A spokesman has said that safety is a concern, given widespread staff furloughs. The park service has said that a hiker in Acadia National Park was seriously injured after violating a closure notice.
But Bell doesn't believe safety is an issue at Valley Forge, which has wide paths and gently rolling hills.
"We've run in here for years, without ever seeing a park ranger. Anytime there's been an injury with a runner, the park ranger has never been the one to respond," he said.
Some national parks are reopening with the use of state or other funds. A park service spokesman did not immediately return an email message Sunday.
Lawyer Jeremy Ibrahim, who is representing Bell in contesting the ticket, helped organize the protest. The runners parked offsite and asked the park superintendent if they could run on the trails, Ibrahim said. They were told they would not be cited for running, but only for parking, he said. Nonetheless, they took to the roads to make their point about the shutdown.
"All politics aside, I think that they need to get their act together," Fencil said. "This is not a good thing for our country."