News & Politics

Amid Shutdown, Bike Commuters Take the Scenic, Illegal, Route to Work

A popular biking and running trail is technically closed because of the government shutdown, but it's still plenty busy. And against the law to use.

A law-breaking jogger heads toward the end of the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.
Judging from the flow of cyclists and joggers, Thursday morning was just another ordinary day on the Capital Crescent Trail. Cyclists from Montgomery County and upper Northwest DC speeded to work, Georgetown residents were out for their daily runs, and nothing seemed to be amiss in the summery weather along the Potomac. Except for the fact that, strictly speaking, everyone was breaking the law.
The portion of the trail that runs through the District is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, meaning that with the federal government shut down, it is technically off-limits. But unlike the monuments on the Mall, where metal barricades and uniformed Park Police officers patrol the entrances, the only things warding off trail users are a few signs and bollards that are fairly easy to shimmy around. Accessing the trail this morning from an access point off Canal Rd., NW, was no problem.
The National Park Service operates several trails that Washington commuters rely on, including the Rock Creek Trail, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and Mount Vernon Trail. And while there are signs and road blocks set up on all of them reminding people of the shutdown, they can go largely unheeded. The facilities along the trails are locked up, but that is not enough to turn back people using the trails for their daily sprints to the office.
The fact that commuters—at least the ones who aren’t furloughed—continue to use the trails to get to work begs the question about why they have to be closed, especially when even under normal circumstances, they seem to function with minimal supervision. But in an interview with NPR yesterday, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said parks can’t operate without the people who pick up litter or watch out for actual crimes. “We are down to just a—essentially a skeleton crew of enforcement officers that provide just the very basics of security,” Jarvis said.
On the Capital Crescent Trail this morning, no one really wanted to stop to chat about their newly illegal activities. They were too busy racing to work. But the couple dozen cyclists and joggers headed for the trailhead in Georgetown were not fleeing from anything; there was not a single ranger or police officer in sight this morning.
In fact, the only official activity on the trail seemed to be at the Key Bridge Boathouse, which was forced to closed because of a shutdown. A truck was backing in to haul the boathouse’s kayaks to its other location on the locally controlled Anacostia River waterfront.
Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.