Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 331 - Right to Roam

Living in the United States is, indeed, a great pile of good fortune. There are many many many things that we have here that no one else has, and that we completely take for granted because it seems so obvious that everyone should have them.

But we aren't perfect. We still have some things to learn.

Case in point... Britain's Right to Roam.

During one of the 17 Thanksgiving feasts I've enjoyed the past couple days, I was talking with Helen, a wonderful person who also happens to be a runner, which makes her extra wonderful. She's also from England, living for a while near Chicago. She was talking about the pros and cons of the US lifestyle, which was mostly pros, but she did mention that to go for a run on a "proper trail" she had to drive to a forrest preserve. "It's not like in the UK where I can just pop out my door and jump on a trail."

Me: What? You have a trail right by your house?
Helen: No, I have dozens.

This did not compute. Unless you live in a state park, how can you have that many trails right by your house?

Cut to this morning's run with Marino, also an Englander.

Marino tells me he has literally hundreds of paths nearby to run on. For his long runs, he picks one, and when that path intersects another, he just turns, and keeps running, and turning, until he's lost. Then, he sees if he can find his way back.

Sounds like fun, but how can that be? He lives in a suburb of London.

Marino explained to me that in the UK, footpaths that have been around, and in use, for hundreds of years, are protected. By laws. Seriously.

Paths might go through fields or cross pastures, and anyone has the right to use them. The property owners still own the land, they just have to give people access to the paths.

This is so... un-American. We are so enamored with our own, individual rights, that we too often trample the public good. We put up fences and "No Trespassing" signs to stake out our claim to a patch of ground that, really, was here long before we were, and will be long after we're gone.

What's the harm in letting someone run, or walk, or hike, or cycle across the ground you "own"? Nothing, right? No harm, as long as they are respectful, don't take anything, and don't shoot anything.

Too bad nearly all of our footpaths are gone, or paved over. Maybe if everyone had a nice path or two that they didn't have to drive to, people would get outside more. Instead, we have sidewalks, which are nice, but they are always next to roads. Hard to get back to nature with SUVs flying by. We also have some public trails, or short trails in parks, which all require a drive just to run them.

Marino and I enjoyed a nice run on a trail in a state park
only to find that even that trail was restricted use.

We seem to like our lives compartmentalized. I live here. I work there. I shop over there. I go there for recreation. How nice would it be to have it all close by, just outside your door, or just down a footpath?

Good running,

Numbers: 3.3 miles on trails