I haven’t posted in a while because the last four hikes have been a really mixed bag of tricks:
1. A June 7th hike along the Mount Vernon Trail from Fort Hunt Park to River Farm and back was waylaid before it even started. As we were assembling at Fort Hunt, a park ranger walked up and kicked us out of the park, saying that all the picnic areas were reserved, and nobody but those who had reservations could park. I’ve never encountered this before, and it was complete nonsense: The Facilities paragraph on the park’s website specifically states that parking, public restrooms, water fountains, and trash cans in Areas A, B, and E are always available to the public. Not only that, but the park’s website lists “Take the Mount Vernon Trail” as one of the Things To Do, and the Mount Vernon Trail website states that “Parking is available at every site along the trail.” But you don’t argue with the park ranger (they have SWAT teams, you know), so we all got back into our cars and drove to the nearest alternative, Riverside Park. The park ranger arbitrarily throwing his weight around changed our planned 6.6-mile hike into a 9.4-mile hike, a lot more than many attendees had bargained for.
2. The next day, June 8th, was a nice hike in Sky Meadows State Park, a repeat of a 6.5-mile hike I previously wrote about, and it went off without incident.
3. The next weekend started off on a nice note: on Saturday, June 14th, about 50 hikers gathered at the west end of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park on Saturday for a hike through the zoo. You don’t normally think of a visit to the zoo as a hike, but the National Zoo is a long downhill slope from west to east, and you have to hike uphill back to your start point. Rather than elbow our way through the crowds, we exited the zoo into Rock Creek Park and took the Rock Creek Park Trail, Western Trail, Melvin Hazen Trail and Connecticut Avenue back to the starting point, a total distance of about 5.5 miles. A great time to visit the zoo: Bao Bao, the baby panda, was on exhibit, as were the lion cubs, so some great photos resulted! (Being a cat person, the big cats are always my favorite.)
It’s not certain how long the baby panda and the lion cubs will be on exhibit, but I expect the coming hot weather and crowds may cause them to be withdrawn. Because of this, I’ve already scheduled a repeat visit for June 22nd next weekend, so everyone has another opportunity to go.
4. Finally, on Sunday, June 15th, we were supposed to hike the Billy Goat Trail Section A, one of the most popular and strenuous hikes on the East Coast. Twenty-six hikers attended, only to find that the park rangers had closed Section A with no prior notice, and there were no alerts on the park’s website. Once again, the seemingly arbitrary decision converted what was planned to be a short, strenuous 4-mile hike into a much longer hike, down the C&O Canal towpath to Billy Goat Trail Section B and back, about 6 miles round trip. We weren’t the only ones whose plans were changed: June 15th was Father’s Day, and the park was full of visitors, many of whom were similarly disappointed.
It’s hard to know what to make of the two instances of seemingly arbitrary decisions with no prior notice. At the Billy Goat Trail, there may very well have been safety concerns with having so many visitors on the same trail at once. But at Fort Hunt, prohibiting public parking when it is explicitly permitted was ridiculous. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it reminds me of the behavior an anonymous whistle-blower reported last year, intended to make any National Park Service budget cuts as painful to visitors as possible. Fortunately, we have the friendliest, most positive bunch of hikers around, and everyone bounced back from the unexpected difficulties and still had a good time.