Reckless fitness on Beach Drive

For tourists visiting D.C., the shutdown of the National Mall and the monuments and museums is aggravating, all the more so if there’s a risk that Michele Bachmann might show up. But for most residents, the closure of Rock Creek Park threatens to disrupt everyday life more—the shuttering of roads, bike and running paths, tennis courts, and smaller neighborhood parks in the more than 2,000-acre nature facility run by the National Park Service.

So I headed to the park Tuesday afternoon to see just how deserted it would be and, if someone were hypothetically to want to enter a closed national park, how easy it would be.

The short answer: very easy.

At around 6 p.m., Peirce Mill Park was filled with people biking, running, and eating on picnic tables. The gates were flung open and the parking lot full, showing no signs of the sad bareness of the Mall earlier in the day. Was this park actually owned, in secret, by the District government and not the feds? No, there it was on the outside of the wide open gates: the small, but seemingly ubiquitous signs that say, “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is closed.”

On the brink of breaking the law at Peirce Mill Park.

Toddlers, Frisbee-playing kids, and parents had all ignored the closure and entered the park. Park regular C Davis Bey, sitting with two friends under a pagoda, said the only sign this park was actually supposed to be closed were the typically open bathrooms, which were now locked. “The gate was open when I got here,” he said.

The people picnicking said they knew the park was closed because of the government shutdown, but they all justified their presence with something along the lines of “Well, it wasn’t me who broke the barriers.” (When you introduce yourself as a reporter writing about trespassing on “closed” government property, people tend to get a little sheepish when you ask them for their names.)

Families happily flouting the shutdown in Peirce Mill Park at Rock Creek.

Beach Drive, typically open to cars during the week but closed on weekends and holidays so bikers can use it, is off-limits to everyone during the government shutdown. At least it’s supposed to be. The gates blocking it were shut yesterday, and the shutdown sign was front and center. But there was an area to the side of the gate that wasn’t blocked, so pedestrians and bikers could easily enter, and enter they did. One woman in workout attire was taking a picture of the sign and said, “It’s like an extra vacation day here.”

A non-stop stream of bikers and runners were visible on the street, even as a Park Police car drove by, the essential personnel inside paying little attention to them. If Rock Creek Park is any indication, the government shutdown is turning D.C. into pure mayhem, with lawless citizens running and biking amok.

Photos by Perry Stein