Boswell: When it comes to this absurd rule, the NCC can comply

Randy Boswell took a risk and picked up a fallen branch in Gatineau Park, risking a fine for his actions. It turns out that a walk in the woods comes with a lot of rules and regulations.

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When I go for a walk in the woods, I sometimes like to carry a cane.

Writing the above sentence was difficult, because journalists are taught (and I teach aspiring journalists) to avoid making banal observations about uninteresting things.

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But yes, this completely boring fact is true: sometimes as a walking aid, sometimes because I am easily distracted and like to pick things up, sometimes simply because my opposable thumbs allow me to do things that most other mammals can’t, I grab a broken branch from the snow or forest floor and hold it in my hand as I walk along a trail in Gatineau Park or the Green belt of the national capital.

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These wonderful places are under the authority of the National Capital Commission. And while I can (and often do) praise the NCC’s creation and preservation of such wild treasures, it has come to my attention that walking with a cane recovered from those forests is not permitted.

I learned this recently on the Visitor Center Trail in Old Chelsea, a stone’s throw from the NCC headquarters building in Gatineau Park.

(Legal clarification: “Throwing rock” is an old saying intended to convey the idea of ​​“a short distance.” Its use here should not be construed as an incitement to pick up a rock from any NCC-managed property and throw it into the forest. .)

While walking along the trail with my loved ones and enjoying some February sunshine, I noticed a fallen branch in the snow. I lifted him up.

What makes a man turn to crime? Scholars have explored the question for centuries and answers remain elusive. But in this case, I can only say that my actions arose from a slight impulse to pick up a stick from the ground and use one end to push the snow around my feet.

When that got boring, I started swinging the cane on my shoulder without using my hands.

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This is the kind of thing I do.

But that day I learned that these behaviors are against the rules. An NCC official coming around the path in the opposite direction stopped in front of us and pointed to the walking stick he carried on his shoulder. Such is the level of my naivety, or perhaps narcissism, that I assumed she was about to comment on my branch-balancing prowess. But not.

The young woman identified herself as a park ranger and very politely explained that it was not allowed to pick up a stick from the forest. I tilted my head and smiled: “You’re kidding, right?” But she wasn’t.

The ranger explained that moving a stick along an NCC trail could result in a fine. I laughed (laughing out loud is probably a better word) and said, “That’s ridiculous!”

He said it may sound ridiculous, but if 1,000 trail visitors each grabbed a stick, then the rule wouldn’t seem unreasonable.

Some thoughts came to mind, although I didn’t express them. One: the vast majority of people who hike the NCC trails do not share my inclination to pick up a stick. Two: Shortly after someone picks up a stick in the woods, they drop it in the woods. Three: even if they didn’t drop it and decided to take it home as a souvenir, there would still be several billion sticks left in the forest.

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Stunned, I simply shook my head and followed his instructions, dropping the fearsome object in the snow near the trail.

Still, I struggled to suppress a growing sense of indignation toward other unknowns in the federal agency. This frontline ranger was simply doing her duty, I thought, enforcing an edict that must have been devised at the NCC headquarters in downtown Ottawa by someone (I can only imagine) who had never walked through the woods, picked up a stick and been hit. because of the… inconsequentiality of all this.

I asked the ranger if the no-hitting rule was written anywhere. She directed me to the NCC website. I went home and looked for it. I found a kind of general rule (No. 4), included among the NCC rules. “Seven Principles of Outdoor Ethics.” I agree with this, in general terms: “Leave the areas, objects and plants as you found them.”

I would argue, however, that such rules can and should allow for some room for maneuver. Leaving footprints in the snow, for example, does not strictly comply with the regulations. I guess neither is grabbing a dead branch, carrying it around for a while, and then throwing it back into the woods.

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But it should be allowed. Unless wielded as a weapon to threaten other hikers or torn from a live tree, a stick in the hands of a responsible hiker should not draw a fine, a warning, or even a second glance from a passing conservation officer. . I also discovered a article written by two NCC biologists who urge visitors to NCC-managed green spaces to “leave what you find” to nature.

“For conservation reasons, the National Capital Law prohibits harvesting or harvesting anything found on NCC lands,” the authors state. “These lands receive millions of visits every year and every action counts.”

The article is clearly aimed at people who can collect mushrooms, wild leeks, flowering plants, firewood or, say, pretty stones with which to decorate a garden. However, none of these sensible restrictions should extend to retrieving, holding and throwing a regular stick on an NCC hiking trail.

In a world full of serious problems, this small example of NCC overreach does not amount to a serious abrogation of freedom by a tyrannical state. But in a country where the “sovereign citizens” movement and other forms of reckless rejection of government authority are on the rise, the custodians of Canada’s capital should give such misguided people no real reason to mock and distrust an agency. federal government by failing such a simple common sense test.

We should all walk gently on the paths of the NCC. But it should also be okay to wear it… well, you know.

Randy Boswell is an Ottawa writer and journalism professor at Carleton University.

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