The Quickest Ways to Get Fined at a National Park
A trip to a national park can be a fantastic experience that leaves you with memories that last a lifetime. But if you’re not careful, one of those memories could be of paying off a hefty fine for breaking park rules.
So what kind of behavior should you avoid to keep from getting into trouble? Let’s take a closer look.
Who Enforces the Rules at a National Park?
The National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers police national parks. This hybrid ranger-police position enforces federal, state, and local laws in all National Park Service jurisdictions. U.S. Park Police also share jurisdiction in some park service-controlled areas but primarily operate in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco.
Quick Ways to Get Fined at a National Park
National parks have some clear rules regarding certain behavior, and violating particular ones will almost certainly get you in trouble and quickly.
Discharge a Firearm
National parks should be safe outdoor spaces for all Americans to enjoy. For obvious reasons, discharging a firearm is illegal. The only exception is when visitors participate in specifically authorized hunting approved by the National Park Service. While you may bring a firearm into national parks, you won’t be allowed to take them into any visitor centers, ranger stations, or other facilities. Carrying guns in parks is also subject to state law, so it’s essential to know and understand these rules.
Fly a Drone
Drone owners may be excited about the views they can get flying their devices in national parks. But chances are they’ll get a lot more than just a view. Parks have explicitly banned flying drones since 2014. Violators can spend up to six months in prison in addition to paying a fine that could reach $5,000. The devices can create noise, lead to safety issues, and even potentially harm wildlife or natural sites.
Vandalize a National Park
Vandalism can significantly impact parks, making them less pleasant to look at and damaging important cultural, historical, or natural sites. The National Park Service takes vandalism very seriously. While it might seem like a minor or harmless act, it could result in a significant fine and lots of trouble for you.
Hunt or Fish Illegally
There’s nothing wrong with hunting or fishing in national parks. In fact, it’s encouraged in some cases. Nearly 70 areas managed by the National Park Service are open to recreational hunting or fishing, but only with the proper permits and approvals. These may cost money and take some time to secure, but they’re crucial for safely managing wildlife for future generations. Rules vary from park to park based on conditions and time of year, so it’s important to contact any area you plan to hunt or fish in to ensure you’re following all regulations. Whether deliberately ignoring permit requirements or breaking a rule or two by accident, you’ll still get a fine.
Take an Illegal Souvenir
You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” But law enforcement takes the first part of that quite seriously. The National Park system expressly forbids taking an illegal souvenir (anything from a plant to an artifact). It may feel like a minuscule impact. But imagine your minor alteration to the natural environment magnified over the millions of visitors who travel to national parks every year.
Enter a Closed Park
Frustration is understandable when you encounter a closed park or closed section. After all, it’s the great outdoors and public land at that, right? But you must respect these closures. They may close parks due to health or safety issues that would put visitors at risk, for environmental reasons, or simply because they staff them. Entering a closed park could put you, others, and the environment at risk. You can expect a quick fine if caught.
Ride a Mountain Bike on a Hiking Trail
The National Park Service goes to great lengths to maintain the thousands of miles of trail under its control. But visitors also play a crucial part in protecting these paths, primarily by using them for their intended purposes. Mountain biking can put unexpected wear and tear on hiking trails, leading to poor conditions for fellow visitors. This may also present a safety issue. Taking your bike on trails could result in injuries to hikers not expecting a bike to fly around a bend. You could also encounter terrain not suited for bikes. If an officer finds you with a bike on a hiking trail you’ll probably wind up in trouble.
How to Find a List of Regulations at Your Next Park Visit
The National Park Service publishes rules online. These resources can help park visitors understand general system-wide rules that will apply in all National Park Service land. For specific parks, consult their websites or call directly to speak with a ranger who’ll help answer your questions. Most parks will also have one or more locations around the park where they post rules and regulations, many times in visitor centers, entrances, or trailheads.
Can You Get Out of National Park Fines?
In many cases, you can contest your ticket. The federal government’s Central Violations Bureau (CVB) handles these fines. Your ticket may have a court date, or you may need to contact the CVB to learn how exactly you can contest your fine.
Your best chance of “getting out” of a fine may be to simply appeal to the ranger or officer who caught you. If the issue was truly a simple mistake or lack of knowledge on your part, you might find yourself with just a stern warning.
Is Breaking the Rules in a National Park Worth the Risk?
Resoundingly, no. America’s national parks offer an incredible amount of activities for just about everyone. There’s simply no need to break the rules to have a good time, especially with a bit of knowledge and advanced planning. Getting caught means facing hefty fines or dealing with the hassle of fighting a ticket in court. Even worse, some rulebreaking can even lead to jail time.
National parks are a unique treasure, which is why the National Park Service has put rules in place to help protect them for current and future visitors. It’s easy to follow many of these regulations just by exercising basic common sense and courtesy. Keep this list in mind on your next park visit, and you’ll enjoy a great day at these beautiful locations. Have you ever left a national park with a fine?
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