Freedom to Roam and the Massachussets Ban on OWS

The 1970 protest song Signs ( Five Man Electrical Band) gets my blood up every time I hear it on the radio. A strong Freedom to Roam strain runs through me so, as you might guess, when I read on our Reader Forum that Massachusetts has banned open water swimming that caught my eye.

Below is the (operative part of the) notification that went out. An unfortunate woman named Olivia Dorrance placed her telephone on the document and, as you might guess the "mailbox is full and is not accepting messages at this time." I emailed her a day ago and am awaiting color on the questions I asked. (I suspect she's buried deep in messages like mine.)

I don’t know what’s been banned, exactly, yet, and for how long. I don’t know yet whether open water swimming is banned only in Walden Pond or also in Pleasure Bay, Mystic Lakes and other popular open water swim lakes in the Commonwealth. There is a statute contemplated that would increase fines for open water swimming to $500, and statutes aren’t for temporary emergencies.

An increase in drownings in these lakes appears to have prompted the measure. But I question – I always question, when this kind of thing happens – the wisdom of decreasing liberty and mobility in an effort to preserve the lives of the least equipped. My preference is to equip the least equipped, so that they can safely benefit from mobility. Or, at least, to do your best to equip everyone for outdoor living, and then to acknowledge and accept that with liberty comes risk.

Forming rules that cater to the lowest common denominator of skill or capacity does not help those at risk; it further dumbs down an already physically challenged culture. I favor the temporary closure of wild and public lands during emergencies. Restrictions on public land should be limited to what is necessary to preserve the health of public land (for example, when appropriate, yes to roaming and no to mining). If the government’s concern here is litigation, then by all means solve this by statute. Just, not by a statute that forecloses on the use of public land; but by a statute that forecloses on the use of the courts to sue for misadventure on public land.

My life’s operative theme is movement across the earth under human powered locomotion. Freedom to Roam is a basic human right (which I proudly proclaim by my Freedom to Roam cycling socks!). Even private lands should allow for a freedom of passage across them (in a way that protects the landowner) when such private land stands in the way of mobility. Freedom to Roam is not possible when transit across lands becomes the exclusive right of the wealthy landowners; to inoculate against litigation; to close a governmental budget shortfall; or to try to guarantee absolutely no harm ever comes to anyone.

We all have in our lives the hill we’ll die taking. This is mine. If the United States has a problem, it is not that people are dying while roaming wild lands. It is that people are dying never having roamed wild lands.