Trail Running and No Trespassing Signs
Trailrunners as a group are a pretty respectful lot. We’re generally pretty environmentally conscious, we try to clean up after ourselves, and we’d not be described as “troublemakers.” What then, makes many of us (your author included) feel that No Trespassing signs don’t apply to us on our runs? We willfully pass signs, jump fences, and squeeze through gates to get to the next trail, rarely acknowledging that we’re breaking the rules.
Trespassing laws vary state to state and county to county and I’ve no interest delving into the intricacies of statute, but if you’d like to learn more about the consequences and penalties in your area, click right here or here or here or here.
From my understanding, if you’re caught on private land and the landowner asks you to leave, you must leave immediately. I suppose it’s up for conversation if it’s best for you to leave the way you came, or the most direct route possible. Be safe.
Also, in most cases, a landowner can not use force to remove you unless you (the runner) are threatening the main house on the property.
Finally, most of the laws I’ve looked at have special provisions for weapons. If you’re caught on property with a weapon (presumably for hunting), it’s an entirely different story than a runner shuffling through with a hydration vest.
The groups that I’ve run with follow similar rationalizations to my own, and what it boils down to is…what does the sign look like, what does the fence look like, and most importantly, is it smart to do this?
If it’s an old sign in the middle of nowhere with a beat up fence that hasn’t been maintained, I’m not even going to stop, but if it’s a newer sign with explicit “No’s” on a fence that’s been maintained recently, I’ll likely find another route. The last thing I need is a pack of guard dogs coming after me.
Likewise, if I’m on a trail that’s close to a neighborhood, homes, or businesses, I’ll stay clear and find a new route. Same goes for when I’m running in pot country. If I suspect a grow and see signs, I hightail it out of there and hope that there’s a Strava segment so I can snag a KOM.
Finally, it’s the gut check. Does this seem smart? Do I get a bad feeling about venturing past this fence onto someone else’s land? Does this make sense?
I’ve had a few instances of getting hassled by landowners, but nothing that would be described
as threatening. The worst case was a few years ago running on Catalina Island. The Conservancy requires a permit to be on the trails even for day use, and since I was going on one of my typical early morning jaunts (combined with my general disdain for dumb rules), I didn’t bother with the paperwork. A few hours later a Ranger caught me up on a ridge, and though I did my best to get out of it, put me in his truck and drove me back to town. No monetary fine, but a real bummer, as it was working out to be a beautiful run.
Do you ignore signs too? Have you had any run-ins with landowners? What’s been your experience? Care to comment?