The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across this notice in my feed from the Crow Athletics running group.
That’s the running group based out of Mount Desert Island, which puts on the MDI Marathon. (I’ve never actually run with them, but I ran that marathon, and when I moved up here, I thought I would … just sayin’.)
Then the back story came out: A member of the group, Andrew Kephart, posted in that group and a few other local running groups on Facebook about an open invitation to meet for a run at midnight Thursday to climb up and down Cadillac Mountain and see the meteor shower.
When Kephart and six other runners met up at the base of Cadillac at midnight, a ranger was waiting for them with a print-out of the Facebook post.
There’ve been a handful of posts in that group since then surprised that a group of runners would need a permit with the park to go on a training run casually organized on Facebook. I was, too, so I got in touch with Kephart and the National Park Service to get the details.
So last year Kephart had organized a similar event around the same time of year. He said he did the same thing — posted on Facebook (just a post, not an event) that he was going to run the 4.5 miles up and down Cadillac on a full moon, and friends were welcome to join.
“Last year I think we left at 9 and we didn’t see anything,” he said. “Also it was kind of cloudy. I figured this year the peak time was midnight.”
I talked to Stuart West, the chief ranger at Acadia National Park, and he explained the rules to me: There are three things that the park considers when granting a special use permit:
- Does the request degrade the resource in any way?
- Does it impact the visitor experience — that is to say the people who aren’t participating in the event?
- Are there safety considerations?
He said it was the third reason, the safety consideration, that led them to fine the runners before their training run on Thursday night.
“A lot of people were at Cadillac watching the shower [that night],” West said.
He said that applying for a special use permit would “absolutely not” have prevented the event from occurring. The park could have provided cars with emergency lights on the vehicles to alert drivers about the runners going up and down the mountain.
The number of people participating in an event doesn’t matter. You can be required to get a special use permit for as few as three people, such as for filming, he said.
There were two reasons why this event needed a permit, West said: First, because of the safety consideration at night during a special event, and, second, because the post implied they expected as many as 30 people.
He gave me an example that you could post on Facebook an open invitation to friends to meet up for a run around Eagle Lake at 5 p.m. Even if 30 people showed up, if the group broke into two smaller groups and ran in opposite directions, everyone would be in compliance.
“The park is not interested in just giving someone a citation. We’re interested in influencing from here on how everyone uses the park, so they know the rules of using the park,” West said. “People ask, why do you have special use permits? I think they have to realize how many different things are going on at the same time. We manage weddings and people scattering ashes, and that would be horrific if both things are going on at the same time.”
West said if you think you might want to host an event that would need a permit, because of the three criteria above, you can apply for a special use permit through the park’s website. If your event doesn’t need a permit, the rangers will let you know.
[Edited to add, since some people pointed this out on Facebook: The special use permit application states there is a non-refundable $50 processing fee, unless “the requested use is a First Amendment right.”]
And like Kephart wrote in the Facebook post above, he told me that the ranger still let the seven runners go out on the 9-mile run.
“Even at the base, running up, we saw the meteor showers. It was wonderful,” he said.