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Three Officers Descend On Man Picking Berries In Public Park, Issue Him Citation For ‘Destroying Park Property’

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The head of the Montgomery County Young Republicans was on a walkabout a few weeks ago when he was confronted by three cops and slapped with a $50 citation — his crime: picking berries.

Greg Visscher decided to spend part of his vacation day July 1 picking berries at Wheaton Regional Park, just as he had done in numerous summers past.

The Kemp Mill region of the park is blessed with an abundance of wild raspberries, usually scooped up by passers-by or left to the birds and ground. There are no signs warning park-goers that the berries are off limits.

Hoping to gather 2-3 quarts of berries, after 30 minutes of rambling and gathering, Visscher was confronted by the National Capitol Park Police who asked what he was doing and whether he had some ID.

Perplexed as to what he had done to attract the authorities attention, he provided his ID and told the officer he was picking berries. The officer enquired whether Visscher had a permit, to which the reply was no, since neither he nor his family had ever heard that you needed a special permit to pick some berries at the local park.

After a few minutes, two officers from the Maryland Park Police showed up and assured Visscher he wasn’t in trouble, but that wasn’t the impression he was getting. “I felt really awkward with three cops surrounding me while cars whizzed by,” Visscher told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

One of the officers eventually ended up writing Visscher a citation of $50 telling him that it was for “destroying park property.” The officers then confiscated and threw away the berries he collected.

“I’d also like to know how harvesting a berry is ‘destroying park property,'” said Visscher. “A family member of mine was harvesting berries along the road on Wheaton Regional park land that same day I was cited. Several park admin authorities (though not police) whizzed by.  They were not stopped or cited.”

Visscher’s experience isn’t totally unique. Park goers across the country are being confronted by authorities and fined for gathering fruits and vegetables for their personal use.

Baylen Linnekin, chief executive of Keep Food Legal told the Daily Caller News Foundation authorities needed to exercise more common sense when dealing with such cases.

“It’s not difficult to distinguish between sustainable foraging, where a person like Greg Visscher harvests berries, nuts, fruits, mushrooms, seaweed, or some other renewable resource for their personal consumption, and foraging that involves real destruction of public property. Ban the latter.”

But the former should be encouraged. Blackberry bushes are practically begging passerby to pick their berries. Mushrooms don’t mind a bit if you to eat them so long as you don’t drag a rake around and destroy their habitat in the process,” he added.

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