Well! Have I got a tale for you! Yesterday, my husband and I took our daily walk over at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. It's a beautiful and peaceful place. It meanders up and down hills and there must be thousands of white gravestones. We walk along and each time, we read the names, or when we stop to rest, we take note of the service given to our country - WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. We notice how long their lives were, or how short. We wonder about them. Often we say little prayers for them. We stay on the pavement; we do not disturb the graves in any way.
Yesterday, as we passed the stone house in the middle of the cemetery, an offical cemetery vehicle pulled up. A man began unloading things from the truck onto the steps. As we passed, he stopped us and said, "As the Director of this cemetery, I'm afraid that I have to tell you that it is unlawful to take walks in any national cemetery in the United States."
To which we said, "WHAAAAAAATTTTTTT? You can't be serious!"
He went on to say that this is true of ALL national cemeteries, that you are not allowed to do anything that is considered "recreation" or "exercise" in a national cemetery and that this includes walking. He said that he had been watching us for several days and it was clear that we were there to walk, not to visit any particular grave.
At this point, we were both shocked and getting angry. We asked him, as taxpayers, who pays for this cemetery? He said that we all do. We said that my husband, Dick, aka RVPainter, is a veteran of service in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era. He didn't care. He said, "Write to your congressman."
We said, "We will."
When we got home, I wrote to the VA, which oversees the national cemetery system. I also looked at Arlington National Cememtery's website, where they say that people "walk through the cemetery like a botanical garden." They do have specific rules about biking, but not walking. I wrote to the VA Cabinet Director under Governor Susanna Martinez. I wrote to our congressman.
Then I found a website that actually lists the regulations pertaining to national cemeteries. This is found in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, current as of Jan. 12, 2012. Part 12 of the regulations pertains to national cemeteries.
Part 12.11 covers recreational activities and says:
"Engaging in recreational activities is prohibed."
Part 12.3 provides definitions, including the definition of recreational activity. The following is the exact wording of that definition:
Recreational activity means any form of athletics, sport or other leisure pursuit or event, whether organized or spontaneous, that is engaged in by one or more persons for the primary purpose of exercise, relaxation or enjoyment, including but not limited to the following: jogging, racing, skating, skateboarding, ball playing, kite flying, model airplane flying, throwing objects through the air, sunbathing, bicycling and picknicking. This term does not include walking, hiking or casual strolling.
There it is. Specifically excluded from the definition of "recreation" are walking, hiking or casual strolling. That's what we were doing.
Now, I don't know why the DIRECTOR of the cemetery would not know his own regulations. Perhaps he just doesn't want people walking through HIS cemetery.
At first, we were upset because we thought we had come up against a very stupid rule. Now we are upset because we think we've come up against a person who thinks he has the right to impose his own rules, ones that are not actual rules! Maybe we're wrong about this, but I don't think so. I KNOW you can walk through Arlington National Cemetery! Anyway, Dick plans to call him tomorrow and tell him what we've found with the regulations, and that unless the Director can provide a legal, legislative document that contradicts what we found, we plan to continue our peaceful walks through the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Stay tuned. Oh, and pop over to RVPainter's blog to see what he's been saying about this.