Greg Visscher has lived in Montgomery County for 27 of his 29 years and many of those years were spent at his family’s house in Kemp Mill, a neighborhood next to Wheaton Regional Park.
Growing up, he says his family often harvested fruit from the local berry bushes in the park, so he was surprised July 1 when a Maryland-National Capital Park Police officer interrupted him while he was gathering raspberries in the park.
“I had a quart [of berries] with me and before I knew it I was surrounded by three police officers,” Visscher, who now lives in Olney, said. “I thought it was a joke at first.”
But it wasn’t a joke. Visscher was issued a $50 citation for destroying or interfering with parkland. The officer then took the berries and threw them on the ground, Visscher said.
Now Visscher, who is president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, is in the process of contesting the citation in court.
“The officers were respectful,” Visscher said, “but there seems like so much more they could solve. There’s no way we would destroy the plants. It seems like a complete waste of time.”
Visscher said there were no signs in the area notifying people using the park that the berries were off limits.
However, Park Police spokesman Lt. Rick Pelicano said the regulation used to cite Visscher has long been on the books. Pelicano pointed to the parks’ Rules and Regulations Section 21, which states in part, “No person shall catch, injure, destroy or interfere in any way with any wildlife, plants, fossils or minerals…”
Pelicano said Tuesday the general policy prohibits individuals from disturbing the park system’s plant life—including berry bushes—and said it was up to officers to determine whether an infraction occurred on a case-by-case basis. He said any quantity of berries or other plant life taken from park property could result in a fine, and likened the officers’ actions to their right to issue a speeding ticket to motorists who drive even one mile over the speed limit.
So, even though picking the berries seems like a minor infraction, it’s still against the rules.
“We don’t write those rules,” Pelicano said. “Where do you draw the line? That’s the problem.”
For his part, Visscher just hopes the county can loosen up a little. He has a court date in October to contest the fine.
“I don’t want Montgomery County to become the no-fun zone,” Visscher said. “We pay enough in taxes to enjoy a little bit of fruit.”