On the penalty for straying from the path in a state park

When you take a walk in a state park while wearing a bright red shirt, be sure to stay on the path, warns Tennessee Watchdog.

Dressing conspicuously made me stand out at Radnor Lake State Park in Nashville last month and attracted a park ranger’s attention — even though, by my count, there were at least two other people nearby doing the same thing I was doing.

The park ranger politely but sternly informed me that my offense merited a $219 fine.

My transgression? I stepped a few feet off a designated trail with a zoom lens attached to my camera to photograph turtles, off in the distance.

Not only was I threatened with a fine, but the park ranger also said she could confiscate my very expensive camera.

Fortunately, this particular park ranger must have been in a good mood that day. I got off with only a written warning, but my name, address and other personal information are now on the state’s permanent record of offenders.

…Shannon Ashford, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees state parks, explained it to me this way:

“These rules are in place to protect the vegetation within the natural area. Visitors that violate the rules could receive a fine of up to $50 plus court costs. The Davidson County Clerk sets the amount of the fine and, with court costs, the fine could total $219. As far as the camera, it is within the ranger’s authority to hold a camera pending a court date if a visitor is off the trail taking pictures.”

Ashford added that park rangers generally do not confiscate cameras in situations such as mine, fortunately.