“In Sweden, they call it allemansrätt,” says Ken Ilgunas. In Finland, it’s jokamiehenoikeus; in Scotland, “the right to roam”. In these countries, you’re free to walk almost anywhere you want. Not so in America. In rural areas of the US you see “no trespassing” signs everywhere. It wasn’t always thus. When the US began, everyone was free to walk or hunt where they liked – a right “cherished by early Americans because it distinguished them from the English, whose aristocracy held exclusive hunting rights”. But this freedom started being curtailed in the late 19th century. “In the South, states passed trespassing laws for racial reasons, seeking to keep blacks from hunting and fishing so as to starve them into submission.” Elsewhere, rich landowners simply sought to exclude outsiders. Modern laws making landowners responsible if someone gets hurt on their property have made things worse. Hikers can still head to national parks, of course, but that’s no good for “people longing for a stroll from their front door”. The US needs to change the law to address this. Its citizens might become less sedentary if they could amble over fields rather than having to stick to dangerous roads. “Walking across the so-called freest country on Earth should be everyone’s right.” (The New York Times)
Back in Anglo-Saxon and Danish times it was the law that established footpaths between villages, towns, etc would be open to everyone in England. Even with the Elizabethan enclosures the Courts upheld the right to walk across private land on paths that had been there for centuries. This is part of the Common Law that crossed the Atlantic with the early settlers.
But you are very lucky if you can walk in the American countryside at all. Years ago we took a break in a pretty part of Maryland. The hotel was nice, but when we decided to go for a walk the only option was beside a very dangerous road. The result is that, aside from some specific walking route, such as along the top of the Appalachians and in the National Parks, there are few countryside paths. When the American Continent was divided up into blocks of land for settlers, no allowance was made for footpaths. Thus, we, avid walkers who this summer walked in Brittany and Umbria, have very restricted ability to walk in America and confine walking mostly bto the gym. Shame that. Americans miss a lot, not just exercise.