Cross country team gathers signatures seeking to practice at Goddard Park

EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) – A petition has been circulating across social media that claims runners are being discriminated against at Goddard Memorial State Park in East Greenwich.

The petition claims cross country teams across the state cannot practice at the park, saying, “since 2015 park staff have harassed runners, parents and coaches.”

Aaron Rome, whose son is a part of his high school’s cross country team, said the runners should be able to practice at the park.

“Safety is always of the utmost concern,” he said. “The kids can’t get lost there, there’s no cars. The kids like using it like anyone else.”

Rome says the team was told by the state Department of Environmental Management that they cannot practice at Goddard Park, even though it is public property.

The team was provided with a policy change from the park that says team practices are no longer allowed at any time. Rome says the last time the team practiced at the park was this past summer and the coach was handed a ticket for more than $2,000.

Here is the full policy change from Goddard Park:

Due to the increasing conflict between runners and horses on the equestrian trails at Goddard Park, the Division of Parks and Recreation will institute new guidelines for the 2016 season.

The trails were deeded to the state with the stipulation that their main use would be for equestrian activities.

The division attempts to provide recreational opportunities for many different user groups, however providing a safe environment for all patrons is paramount in our decision to implement the following changes.

Effective April 1, 2016

  1. Cross country meets will only be allowed during Monday and Wednesday evenings from 3 p.m. until dusk during the months of September and October.
  2. Team practices and group training, including Saturday morning, will not be allowed at any time.
  3. Request for large events will be reviewed and authorized by the Regional Manager and approved pending staffing availability.

The team is now circulating a petition because they say kids will instead be forced to train on busy streets. The petition currently has more than 7,000 signatures.

“It’s a twisted notion of safety,” Rome said. “There’s nothing that makes this safer for kids. It makes their lives and training more dangerous.”

The DEM said it can’t comment specifically on this case, but added that it welcomes everyone at the park. However, they said on Saturdays it’s too busy to have a 40-person group running together by horses and golfers.

According to the DEM, runners can come on weekdays if they ask for permission ahead of time. But Rome says the team has already tried that.

“They’ve been basically unwilling to work with us. We’ve had to turn to public support,” he said.

The DEM said a few weeks ago they had a 5,000-person cross country meet at the park. They said they want runners to enjoy the park, but should give a heads up if there’s a large group coming. Rome says the team hopes to sit down with the DEM to come to a compromise.