Skaters in the News:
Judge Convicts Matzger
A federal judge convicted Eddy Matzger today of skating on the Blue Ridge Parkway but not before praising his argument that skates should be allowed.
The judge, Pamela Meade Sargent, said Matzger's argument was compelling but did not change the fact that he had violated the law.
She fined him $50 and ordered him to pay $25 in court costs.
The case stemmed from a ticket issued to Matzger last summer while he was training on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a national park.
A ranger cited him on July 26 for "use of Rollerblades" after an off-duty supervisor spotted Matzger skating on the parkway. It was the third time rangers had stopped Matzger since he moved to Floyd, Virg., last year. The first two times, they let him go with rude warnings.
Matzger, one of the winningest skaters in the history of inline racing, repeatedly tried to contact park supervisors to talk about the possibility of permitting skating. But they did not return his calls.
Federal regulations do not specifically prohibit inline skating in national parks — in fact, some national parks encourage skating. But one section prohibits the use of "roller skates, skateboards, roller skis, coasting vehicles or similar devices ... except in designated areas." (Code of Federal Regulations: Title 36, Chapter 1, Part 2, Sec. 2.20)
Matzger contends that inline skating is a perfect fit with the parkway. He says it is safe and should be allowed, just as cycling is allowed. He notes that the speed limit (45 mph) on the parkway is relatively low and traffic is light.
He also contends that skating is in keeping with the purpose of the national parks, which is to provide public access to nature while protecting it.
Acting as his own attorney, Matzger presented his arguments during a two-hour trial this afternoon in magistrate court in Abingdon, Virg.
The U.S. Attorney's Offices sent one of its lawyers to prosecute Matzger. "We're simply enforcing the laws," said Heidi Coy, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. "From our perspective, there are laws and regulations, and we enforce them."
Before finding Matzger guilty, the judge told him that the court was not the "proper venue" to try to change the park regulation.
Despite the conviction, Matzger was upbeat after the trial. "It was actually pretty positive," he said.
As he was leaving the court, one of the rangers approached him and gave him the phone number of the district supervisor, who, presumably, could do something to lift the skate ban. "They are steering me toward the proper venue to address this issue," Matzger said.
"This was a great learning experience and I hope to have the chance to make these arguments next time to the right person."
In the meantime, Matzger said he planned to stay off the parkway. "Fortunately, it's wintertime, so I've switched to my winter training routine."
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Burnson