In November, the National Park Service stunned many when it announced that it would be closing wide swaths of the National Mall to organized sports and would be raising fees elsewhere.
But in a partial victory for sports on the Mall, the park service now says it is withdrawing that proposed ban and will instead conduct a formal study to come up with a “comprehensive” new plan.
“No decision will be made until extensive planning and coordination has occurred,” Brian Hall, a spokesman for the Park Service, said. “Nothing changes from the current way we are operating.” Hall would not say when a new proposal would be unveiled or whether it would entail the closure of certain fields to activity.
The announcement is an about-face for the agency, which in November said that it would prohibit organized recreational sports by 2019 from Third to 17th streets, NW — while raising fees for use in other areas from $7 per season to $70 for two hours. (Full disclosure: Your correspondent participates in a softball league that often plays on the Mall.) The reason for such draconian measures, the Park Service said, was to protect newly installed grass.
The reversal was welcome news to advocates, who had complained that closing the National Mall would be a further blow to a region starved for fields to play on.
Robert Kinsler, the founder and commissioner of DC Fray, a group that organizes softball, kickball, soccer and numerous other activities around Washington, D.C., was cheered by the news. “That’s great progress and we’re excited to offer our help in any way we can in building out new proposals,” he says.
He considers it a step forward from a forum held in June, organized by Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, in which the Park Service’s acting superintendent, Patricia Trap, agreed to listen to concerns from stakeholders before proceeding.
Norton praised the Park Service for its actions, saying in a statement released Tuesday, “NPS’ participation in our community meeting and its response is a model of responsive government,” she said. “We look forward to closely collaborating with residents and NPS as NPS weighs changes to its original proposal to ensure the tradition of playing recreational sports on the National Mall continues, while also protecting the Mall’s new wear-resistant turf.”
In recent months, many have pointed to the original purpose of the National Mall as the so-called front yard of America. “We are killing the life of the Mall when you have people not using it,” says Judy Scott Feldman, chair of the National Mall Coalition. Her organization has also decried the ending of various events on the Mall, including the National Book Festival.
The Park Service said that it will look at fees around the region to come up with a new proposal for reserving fields. “We would conduct studies to determine the prevailing market cost to play at similar fields within the local areas,” Hall said, “as our costs would have be commensurate to those fees.” He said that once the plan is finalized it will be made available for public comment.
As for the issue of the new grass, Hall said that while “the grass can withstand the typical uses that the Mall gets (events, festivals, sports, etc.),” the park service needs to implement new guidelines with regard to “appropriate event length” and “vehicle use limitations” in order to “protect the landscape.”
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