But in 10 days, just as the fences come down, an army of an estimated half-million citizens is expected to descend on the Mall to celebrate President Obama’s second inauguration, on Jan. 21.
But fear not for the new grass — at least most of it.
Officials plan to put down several acres of a special plastic flooring to “protect the . . . grass from being trampled into oblivion,” said Alice McLarty, landscape architect for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
“After the last inauguration, we didn’t have much grass left,” she said.
But because of a bureaucratic mix-up, only part of the new turf will be protected.
For the inauguration, the section of the Mall with new turf has been placed under the control of two different committees — a presidential committee and a congressional committee.
The National Park Service said the presidential committee plans to pay for the turf protection in its sector, which runs from Fourth Street to Seventh Street NW.
But the congressional committee says it can’t pay for its portion, the area from Third Street to Fourth Street. It was told about the turf protection too late and has no money budgeted for it.
“Given the time and budget constraints, we simply can’t accommodate this request, which came to us very late in the planning process,” said Matt House, spokesman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Asked about the fate of the unprotected portion of the turf, McLarty said: “I don’t have a crystal ball.”
The flooring that will be installed is called Terraplas, according to the Trust for the National Mall. It lets in light and water and won’t harm the turf. It can be removed afterward. And all will be well as long as it’s not down for too long.
The grass on the Mall has been an eyesore for years, and a painful issue among advocates for the National Park Service’s elegant landscape between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.
Indeed, much of the grass on the rest of Mall still looks rugged. And there is concern for the hard-won new turf and its support systems.
“We’re worked up about it, too,” said Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust, the Mall’s official nonprofit, fundraising partner. “But not in a bad way.”
The new turf was designed with heavy use in mind, she said.
“The Park Service always knew that it was going to be a heavy-trafficked area.”
Cunningham said officials expect damage, not just from the inauguration but from other gatherings. They are working with a seed company to produce new grass identical to the restored grass to replace any that is destroyed.
“We spent a lot of money to make this space look the way it looks,” said John E. “Chip” Akridge, founder and chairman of the trust. “And we want to maintain it that way. . . . I think we’ve got most everybody [headed] in that direction. . . . It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.”