A National Park Service draft report issued three years before the agency announced it would close a colonial-style farm in Northern Virginia alleged deficiencies at the site, which is fighting to stay open amid a years-long dispute.
The Park Service earlier this year said Claude Moore Colonial Farm will close Dec. 21 because it would not sign a proposed operating agreement with the federal agency — an announcement that led to community outcry as the farm objected to the Park Service’s reporting requirements.
In a 99-page “operations evaluation” issued in 2015, the Park Service alleged shortcomings, including maintenance problems and financial relationships with private contractors the Park Service had not approved.
Elliott Curzon, Claude Moore’s director, said the farm has known about the draft report since 2015 but called it a “hit piece” that was never presented to the farm. He said “most of the issues in the report are disputable or have been resolved.”
“We don’t think it’s worthy of a response,” he said.
Claude Moore Colonial Farm is “a living history museum that portrays family life on a small, low-income farm just before the Revolutionary War,” according to its website. The 77-acre site, off Georgetown Pike, opened in 1973. It offers educational programming and has hosted more than 2 million visitors.
Park Service spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said in an email that the draft version of the report was shared with the Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm, a nonprofit that has managed the McLean farm since 1981, and “it is considered the final report because it was used and acted upon.”
“The National Park Service believed the friends’ organization generally took action to remedy the most immediate threats to life, health and safety,” Anzelmo-Sarles said in an email.
The report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, identified what it said were possible safety issues, such as missing electrical plates and smoke alarms. It faulted the farm for inadequate fencing in animal areas and said cattle at the property didn’t have “enough shelter from the elements.”
The report also questioned the legality of a private operation run on federal land.
According to the report, the farm “has expanded commercial activity far beyond the scope of services” originally agreed upon. It pointed to the farm’s gift shop, alcohol sales, “carnival attractions” and relationship with a private catering company that uses its pavilions as an “exclusive satellite venue.”
The Park Service and the farm needed to work together “to determine what alternatives can be considered to operate this park function and whether it can be made consistent with current NPS laws, regulations and policy within the original intentions,” the report said.
The farm has an annual budget of $400,000. Anzelmo-Sarles said earlier this year the farm has received $1.3 million in Park Service funding since 2001, although Curzon said it hasn’t received money from the Park Service since 2011.
“If they think they’re still providing financial support, it would be welcome to us to know why,” he said.
Curzon said that the farm’s relationship with the catering company was ongoing and that federal regulations don’t require competitive bidding.
The report also scrutinized the farm’s 2012 tax returns, asking why it needed “NPS financial support” with almost $1 million in assets.
A letter dated Aug. 7 from the Park Service to the farm noted the closure date and cautioned that “property permanently affixed to the land belongs to the United States Government, and [the farm] may not remove it.”
It also said the Park Service would assess the property by Oct. 1 because part of it rests on a landfill, and the agency needs to “identify any existing or potential environmental contamination.”
Curzon criticized the Park Service’s “bureaucratic mind-set” and said the farm wants to stay open on its own terms.
“Do you want a farm to operate on the property?” he said. “We’ve been doing it for 37 years successfully.”