The Washington Post

Park Service starts renovation of Occupy-damaged McPherson Square

A flag marks a fence protecting freshly seeded open areas of McPherson Square on April 24 in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/THE WASHINGTON POST)

National Park Service workers cordoned off large sections of McPherson Square this week to begin renovating the downtown park damaged during the months-long Occupy D.C. protest this winter.

Workers fenced three sections of the square and posted “No Trespassing” signs as they work to aerate, fertilize and reseed the turf areas. Two flower beds were planted with annuals.

Carol B. Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said that the landscaping work — expected to cost about $7,000 — was necessary because of the damage caused by Occupy D.C. protesters, who pitched tents in October and stayed through early February. The campers were eventually evicted, but are allowed to maintain empty, symbolic “vigil” tents on the federally owned land.

The damage to the park became a political flash point earlier this year, when congressional Republicans raised questions over the Park Service’s decision to allow the protesters to continue camping in McPherson Square in violation of the agency’s own no-camping regulations.

Republicans complained that the Occupiers’ presence risked extensive damage to the park, which was spruced up in 2010 with more than $400,000 of federal stimulus money.

The Park Service determined that $8,000 worth of sod was ruined, but Johnson said that the agency has not yet done an overall assessment to decide whether anything beyond the grass needed replacement. During the previous renovation, the Park Service had added curbs and refurbished benches, lighting, fountains, fencing and trash cans.

This week, Occupy demonstrators at McPherson said they were cooperating with the renovation efforts and that they had offered to reseed the grass, but the Park Service rejected that idea. More than a dozen tents remain on the north side of the park.

Dan Newell, 27, a demonstrator from the District, said he thought the McPherson renovation was “a good thing,” but that the new fencing made it difficult for Occupiers to have general assembly meetings, once held in an open area on the south side of the park. Occupiers were glad to see the freshly planted flower beds and added their own wildflower seeds, he said.

Annie Gowen is The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East.

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