For the past 35 years, people have crowded the volleyball courts near the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall on a first-come, first-serve basis, all free-of-charge. In the warmer months, the sandy West Potomac Park courts have become the go-to spot for amateur and competitive volleyball players alike.
The idea, according to NPS spokesman Mike Litterst, is to make court usage, which is in high demand, more equitable. He said that in the past the agency has received complaints about organized groups and leagues monopolizing the courts. This new system will, in part, allow officials to monitor who is using the courts, making sure that it’s not only organized leagues getting all of the playing time.
If a court is not in use, anyone can use it, but players with reservations will trump all walk-ons for court time.
But not all players are for the change, or buying that it will prevent organized leagues from booking up all the court time. An online petition on Change.org is urging people to come out against the new policy. The petition has nearly 2,000 signatures.
“So, in what seems to be a direct contradiction to its mission to preserve outdoor recreation resources for future generations, the NPS undermined the equal opportunity of both locals and visitors of all ages, incomes and backgrounds to stay fit and healthy and enjoy our capital’s most valuable volleyball resource,” the petition reads.
The daughter of Roger Morris, the man who designed and built the courts in the 1980s, wrote in a letter to the editor in The Washington Post this week that the new system goes against her father’s vision of creating a space that’s “open-to-all.”
“With no expectation of payback or fees, he poured the sand, managed events and sustained the ideal of accessible, welcoming volleyball right up to the minute he retired from his government job,” Bonnie J. Morris wrote. “When he died, five years ago last week, we heard from volleyball players whose lives were changed by access to these courts. He would be raging to see what has become of the fair and decent system he implemented.”
All funds collected from the new reservation system will go toward maintaining and monitoring the courts, according to the Park Service.
Although the new policy is already in effect, the agency is still accepting public comment on the new reservation system through April 27. Those interested can submit their comments here.
Litterst said the Park Service opted to extend the public comment period because a number of people contacted the agency saying they were unable to comment on the policy change before the original deadline.
“All comments submitted by April 27 will be considered, and changes to the system are possible depending on the content of the comments,” Litterst wrote in an e-mail.