EACH SUMMER, flocks of residents and tourists head to the Mall to attend cultural shows, concerts and amateur sporting events — but that could soon change. In November, the National Park Service announced a draft proposal to permanently ban organized sports and recreational activities on the Washington Monument grounds and dramatically increase the fee s for the other athletic fields on the Mall — from $7 per season to $70 for a two-hour session. The plan, though well-intentioned, should be rethought.
The Mall was created to be an open space dedicated to public activity in its many forms — including recreation. The Park Service’s proposal to limit access to the Mall undermines that mission. While the current fees on the Mall’s athletic fields are too low, and the proposal would bring the Mall in line with other District-area parks, the combination of the ban on some fields and price hikes on others could leave a number of local teams without space to play in a city that offers few other affordable options. The fees could be raised, but more gradually.
The Park Service seems to have made this proposal without adequately consulting stakeholders. Though the Park Service promised to consider public comments before finalizing the policy, local organizations and residents have felt shut out of the conversation. The proposal has implications for other parks and neighborhood fields, many of which already have long waitlists and struggle to cater to the District’s growing population. These considerations need to be taken into account in the final plan.
Admittedly, the Park Service has valid concerns about preserving the Mall. It is both costly and labor-intensive to maintain the turf, especially when it is host to heavy-use events. But unlike previous events that have moved away from the Mall, such as the Solar Decathlon, amateur sports leagues do not come with large trucks and heavy equipment that can leave gouges and holes on the grass. Moreover, the Park Service has invested in new turf that is specifically designed to withstand heavy use — including, theoretically, the wear and tear of organized sports.
Thousands of local residents have signed a petition against the Park Service proposal, and some attended a June 18 community meeting hosted by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to weigh in on the plan. We hope the Park Service listens to the many residents who look forward to unwinding in one of the nation’s most storied parks every day. It would be unfortunate if “America’s front yard,” as it is known, became just a beautiful but untouchable relic.