The new closures prevent car access to the large parking lots at Picnic Areas 6 through 10, north of Military/Joyce roads NW, and thereby prevent access to more than two-thirds of the park for people with impaired mobility, families with young children and everyone who is not able to walk/run/bike several miles from their homes to reach this area. I believe it is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
More important, this closure is forcing people who can reach the park only by car to crowd closer together while walking on the one-mile stretch of Beach Drive south of Military Road, thereby increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus. There are only 33 parking spaces available to access this section of Beach Drive. A family from Petworth or Columbia Heights with a toddler in a stroller and a kindergartner on his little training-wheeled bike is not going to walk two miles along city streets to get to the park and two miles (uphill) to get home again.
This northern section of the park also offers the best network of wide, flat trails in the woods, allowing people to easily stay more than six feet apart. On my daily walks, I have found people are being exceptionally conscientious about this. Fit hikers who know the park well can still get to these trails from 16th Street or Connecticut Avenue on the narrower steep “feeder” trails such as the Whittier Trail, but all others are denied.
When my elderly father was dying of cancer, we drove to the park almost daily, parked in lot 6 and walked the wide, flat Valley Trail (which we called the “swallow trail” for all the barn swallows nesting under one of the bridges.) These are now off-limits to all but the most physically stalwart. Your husband with Parkinson’s disease? Sorry, no. Your daughter with cerebral palsy? No nature for her. Your granny with a cane? Stick her in the rocking chair where she belongs.
A similar problem exists for Theodore Roosevelt Island and the Carderock Recreation Area. These parks offer miles of wide trails in the woods or along the C&O Canal, but the National Park Service has closed the parking lots — again, a seeming violation of the ADA by allowing only those who can walk, run or bike for several miles to access them.
When I spoke with the acting superintendent of Rock Creek Park about these new restrictions, he said the goal was to prevent large groups of people from using the picnic areas. If this is a real concern (and in my daily walks post-quarantine but pre-closure I never saw any groups anywhere), it is simple to prevent. One officer in a car or bicycle could easily patrol this two-mile stretch of Beach Drive. Citizen volunteers could be employed much like air raid wardens in World War II to help enforce compliance if needed.
The coronavirus is going to be with us for a long time. The only effective prevention is social distancing. The NPS should return Beach Drive to the customary rules of weekend access. Fresh air, safe exercise and the solace of nature should not be restricted to triathletes.