The National Park Service plans to ban sports and other recreational activities on the grounds of the Washington Monument and raise rates for those who want to use other facilities on the National Mall next year.
The field closures are intended to help maintain the newly installed turf on the monument grounds, according to the NPS. The six fields surrounding the Washington Monument have been closed since earlier this year for the installation of new turf, a project due for completion in 2018. The grounds would remain closed permanently if the proposed plan is approved.
The NPS also plans to raise fees for reservations and permits for those looking to hold games or events on the other fields of the National Mall and Rock Creek Park. Currently, rates to use some of the fields field are under $10 per hour, but the NPS is considering raising the fees to over $70 for a two-hour block.
A public comment period on the changes to hear feedback on the measures being considered has yet to be scheduled as of Tuesday night.
National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst wrote in an email to WTOP that the NPS had been considering restricting access to fields surrounding the Washington Monument since the closure to put in the turf was approved. Litterst also noted that those seeking permits to use the fields would also now have to work with the NPS rather than with Washington, D.C.’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
“With the completion of the turf restoration of the National Mall we’ve been working to maximize our athletic field space in non-memorial/monument areas of the park,” Litterst wrote.
Litterst added that the revenue the NPS would receive from the higher field usage fees is needed to keep the Mall in good repair. The current fees only cover permit-filing costs, but the NPS needed to use extra money for a more expansive field upkeep program.
“[We will change the fees] from the previous flat fees based solely on administrative costs of processing (in some cases as little as $7 per season) to an hourly rate that will provide revenue for upkeep and management of the fields,” Litterst wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
The proposal has not been met with great enthusiasm by those who use the fields. Robert Kinsler, founder of D.C. Fray, a company that runs recreational sports leagues, has filed a petition on Change.org, which has over 6,000 supporters, seeking to prevent or modify these proposed changes. According to Kinsler, his petition has support from groups such as the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Social Sports Foundation.
In the petition, Kinsler wrote that restricting access to public land would go against the founding values of the National Mall. He also noted that it would affect the view of D.C. as a good place to live with a vibrant community.
“The total ban is antithetical to the purpose of the Mall,” Kinsler wrote. “Through the inception of the National Mall dating back to the [Pierre] L’Enfant plan of 1791 and the redesign by the McMillan Commission of 1901, a main intention of the Mall is to serve area citizens and the city by providing open recreation space.”
The NPS has also received pushback from elected officials. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) tweeted her opposition to the proposal on Monday.
Today we wrote NPS urging it reconsider its proposal to close athletic fields on Wash Monument grounds and raise fees for other fields on the Mall. The Mall must remain open and accessible to everyone. pic.twitter.com/rGWRmZoQd8
— Eleanor H. Norton (@EleanorNorton) November 14, 2017
Holmes is also circulating a letter among her colleagues in the House of Representatives that urges the NPS to reconsider its proposal. As of Monday, the letter had received signatures from seven House members.
“Space for intramural sports is already at a premium in the District of Columbia and throughout the region,” the letter read. “Closing six fields at the Washington Monument will impact local parks and recreation departments.”