Housing Complex

2011 in National Park Service Fail

I don't go looking for this stuff, I swear. It's just that, after I researched the effects of the National Park Service's ownership of so many small chunks of D.C., evidence of the institution's foibles pop up left and right. Since all anyone's doing from now until New Years is rehashing the year that was, let's recap.

  • Stretching back a little bit into 2010: The Park Service's brusque spokesman Bill Line yelled at a New York Timesreporter after her simple inquiry about a protest permit for Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity.
  • Also, the re-envisioning of Mount Vernon Square reminded us that Park Service-owned parcels are the hardest to do anything with (as did the long-delayed facelift for Chinatown Park).
  • The Park Service started out the year adamantly opposed to the idea of Bikeshare stations on the Mall—just like it had neglected to install them in other places, like Pennsylvania Avenue's wide sidewalks. To its great credit, under intense pressure from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and others, the agency relented.
  • Citing Tourmobile's "exclusive" right to Mall transportation, the NPS harassed pedicabs for ferrying around passengers.
  • Except that contract wasn't actually exclusive at all, and had furthermore been extended illegally for years.
  • Tourmobile called it quits on Nov. 1, and the new three-year contract is explicitly non-exclusive. But the request for offers only gave bus companies five days to respond, leading Mall advocates to worry that it might be rigged in favor of a very Tourmobile-like service.
  • Meanwhile, the NPS continues to extend Guest Services International's omnibus contract for the rest of their concessions without soliciting competitive bids.
  • The NPS asked for the Smithsonian Metro station to be renamed for the National Mall, and got coldly rejected.
  • In finally rehabbing a small triangle park north of Dupont Circle, the Park Service insisted on using a "historic" fence and keeping a dangerously narrow sidewalk, only yielding to strident protest at the last minute.
  • The Washington Canoe Club rightly grumbled that the Park Service took control of its boathouse and hasn't done anything to renovate it.

It also seems, however, that 2011 might be the year that the ship of the National Park Service in the National Capital Region started to change course. Norton browbeat them into a public forum, the Bikeshare reversal seemed to come with genuine penitence, and the Georgetown Waterfront discussion may turn into a really substantive improvement there. Not to mention the fact that they're under a national mandate to improve urban parks. Here's hoping they've made some New Year's resolutions.

  • RT

    Fantastic roundup. I've been thinking these things for years, but you've finally put it to the forefront. I dream of the day that DC will be able to take back its parks and be in a fiscal position where we can. And be responsible enough to do it better than NPS. More playgrounds, more creativity, more outdoor cafes within the parks (if only seasonal). NPS acts like these parks have been there since ancient times and are sacred and unchangeable, which is clearly ridiculous.

  • jcm

    This is my favorite Lydia DePillis MS Paint masterpiece of 2011. It narrowly edged out the buses.


  • http://www.mvjantzen.com/blog/ Michael

    Thanks for all your efforts this year. That Guest Services contract needs to be scrutinized more, and perhaps in 2012 we'll see hope of getting decent food on the Mall.

  • Hillman

    NPS has done a dismal job with parks in DC. In particular the neighborhood parks are often abysmal.

    They won't allow dog runs, even though countless other cities have very successful ones.

    They won't allow cafes or even food trucks.

    So basically you get massive dead spaces.

    All they do seem to allow are panhandlers and the homeless. Their policing is abysmal.

    I understand that they have budget constraints.

    And I suspect DC would be far worse in managing these spaces.

    But it doesn't take much budget to allow dog parks and food or cafe / food truck amenities.

  • eric

    ....and how long has the "renovation" of Meridian Hill Park been going on? 7 years? Last I'd heard, it was being "managed" out of the Denver NPS office.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    @jcm: Seconded!

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  • Will

    Don't forget all the hassles and wringers that the NPS put the Dupont Festival crew through for trying to simply show "E.T." one night this summer, among other things.