Norton wants to push Park Service to be more responsive
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has joined the chorus of voices calling for the National Park Service to be more flexible and work better with local communities to manage their many DC parks, large and small.
On Sunday, the Post published an op-ed I wrote summarizing the issues with the Park Service. Chief among them is the frequent refrain that they have to apply the exact same policies to all parks nationwide, regardless of size or context.
This excuse has come up repeatedly. It's a factor in blocking Capital Bikeshare on the Mall. It's an obstacle to Bryant Park-like sandwich kiosks in Mount Vernon Square. And it forces community groups wanting to put on events in neighborhood parks to jump through ridiculous hoops.
There's no reason the Park Service actually has to treat every park the same, from the tiny triangle across Q Street from Dupont Circle (where they've delayed for years efforts to fix deteriorating grass and benches) to the enormous Yellowstone. I also noted that the General Service Administration, a typically slower-moving organization that has recently exhibited refreshingly forward-thinking sustainability practices, created a separate office to handle urban facilities.
Congresswoman Norton and her staff have apparently seen the coverage of these problems. She put out a press release linking up the Capital Bikeshare with another issue, NPS's reluctance to enter into public-private partnerships for DC's golf courses. Her press release says:
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) will offer an amendment today to the Interior Department Appropriations bill that requires the National Park Service (NPS) to study ways to make NPS parks in the District and throughout the nation more responsive to the diverse park communities they serve. The study is the first step towards changing current NPS policy that inflexibly treats all parks the same from, Yosemite to Dupont Circle Park.Golf courses also aren't the only places NPS could benefit from public-private partnerships. Richard Layman wrote, "For 10 years the Downtown BID has been trying to get MOUs with the NPS to manage the downtown federal parks such as at McPherson Square or Franklin Square, to manage them more like how similar facilities (but not controlled by the federal government) are managed in New York City."
The Congresswoman has tried unsuccessfully to get important changes for parks in the District, including allowing Capital Bikeshare stations on or near parks and permitting the three golf courses in the District to be run as a public-private partnership. Both of these examples have run into existing concession concerns. However, Norton said, "NPS could negotiate concession agreements that accommodate Capital Bikeshare in the future.
Moreover, another particularly harmful example of inflexibility is NPS insistence on concession contracts that do not allow capital investment, resulting in astonishing deterioration of invaluable, capital-intensive golf courses in the District. Inflexible, one size fits all policies keep Americans from using our parks for compatible purposes, such as bike stations, or worse, condemning unique iconic resources to inevitable decline.
Some neighborhood organizations have also been looking into the potential to do the same with their local parks. Downtown BID officials wouldn't comment on the issue since they want to maintain a positive working relationship with NPS.
I've collected a lot of stories about NPS decisions that let bureaucratic process trump sensible and sustainable policies. If you have some such experiences, or would like to participate in meetings with other frustrated people, NPS officials, or members of Congress, please get in touch.
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