Greater Greater Washington

Confusing Park Police rules scuttle Fort Reno concerts, Mall food trucks

The National Park Service's difficult and sometimes inscrutable regulations for events in parks may have claimed another victim: Long-running summer concerts in Fort Reno. The same day, Park Police also cracked down on food trucks along the Mall.


Photo by Dale Sundstrom on Flickr.

The organizer of the Fort Reno concerts, Amanda MacKaye, announced yesterday that the concerts are canceled for this year. She says that's because the National Park Service and the US Park Police changed their requirements at the last minute in a way that would double the cost to host the free concerts.

The park, located in Tenleytown in upper northwest, had hosted the concerts since 1968 and was always a showcase of regional talent for a wide variety of bands. The shows were put on by volunteers and are generally low-key affairs even if the bands themselves are loud.

But in a note on the series' website, McKaye said instead of receiving the expected permit like in years before she was told that organizers had to pay for an extra US Park Police Officer to be at every concert. She says,

Park Police cited differing reasons as to why this had come up after all these years. The reasons felt vague and when asked for specifics, none were given.

I requested a sit down meeting with NPS and USPP with the hope that our long standing (very good) relationship with NPS coupled with people seeing that we are just folks having a small community related event would bring about a better understanding and resolution.

Two messages to schedule went unanswered and when I did reach someone, a meeting was scheduled for the next morning (yesterday). The meeting happened but none of the invitees attended except myself and one extremely kind NPS employee who works in the office where meetings are held but despite being familiar with the park and the concert series as being an annual event, knew nothing about why the permit was being stalled.

She went on to say that she was not aware of any announcement of a policy change over the past year that would have alerted her to this.

There are valid reasons for requiring measures like extra police presence at events. Large crowds can potentially be dangerous, and many different venues require them all the time. But organizers deserve to know about these requirements up front, and hear well in advance if something has changed from one year to another.

In a statement, NPS spokesperson Jennifer Mummart said,

Today, the National Park Service (NPS) was notified by the permit applicant for the Fort Reno concert series that she intended to postpone the concerts. The United States Park Police (USPP) reached out to the applicant today. The NPS and USPP are reviewing the details of previous permits and previous law enforcement needs related to the concert series. Our primary goal is public safety. Both the NPS and USPP recognize the importance of the concerts to the community and look forward to further discussions with the permit applicant.
If McKaye's account is accurate, this wouldn't be the first time NPS' bureaucracy has created confusing policy or frustrated volunteers trying to use parks for community gathering spaces. The Dupont Festival is a group of people who volunteer their time to organize many kinds of events in the Circle. Just yesterday, they packed the circle to watch the US men's World Cup team play Germany (they lost, but the US did well enough to advance out of its group anyway).


Photo by John Jack Photography on Flickr.

The Dupont Festival folks have gotten a handle on navigating NPS' arcane and complex permitting processes as well as built relationships with permit officials, but when they were getting started they ran into many obstacles that sound a lot like the Fort Reno ones. Besides requirements for police, NPS also imposed last-minute requirements like insurance, didn't get the details of their permit until the last minute, and yelled at an organizer for showing up early.

The Park Service has been making many big and positive strides to be more responsive to residents and more open to making DC's parks, from the Mall to ones in neighborhoods, actually serve the functions of urban parks, such as including playground or welcoming people for special events.

Though food remains a problem. Yesterday, Park Police also drove away food trucks which park along streets like 7th Street as they cross the National Mall. While DC gives permits to the food trucks, NPS officials claim that trucks parking along streets with federal property on both sides is subject to federal rules rather than local ones.

This is a different issue than concerts in local parks, and it's no sudden revelationNPS has been saying this for years, though it's not clear why there was a sudden crackdown yesterday. Hopefully NPS can find ways to accommodate food trucks, perhaps in select zones as DC has done downtown. They are a tremendous asset for hungry tourists.

Recently-retired NPS National Capital Region director Steve Whitesell said that the agency used to make "no" the default answer, and is evolving to work with people to find a way to "yes." Music fans will have to hope that the organizers and NPS can resolve their issues by next summer, while tourists on the Mall can wish for some solution to offer better food.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Falls Church.  

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I think having a connection to a permit official is of paramount importance here. It shouldn't be that way, as it's basically favoritism at the expense of fairness, but that's just how it goes.

I support food trucks on the Mall. I'm not a supporter of them everywhere and anywhere without any stipulations, but the food trucks do a little bit to enliven the otherwise dull space that is the Mall. If we were talking about food trucks on the Tuileries Garden, that would be one thing. But the Mall is no Tuileries Garden.

by Scoot on Jun 27, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

Oh NPS, is there anything you can't mess up?

by BTA on Jun 27, 2014 10:05 am • linkreport

Here's the thing about food trucks on the Mall that wasn't included in the Fox5 story: It's not allowed under the DC vending regulations, nor has it ever been allowed under the previous DC vending regulations. The US Park Police, DC police, and DCRA have all issued tickets for years for these violations, although on a non-regular basis. But for some of the trucks' operators to claim they had no idea it wasn't allowed isn't plausible.

What made the US Park Police launch the recent crackdown: The dozens of food trucks parked on 3rd, 4th, and 7th Streets, especially on weekends, and the massive amount of trash their customers leave behind. The mountains of styrofoam containers around trash cans on the Mall overwhelmed NPS - and looks like a huge eyesore.

Ideally, NPS would realize that food trucks do provide a necessary service to tourists on the Mall since there are very limited options for food or drinks. And DC already has a pretty good model with the vending regulations' Mobile Roadway Vending zones. That model would allow NPS to both control the amount food trucks and trash along those streets, while at the same time serving the needs of Mall visitors.

by Lurker on Jun 27, 2014 10:06 am • linkreport

It would be nice to see if DC and NPS and maybe the local BIDs could collaborate on the trash problem. DC should have more bins as close in to the park as possible and NPS could focus on providing trash collection internally. There are solar compacters and all sorts of things that could help them deal with peak times when its hard to keep up with demand. Obviously some blame also has to be laid at the feet of ill-mannered tourists.

by BTA on Jun 27, 2014 10:18 am • linkreport

What made the US Park Police launch the recent crackdown: The dozens of food trucks parked on 3rd, 4th, and 7th Streets, especially on weekends, and the massive amount of trash their customers leave behind. The mountains of styrofoam containers around trash cans on the Mall overwhelmed NPS - and looks like a huge eyesore.

Maybe they just need to change their trash schedule to pickup in the afternoons on the weekends then.

The Mall is absolutely the first place food trucks should have been allowed - food options down there are terrible to nonexistent.

by MLD on Jun 27, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

Other than the Civil War structures, why does the National Park Service own and maintain the land at Fort Reno? I usually support an expansive role for the federal government but what federal interest is there in having the National Park Service maintain the tennis courts, fields, and baseball diamond in a residential area? I am sure the NPS can use its limited maintenance funds for other pressing needs instead.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 27, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

@202_Cyclist

There is a fairly extensive cold-war era communications & bunker system at Fort Reno codenamed 'Cartwheel': http://www.coldwar-c4i.net/PEF/index.html

by ontarioroader on Jun 27, 2014 11:20 am • linkreport

Four simple steps for a better mall : 1) Bar cars, taxis, and bus on both Jefferson and Madison. 2) Add picnic tables in the shade in designated zones. 3) Add drinking fountains near the picnic tables. 4)Allow food trucks on Jefferson & Madison near the picnic zones. BTW The picnic zones could be rotated a couple of times a year to allow the grass to recover.

by tour guide on Jun 27, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

I don't have a problem with the park service chasing away food trucks. I applaud it. The trucks create a big mess, and compete with the Smithsonian food service operations, which are important revenue sources for places that do not charge admission.

There are plenty of food options on the Mall. You won't go hungry.

The Smithsonian runs outdoor vending operations and food carts. All the major museums have restaurants.

The food trucks are revenue siphons, contribute nothing but blight, and are visually ugly. Goodbye and good riddance.

by kob on Jun 27, 2014 11:31 am • linkreport

MLD Yeah. Though the food under the East wing will do in a pinch, I always tell people where they can find food, and to never, ever, no matter how hungry, get food from the hot dog stand outside Natural History.

by asffa on Jun 27, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

The Smithsonian food options are limited in choices, overpriced, crowded on busy weekends, and not terribly convenient if you don't actually intend to visit the museum (especially if you have a bag that needs to be searched)

I presume this will still allow food trucks in other nearby areas.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 27, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

Please also remove the food trucks and vendors from the west side of 15th street between PA Ave and Constitution.

They block the natural bike route continuation from the 15th street cycletrack to the 14th street bridge. We need that lane for transport, not vending.

Food trucks can be fun, and they can quickly spice up run down or food poor areas -- put them in empty parking lots in yup and coming neighborhoods, not blocking key transport corridors.

by Greenbelt on Jun 27, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

I think the food trucks along 14th Street next to the Mall have been a great improvement. They give visitors a lot more dining options.

One thing I would like like to see with the trucks that use their diesel (a known carcinogen) for several hours each day is an electrical outlet they could plug into and run their food equipment with instead. When not used by trucks, these electrical outlets could be used to charge electric vehicles.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 27, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

Greenbelt

IIUC the MoveDC plan says they will connect the cycle track to the bridge - I assume that will take away the area for food trucks and vendors there. I do think though that some area for food trucks near the mall can and should be found. Its not an up and coming area, but it is an area where there are too few food options.

I like 202's idea about electric options, though I am not sure if its feasible

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 27, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

The Smithsonian food options are limited in choices, overpriced, crowded on busy weekends, and not terribly convenient if you don't actually intend to visit the museum (especially if you have a bag that needs to be searched)

+1

by MLD on Jun 27, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Yes, if NPS/Smithsonian needs the concessions money then maybe they should be more competitive. The only reason they only choose to deal with one vendor at a time is a desire to not have very much work to do in providing concessions.

by drumz on Jun 27, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

yeah, inexplicable why they allow those vendors on 15th.

On that note, you've got to find a way to seperate food trucks vs those t shirt vendors.

I'd suggest the food trucks pay for the additional trash pickup. Or use washable plates.

by charlie on Jun 27, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

We all know this wouldn't happen anywhere but DC, but if it did that city's congressional reps would be fire-breathing mad about it. Where's EHN when you need her?

by jeff on Jun 27, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

The food trucks are providing a valuable public service, and should absolutely be allowed to continue with as little regulation as possible.

As to the trash disposal problem, the food trucks are not at fault. Trash disposal on the National Mall is a public service, so city services and/or the NPS can reasonably be expected to add more trash cans or empty the current ones more frequently.

by Bill on Jun 27, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

There is one additional quirk, which is whether the numbered streets through the Mall are Federal property or District property. The answer is ... unclear. NPS says it belongs to NPS, so therefore no vending is allowed without NPS permits. DC doesn't necessarily agree, but it doesn't really matter because DC's own vending regulations have always prohibited vending on those streets.

The 15th & 17th street vendors by the Ellipse are a unique creature. They have been permitted by DC to be at those locations for several decades and they cater exclusively to tourists.

Although DDOT has long wanted to eliminate those vending locations, first for tour bus parking and now for bike lanes, they've always encountered strong resistance from the vendors (which makes sense since they would effectively be put out of business) and from Councilmembers defending those vendors' livelihoods. It will be interesting to see whether the current and soon-to-be-new Councilmembers will be as adamant about protecting those vendors as past Councilmembers were.

by Lurker on Jun 27, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

the article and the Fort Reno organizers act as if police presence and paying for it is something new at events. It's not. This is especially an issue for events on DC public space, where most of the money an organization might raise, which used to help support the organization during the year, goes to MPD and DC FEMS for police and emergency services.

The _Mayor's Office_ has a fund that can be tapped to cover these costs, but you have to know the right people.

For obvious reasons, NPS doesn't have a similar kind of arrangement.

HOWEVER, it is another example of how we don't really have a _system_ of financial and other support for community events, organized at the ward level, but which should include events in NPS spaces. There should be a set budget that provides support for these kinds of events, allocated to every ward, with an open and transparent process for expenditures.

More about this in a post later in the summer, as part of a "position paper" I am writing on how to have a real ward-focused agenda for a City Councilmember.

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

... the DC specific stuff goes back many years, to the cancellation of the Mt. Pleasant Festival one year around 2003 or 2004 because of unpaid "construction permit" fees for "erecting" tents, which is charged by DCRA.

(Sometime back then, DC Council passed a law requiring that all these events pay for the cost of services provided by DC Government agencies, although generally you can get a "free" recreation trailer stage from DPR if you order it early enough.)

That's the other big tranche of fees that I forgot to mention:

police, EMS, and DCRA fees can be incredibly high. Even for a little thing like two blocks of 12th Street NE for Brookland Day, in 2007 when I organized it, was more than $10,000.

The fees are incremented upwards depending on the number of attendees, which also trigger additional police officers and EMS coverage. (One of the reasons you see non-DC FEMS ambulances stationed for first aid at festivals is because they are cheaper.)

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

The stage remains at Ft. Reno. Is there anything to stop an acoustic band from setting up and playing?

by musician on Jun 27, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

Other than the Civil War structures, why does the National Park Service own and maintain the land at Fort Reno? I usually support an expansive role for the federal government but what federal interest is there in having the National Park Service maintain the tennis courts, fields, and baseball diamond in a residential area? I am sure the NPS can use its limited maintenance funds for other pressing needs instead.

Why does the National Park Service administer Rock Creek Park? No other major city in the US gets the feds to run their major urban park for free. Why is Anacostia Park a National Park? or the many little "pocket parks" that have no names but are all part of NPS?

There is an ongoing process to transfer some of these parks to DC jurisdiction, but the reality is that DC gets a major cost savings from having the federal government administer most of its park system.

by dcer562 on Jun 27, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

There should be no parking or stopping of cars, buses, or food trucks along either 4th or 7th Sts where they cross the mall. The panoramic vista from the Capitol to the Monument is just as much a part of the Mall as the museums and the now-sacred grass itself. Yet tour bus operators think nothing of blocking that view with their giant buses so that their paying guests can hop out and take a few pictures (pictures that the buses themselves are ruining). The food trucks, which range from creative and colorful to downright rusted-out eyesores and their mountains of garbage are no better.

While were at it, how about some redesign of the bus parking around the WWII memorial (Homefront Drive). I understand the need to bus veterans to the memorial due to their advanced ages. But some days it is a joke the number of buses idling away out there blocking on both Independence and 17th. Apparently the Park Police don't have any interest in ticketing these buses or enforcing some sort of time limit on bus parking at the memorial.

by dcer562 on Jun 27, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

There is an ongoing process to transfer some of these parks to DC jurisdiction, but the reality is that DC gets a major cost savings from having the federal government administer most of its park system.

And major costs due to other burdens placed on DC by the federal government.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2004/05/05washington-rivlin

by MLD on Jun 27, 2014 4:53 pm • linkreport

"We all know this wouldn't happen anywhere but DC, but if it did that city's congressional reps would be fire-breathing mad about it. Where's EHN when you need her?"

I don't think that foodie-truck obsessed myopic little twits are EHN's base constituency.

by Randy on Jun 27, 2014 8:12 pm • linkreport

dcer - a long time ago I wrote about this, and have advocated that a DC parks plan provide guidance about all the park spaces in the city and come up with a typology to remove parks that don't reflect "federal interests" to shift to DC.

I don't think that the PlayDC plan addresses that issue. My point is that if DC doesn't represent citizen interests comprehensively, no one represents those interests. This is an issue with NPS installations in DC for sure.

National Mall, sure, there's a clear federal interest. Rock Creek could be (it's sort of an extension of Potomac Park which is federal interest. The Civil War forts are arguable. It wouldn't be out of the question for such parks to be state parks in another jurisdiction. Anacostia Park, no reason to be federal. Etc.

2. wrt food trucks, it's about conflict with concession laws, regulations, and agreements. E.g., I know that the old laws prevented vending on the park around Carnegie Library--because that is land that is still under NPS jurisdiction (it might have changed in the past few years).

NPS is protective of concessions because the revenues are used by the parks where the concessions operate, in this case the NCR parks, they don't go to general NPS funds.

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2014 11:28 pm • linkreport

NPS strikes again? They blocked Capital Bikeshare stations from being located on the National Mall, until the real reasons for their opposition were revealed. (The Tourmobile contract, which was found to be illegal) NPS also helped to shut down the Bike DC community ride and the Washington DC Triathlon. They don't seem to do a good job with smaller parks like Franklin Square either.

The NPS-controlled areas in and around DC and Arlington are generally active, urban areas, not Yellowstone or Yosemite. Time for NPS to treat these parks and areas as part of a busy, urban metropolis, not isolated, rural destinations.

by Citizen on Jun 28, 2014 12:42 am • linkreport

And the cost of the additional police at the free concerts is what?

Maybe it's so low that it's not something to get all twirled up about?

Can't we all just get along?

by What's the frequency Kenneth? on Jun 28, 2014 8:25 am • linkreport

I suggest that the Fort Reno concert series organizers get local sponsors or businesses to possible have an ad banner on the stage to cover the police expenses.

by Nightman on Jun 28, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

The food trucks were back on Mall at 7th this morning ...

by kob on Jun 28, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

I still don't see why DC citizens would want DC's DPR to take on more parks. With some exceptions, I think that NPS does a better job than DPR of maintaining parks under their jurisdiction. I've seen several parks under DPR control that haven't even been mowed yet this year. We in Washington are pretty lucky to have such extensive parkland that is not maintained directly on the local taxpayer's nickel (but rather spread over the much larger revenue base of the federal government). I know that leads to inefficiencies sometime and a perceived lack of responsiveness in the view of some locals, but ask yourself if you would be willing to pay significantly higher DC taxes to sustain the local service functions that the federal government currently provides directly? -- These include many parks, the local prosecutor;s office (the US Attorney in DC), etc.

by Randy on Jun 29, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

NPS can't keep the trash cans empty with or without food trucks. They need to get their act together and focus on providing services rather than throwing their weight around.

by Mike on Jun 30, 2014 8:02 am • linkreport

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