Last night, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) brought up the pervasive problems with the National Park Service through an Interior Appropriations amendment. It was withdrawn as an unpermitted earmark, but Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) both expressed support for ending the Park Service’s “one size fits all” approach to urban parks.

You can watch the exchange here:

Norton said:

The National Park Service should develop flexible standards that take into account the unique circumstances and population of individual parks and changing conditions throughout the country, in keeping with Congressional recognition of both conservation and recreation as primary reasons for our parks. The neighborhood parks in the District of Columbia serve a very different function from Yellowstone. Dont Circle park is a central urban community meeting place in the District …

I have come to the floor because I have tried unsuccessfully to get the Park Service to make small adaptations. perfectly compatible with their mission, to allow for the people in the parks in my own district, and I am certain that other members have found similar roadblocks. For example, the Park Service won’t allow bikeshare stations on or near federal parks, and they are not permitting the 3 golf courses in the District of Columbia to be run as a public-private partnership.

Both of these examples have run into the same one-size-fits-all concession concerns. Yet the National Park Service could negotiate concession agreements that accommodate bikeshare in the future. And inflexibility in Park Service insistence on concession contracts that do not allow capital investment, resulting in an astonishing deterioration of invaluable, capital-intensive golf courses in the District, could give way to other approaches, such as public-private partnerships operating under long-term leases that would allow private funding to assist the Park Service with upgrading and maintain these public assets which taxpayers can’t possibly by themselves maintain.

Inflexible, one-size-fits-all policies keep Americans from using our parks for compatible purposes such as bike stations or worse, condemn unique iconic resources to inevitable decline.

Moran, whose district includes Arlington, Alexandria, Reston, and southern Fairfax, endorsed the principles behind the amendment, and referred to my Post op-ed:

I think we ought to have a consideration by the Park Service of whether they are sufficiently flexible in dealing with local communities. There was a recent article written in the Washington Post talking about some of the opportunities that exist to bring the community in to local parks, urban parks, where far more people could be involved, people could participate, people could enhance the enjoyment of things that take place. …

We could find ways to discourage automobiles and encourage bikes. Have bike sharing, for example, on the National Mall so that people could rent bikes and bike around the mall. It wouldn’t cause any environmental damage; in fact, it would preserve some of the lawn on our National Mall and I think some people would enjoy it more. They’d get a little exercise.

However, Moran also noted that the amendment could be considered an earmark, which Congress is now not permitting. Simpson, too, said he felt this was an earmark, but that he agreed with Norton’s objective and pledged to work with her “in conference” to accomplish this end.

On bike sharing, DDOT has wanted to have a station around Archives Metro for a long time, and in fact maps currently show a planned station there. It’s a big hole in the downtown coverage. However, DDOT’s Chris Holben said the area is controlled by the Park Service, preventing a station from going into this area.

More broadly, many communities would love to be more involved in local parks, perhaps through a public-private partnership involving local businesses and residents pitching in money and time to help maintain the parks, run events, and bring in concessions that enhance the park for residents and tourists alike.

Such steps would even save money, but require more flexibility by the Park Service on its policies and its concession contracts. So far, the Park Service has resisted efforts by residents and even, apparently, by Congresswoman Norton to make progress. Perhaps with more members of Congress joining in, they’ll see the light.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.