Image by Stephanie Clifford licensed under Creative Commons.

Last year, for the first time in a long while, government officials started actually encouraging (or at least tacitly allowing) area residents to have some winter fun on hills that were previously off limits to unsanctioned sledding.

In 2015, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton slipped a rider into the federal Omnibus Budget that overturned the 140 year-old ban on sledding on the West Lawn — other activities like throwing Frisbees, to our staff editor’s chagrin, remain banned.

Local officials are also trying to bring some semblance of reason to sledding in the region: last year, Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson released a list of sanctioned sledding hills in all parts of the county.

Here is a list of sledding hills across the region. Some are sanctioned, others… not so much.

Government officials were long accused of not letting “kids be kids” and letting liability concerns keep residents from sledding on a number of the area’s totally great hills. It came to a head in 2015, when US Capitol Police vigorously enforced a longstanding ban on sledding on Capitol Hill, ending in an odd detente between families with small children and heavily armed officers

Similar stories were playing out all across the region on local levels, sledders being chased away out of safety or liability concerns, or being worried about property damage (think golf courses).

It’s worth noting that these concerns aren’t always unfounded, as a local child was severely injured in 2015 while sledding. But strict rules put local authorities in the difficult position of enforcing bans, when many hills are safe in most circumstances.

Sledding is great for communities

Lots of people in more spread out places joke that they only meet their neighbors during snowstorms and power outages, when everyone is outside with a common cause. Shared use recreation, particularly during a time when most residents are home, is a fantastic way to build community and promote neighborhood cohesion in general. Some neighborhoods across the area even close certain streets in snowstorms to allow children to safely sled on them. 

From a government policy perspective, this is a “quick win” that provides a tangible benefit at little cost. 

"Sometimes it takes so long and it is so hard to get things done or change a policy, so it feels great to be able to do something like this that doesn’t require years of study and analysis or figuring out where to find the budget,” said Anderson.  “I want to make sure everyone knows that we are working to maximize access to parks wherever and whenever we can. In some cases we can’t allow access, but I want to look for ways to say yes, not for reasons to keep people out.”

For as long as the snow sticks around, enjoy those sledding hills, and make a point of getting to know your neighbors while you’re out there!  You’d be surprised at when that will come in handy.

Feel free to list your favorite sledding spots the comments!

A version of this post originally ran during 2016's blizzard, but since the information hasn't changed (and sledding is as fun as ever!) we wanted to share it again. 

Joe Fox has been a local resident for over 30 years, and currently lives and works in Silver Spring. He tries to travel around the area via as many modes as possible, including car, metrorail, bus, bicycle, kayak, and light aircraft. He works as an IT Program Manager, has worked as a traffic reporter in Washington and Baltimore since 2007, and is an active flight instructor in fixed wing aircraft.