There won't be security checkpoints at the entrance to the National Zoo, after many residents spoke up against earlier renderings that showed the possibility in the future. The zoo is, however, moving forward with plans to close some of its entrances and add stronger perimeter fences.
According to the presentation before the National Capital Planning Commission, the zoo now has three “primary” entrances, at Connecticut Avenue at the top of the zoo, the bottom entrance near Beach Drive and Harvard Street, and one by the largest parking lot on the north side. It also has 10 “secondary” entrances, mostly gaps in the fencing along North Road between the other parking lots as well as one along the Rock Creek trail.
After a 14-year-old shot two people outside the zoo in 2014, the zoo added security checks during the two weeks of spring break each year. However, the Smithsonian says, “The deployment of the temporary fencing and canopies (as well as providing for power, lighting, etc.) is a signifcant annual expense for the Smithsonian.” The zoo therefore proposed closing the “secondary” entrances and also showed early concept sketches for screening pavilions.
While zoo officials insisted they'd only use those pavilions during the spring break time, many people worried that this was a precursor to permanent security checks. Responding to outcry, the zoo has now abandoned these, but still plans to consolidate its entrances. Previous plans to build one central parking garage are out of the picture since the garage was too expensive, so instead of just one entrance from parking, the zoo will retain three “secondary” entrances from the lots.
Gone will be the entrance from the Rock Creek trail, which some readers last year said they use to get to or through the zoo. From the various materials, it's clear the zoo sees this not as a real visitor access point but just a staff access from the Research Hill facility, on the other side of the creek and trail. That's because going into the zoo here takes you to more of a back section that the zoo doesn't really mean to be a front entrance.
The bigger issue with the Rock Creek Trail is less the entrance and just keeping the trail open. When the zoo is closed, people have to walk or bike on a very narrow sidewalk through the Beach Drive tunnel and can't use the outdoor trail that's through zoo property. It's not in the zoo per se, but it's between the “main” zoo and Research Hill, and inside what the zoo considers to be “the zoo.” So, they close it.
When I've asked about this in the past, zoo spokesperson Annalisa Meyer said that “due to our accreditation requirements, we cannot have an open campus.” It's still unclear to me if the zoo can't simply arrange things so its “campus” is two separate pieces, like if it had something across the street, but maybe that's a bigger discussion to have.
It's also important for residents to keep making clear to the zoo that expanded security screening is not okay in the future. While the zoo won't build the pavilions, having fewer entrances will make it easier and cheaper to do screening at other times, and we should be vigilant against that happening.
The presentation also says the zoo will soon revisit its Master Plan, at which time it will re-consider the parking garage. Let's hope they consider these other ideas as well.
NCPC will discuss the zoo plans at its meeting on Thursday, March 6, and you can submit comments to NCPC through Wednesday: