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The following is a letter from Ward 4 resident Ben Harris to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton:
Dear Del. Holmes Norton,
I am writing to raise an issue that has a noticeable impact on every D.C. resident as well as on many of the visitors to our city: the deplorable conditions within much of the parkland in D.C. controlled by the National Park Service. This issue has come up from time to time before, but recent visits to several NPS parks within the city have served as a reminder that this is an issue that demands urgent attention and action.
I want to make clear that what I am referring to here are not the national parks that symbolize D.C. and that many visitors associate with the city: the National Mall, Rock Creek Park, and so forth. Although those parks are certainly rife with issues and problems, they aren’t my focus for purposes of this message. Rather, I am expressing serious concern over the condition of the many “neighborhood parks” which NPS controls but which function more as community parks.
Last evening, I strolled through Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. This is a park that should be a crown jewel of the city, however its current conditions are disgraceful. The fountains and cascading waterfall, which are hallmarks of the park, are dry and have not functioned all year. Instead, there are basins filled with beer cans, liquor bottles and other trash, and pools of stagnant water which no doubt serve as fertile breeding ground for mosquitos. There are no signs or any indication of when, if ever, the fountains and water features might be operational. On the upper tier of the park, what little grass that exists is overgrown; meanwhile, what should be a grassy surface is often little more than dust and rocks, the field and sod long in need of rehabilitation. The overall feel of the park is of neglect and disinvestment.
Farther south in Dupont Circle, the fountain there too has been dry for weeks, with no indication of a timeframe for repair. Instead, the fountain’s basin is full of foul, stagnant water that, again, is an ideal mosquito breeding ground. The bushes surrounding the benches around the fountain are often overgrown, and many are dead. Meanwhile, weeds grow through cracks in the pavement while overflowing trash cans contribute to garbage and litter.
My wife and I live in Ward 4, a couple of blocks from Fort Slocum Park. That park is rarely mowed, leading to overgrown grass and knee-high weeds that make it difficult to walk through, much less spend time in. There is frequently garbage and litter around the park, including drug paraphernalia, empty containers of alcohol and condom wrappers. Making the park even more unsuitable for use, two full sides of it lack any sidewalk, forcing park users to walk through the un-mowed, tick-laden grass and weeds. Fort Slocum is surrounded on three sides by houses, many containing families with children, while a school borders it on the north. Nearby residents are being deprived of what could be a wonderful amenity via the ongoing neglect of the park.
There are, I am sure, countless other examples that people elsewhere in the city could point to. The overall point is that NPS is abjectly failing in its responsibilities at maintaining the parkland scattered across our city. I moved to the D.C. area in 2004, and I can say beyond any doubt that the conditions of the city’s NPS-controlled parks are the worst they have ever been since I came here. Compounding this problem is the NPS bureaucracy. It is unclear which individual(s) at NPS District residents should contact about upkeep and maintenance issues in District parks. NPS’s structure is opaque, and the agency does not typically engage via social media channels. As a District resident, I feel powerless to raise issues and concerns with NPS as I do not know whom to contact, and the agency does not engage in community outreach.
I raise all of these issues in the hopes that you will raise these concerns with the appropriate people at NPS and elsewhere, with the hope that an increased degree of focus and attention will result in noticeable and desirable improvements in NPS-controlled parkland in D.C. The citizens of this city should have access to parks that are attractive, inviting and accommodating. Currently, far too many of our parks do not meet these criteria, a tremendous disservice to the city’s residents and a shameful commentary on our inability to maintain our public spaces. We all deserve better service than what NPS is providing.
Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this matter.
Harris is a Ward 4 resident who, along with his wife, formerly ran the blog 14th & You.