No theater, dancing at Glen Echo Park during shutdown

Christopher Piper, a puppeteer who offers programs at shuttered Glen Echo Park, asks that the National Park Service reopen the park during a news conference at the Montgomery County-operated facility Tuesday. The park sits on federal land and has been closed to the public during the shutdown. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

GLEN ECHO, Md. – If the National Park Service doesn’t take down the barriers at Montgomery County’s Glen Echo Park, County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett says he’ll do it himself.

“It will be an act of civil disobedience, obviously. But I think it is what’s required at this point in time,” Legget says.

Speaking at a news conference before the Glen Echo Park sign Tuesday, Leggett explains that each day the park is closed, the many arts programs that operate there are taking a financial hit and the people that paid for those activities are losing out.

Katy Boerner, executive director of the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture, says the losses have totaled $325,000 so far. Like many local parks across the country, Glen Echo, with its historic Spanish Ballroom and Dentzel Carousel, sits on federal land. Unlike those other parks, Glen Echo has not been able to persuade the federal government to allow it to reopen.

“We don’t understand why Glen Echo Park is closed. It is not right!” Boerner says.

Montgomery County invested millions of dollars into the park and that many of the programs located at Glen Echo have been hurt by the shutdown.

“It’s denied programming to 25,000 people,” she says.

Hundreds of classes had to be relocated and four weddings had to find new venues at the last minute.

Michael Bobbitt, artistic director for Adventure Theatre MTC, says the current production of “Goodnight Moon” went dark because of the shutdown.

“We’ve had to cancel 16 performances. That’s a $50,000 loss. That’s about 2,500 students and their families that can’t see the show. That can’t be made up. That is gone,” he says.

Deborah Sternberg operates a swing dance program at the Spanish Ballroom. Sternberg says thousands of people of all ages have learned to dance in the years since her classes began operating.

“I’ve got a dance coming up this Saturday night, I hope the park reopens,” she says.

Christopher Piper is a puppeteer who’s been offering programs at the park for 30 years.

“We’ve seen this kind of thing before. In ’95 to ’96 when the government was shut down, it was the puppet company staff that cleaned the toilets. There’s no reason why we can’t be open right now.”

Holding a puppet up, he added, “We don’t have a puppet government yet, but it might help!”

Leggett says he’s fully aware that taking down the barriers at the park might get him cited for trespassing, but says it’s a small price to pay for restoring programming that serves thousands of residents from around the D.C. area.

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