Controversy over Gravelly Point reignites ‘Reagan’ name debate

WASHINGTON — A popular park located along the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington County, Virginia, has become the center of a controversy as members of Congress try to change its name to honor former first lady Nancy Reagan.

The park, called Gravelly Point, would be known as “Nancy Reagan Memorial Park” under a bill advancing on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee voted Wednesday to move the legislation forward to the full House, where it is expected to pass.

“This is what some call ‘Washington at its worst,'” said Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents Arlington County and the inner suburbs of Northern Virginia.

“This bill is Congress unilaterally forcing a decision on a local community without any local say or input.”

Beyer, who began his remarks by saying he has great respect for the late Nancy Reagan, claimed the proposal has virtually no support on the local level.

“While I understand the desire to honor political figures, something like this shouldn’t be done without involving the local community,” he said.

“This bill is the equivalent of having someone coming in and changing the furniture in your house without asking you.”

Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, the bill’s sponsor, said naming the park for Reagan would be a “fitting tribute” for a “beloved first lady.”

All seven Republicans representing Virginia in the House of Representatives have signed on in support of the measure.

The controversy mirrors a long-running debate surrounding the name change at the airport, just over a mile away from the park. It was called “Washington National” for many years before being changed to “Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport” in 1998.

Congress passed legislation for the change and it was signed by then-President Bill Clinton, but it was strongly opposed by local political leaders and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Following the move, Metro and the National Park Service had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to change signage to reflect the new name.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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