Thousands sign petition against proposed National Mall sports ban

WASHINGTON — Thousands signed an online petition over the span of about 24 hours in hopes to sway the National Park Service’s proposal to ban sports on a number of athletic fields along the National Mall this week.

“We want the petition to be an opportunity for people to have their voices heard,” said Robert Kinsler with the local sports organization DC Fray.

Kinsler launched the petition Monday morning. It quickly attracted more than 2,000 signatures and continues to grow.

“It’s moving in a good direction and off to a great start,” Kinsler said. “We think that people want the park space to be utilized for its original intended purpose, which is recreation.”

Last week, the park service announced that it wants to permanently prohibit sports and recreation on fields between 3rd and 17th streets, which includes the Washington Monument grounds.

Those grounds were closed for recreational use earlier this year in order to begin a turf restoration project, and “will remain closed after the project is completed in 2018,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said.

“We’ve been working to maximize our athletic field space in non-memorial/monument areas,” Litterst added.

But the plan has not gone over well with many D.C.-area residents or government officials.

“This is a huge swath of land,” Kinsler said. “It’s uniquely Washington, D.C., and uniquely American to be able to play soccer or softball or kickball in the shadow of the Washington Monument.”

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting delegate, has also urged the National Park Service to reconsider its proposal in a news release.

“The Mall is not a turf sanctuary—it is a public park designed to host a variety of diverse, high-traffic events,” said Norton, joined by other area representatives.

In addition to the ban, the park service wants to substantially increase the cost to play sports on 28 other fields, comprised of 24 fields on the National Mall and four in Rock Creek Park.

The proposed changes are not set in stone and the park service will accept public comments, said Litterst.

Activists behind the petition hope they can persuade the agency to see things their way.

“This land has had sports and recreation played on it for probably more than a century,” said Kinsler.

Nick Iannelli

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

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