WASHINGTON — The National Park Service has informed the non-profit group operating Claude Moore Colonial Farm that they have one week to leave the premises — and to take their farm animals with them.
Since 1981, Friends of Claude Moore Farm has operated the popular tourist attraction, which realistically depicts life on a 1771 farm, as part of a cooperative agreement with the Park Service. That agreement expired in 2006, but it was extended multiple times, with a final extension through Dec. 21, 2018.
The letter came as no surprise to the Friends group, which had been notified on March 30, 2018 that without a new agreement, the non-profit would no longer be allowed to operate the farm on Park Service land.
“There continues to be a lack of understanding about the agreement the National Park Service offered to the Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm,” the Park Service said on its website earlier this year. “We acted in earnest to ensure the relationship’s future, exhausting all possible legal options to continue the relationship including a potential lease, a potential concessions contract, and finally a proposed 10-year cooperative agreement.”
The Friends group declined to sign a new agreement, and said the Park Service is requiring onerous, administrative-based changes that would make it impossible to operate the farm — maintaining animals, buildings, crops and employees — on its yearly budget of $400,000.
Thus, Friday, in a letter to the executive director of the Friends group, the Park Service said time is up.
“You are required to remove all temporary, movable improvements and personal property, including livestock, porta-potties, and property in the pavilion area,” wrote Blanca Alvarez Stransky, acting superintendent of the National Park Service. “Any property not removed by December 22, 2018, will be considered abandoned property.”
Elliott Curzon, director of the park, told WTOP he is not optimistic.
“Hope springs eternal, but the harvest of goodwill toward the Farm is meager,” Curzon said. “That little drummer boy you hear this time of year is pounding out a funeral cadence for the Farm.”
While a bill is still pending in the House of Representatives that would have the Park Service give the land to the group to operate the colonial attraction, Curzon said without a companion bill in the Senate, “the legislative Hail Mary will die with the 115th Congress, and the Farm will likely die with it.”
Curzon said the group has more than 12,000 signatures on its Save the Farm petition.
“Congress, the White House and the Interior Department have abandoned us,” Curzon said. “We appear to be the redheaded stepchild of the National Park Service — neglected, mistreated and unwanted, except by our visitors, schoolchildren and patrons.”
Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, chief of public affairs with the park service’s National Capital Region said the “next chapter” of the land the farm sits on is unclear.
“Early in the new year, the NPS will invite the community, the farm’s volunteers and any interested parties to share their vision for the park’s future,” she said in a statement. “Should the NPS offer farm activities, return the area to its natural state, provide connections to neighboring trail systems or something else altogether?”
One thing Anzelmo-Sarles rules out? “The NPS will not pursue any kind of commercial development or sell the property.”
“We value the memories that people have made at the farm, and remain committed to a public and transparent process as we work with the community, public, and the farm’s many dedicated volunteers to determine its future.”