NPS to reach deal with Folklife Festival

Andrea McCarren

- WUSA*9

After 47 years on the National Mall, it looks like the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival will be able to continue there. The popular festival's future on the Mall had been in question because of a major turf restoration project.

The new grass meant new National Park Service rules for events spanning several days or weeks like the Folklife Festival. Among the new guidelines: organizers can only set up tents, stages and equipment on the Mall's gravel walkways.

However late Monday, the Park Service said it would allow the Smithsonian to close Jefferson and Madison Drives to provide additional space for tents and other activities so they do not destroy the new grass.

Read the NPS statement in its entirety here:

The National Park Service is close to finalizing a five-year agreement with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to ensure that the event remains on the National Mall while minimizing damage to this important cultural landscape. We are confident that with a little ingenuity and compromise, the National Park Service and the Smithsonian will be able to come up with a plan that both works for the event and protects an important cultural landscape for all to enjoy. We have worked with the organizers of the Folklife Festival to make use of hardscape and to have shorter-term activities on the grass in planning future festivals and have offered to allow the Smithsonian to close Jefferson and Madison Drives to provide additional space for tents and other activities.

The second phase of the restoration of the National Mall, slated to begin in August after this year's festival, will restore the panels from 7th to 12th Streets and is expected to take about 18 months. Maintaining the health of the National Mall while ensuring that it remains open and accessible as a unique public space is challenging, but we believe that our three-pronged approach of thoughtful restoration, maintenance best practices and scientific strategies for event management provides an appropriate balance. Our plan was devised with a team of experts familiar with the kinds of soil, grass, irrigation, and protection measures used on professional sports fields and other sites subject to extreme conditions.

The restoration itself was planned with events in mind. We worked with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission to increase hardscape to the maximum extent possible to accommodate longer-term large events. The grass and soil were chosen to withstand heavy use and were tested appropriate levels of use. . But this new turf and irrigation system does require some changes in how events are planned and laid out.

The National Park Service is proud of its tradition of supporting the public's First Amendment right to assemble in the center of the nation's capital, as well hosting numerous festivals, celebrations, softball games and millions of visitors, just to name a few. And we are dedicated to continuing that tradition.

The National Mall is the place where "the constitutional rights of speech and peaceful assembly find their fullest expression." With the updated system of events management system, it will continue to be, not only for the Folklife Festival, but the many other events that use it every day of the year.