Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

National Park Service, foe to D.C. cyclists and evangelists, wants to talk

October 21, 2011 - 03:15 PM
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(Photo: flickr/zieak)

The National Park Service attracts its share of emotional dialogue. Of course there's its issues with the District's bicyclists. Then there's NPS spokesperson Bill Line, who has gained a reputation over the last couple years for his vocal, less-than-delicate ways. (And if you haven't seen, here's a classic picture of Line that emerged recently showing him riding a bike without a helmet, all while juggling a cell phone.) And then there's the Washington D.C. Evangelists, who ran into their own problems with the National Park Service in the weeks after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial opened to the public. Yes, even evangelists have run afoul of the NPS.

Just how and why did this happen?

Here's a video showing the evangelists negotiate with NPS officials about whether the memorial counts as public, private, or government property, and whether, as part of our nation's park territory, they have a right to distribute Bibles and Christian pamphlets there: Is the NPS in the right here? The officers, at the least, remain calm. "Yes, you can do it in the park," the officer tells the small group of evangelists. "You can do it right out there on the sidewalk across the street, you can do it on that corner, but you can't do it here." He distinguishes between memorial grounds, where he says the evangelists don't have the right to preach, and park grounds nearby, where they do, according to Supreme Court decisions.

The encounter is peaceful enough on its own but signifies yet another of the small frictions in how people approach the NPS — and such varied groups. Bicyclists and evangelists? The NPS has sure managed to anger a wide range of District residents.

Luckily a forum will allow you to take any of your grievances to them and discuss. Thank D.C.'s Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton for organizing this event — it's happening tomorrow and I can't wait to see what will come of it.

Norton has declared that this event will be the "first ever" town hall with the organization. It's scheduled to happen from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW. The town hall appears to have popped up rather suddenly but I'm glad to see it exists and will open a much-needed dialogue. When I first brought up the contentiousness between the District's bicyclists and the NPS, I said that the NPS didn't quite get the new language of transit with which cyclists and other transit-oriented development folks frame and identify issues.

Will an open conversation bring some of those differences? Will the D.C. Evangelists make an appearance to fight for their right to preach in the face of MLK tourists? The latter has already voiced an intention to do so in the comments section of a Greater Greater Washington post on the town hall, where the group posted the video and said, "We have a problem with NPS." Their further comments suggested some members might appear at tomorrow's town hall if they're not busy (luckily it's scheduled on Saturday and not during the weekly day of rest). The NPS are, of course, not some group of cartoon villains, and I look forward to hearing what the organization will have to talk about tomorrow — NPS organized Feet in the Street just this month, after all. They also happen to inspire little pockets of contention from time to time.

Dialogue is good, whatever it brings, and positive reconciliation and action is even better. Let's hope all of this happens sooner rather than later.

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