On Tuesday morning the National Park Service barricaded the parking lots out front of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. According to Mount Vernon officials this created a disagreement between the two organizations.
Since Mount Vernon is a privately funded and operated non-profit it has remained open throughout the shutdown despite the closure, and in many cases barricading, of publicly funded and operated national parks. Mount Vernon’s website even features a large image declaring “we’re open” on its front page. However, there was some disagreement about the ownership of parking lots outside of Mount Vernon and whether or not they should be barricaded like others along the George Washington Memorial Parkway which is publicly funded and operated.
Mount Vernon spokesperson Melissa Wood told me over email that “the Park Service was confused about the ownership of those parking lots”.
However, after several hours had passed and the two sides were in contact with one another, the barricades to most of the parking lots under dispute were removed. Ms. Wood told me that the National Park Service had “corrected the situation” and added that “Mount Vernon’s parking lots are open and available to accommodate all of Mount Vernon’s visitors”.
Despite this claim, when my Capitol City Project colleague Joe Schoffstall and I inspected the parking lots we noticed that a large section of one of the parking lots directly in front of Mount Vernon was still barricaded off.
When I asked Ms. Wood about the section of parking lot she responded that it was “most likely owned by the Park Service”. When I asked for clarification on how it could be possible that the Park Service owns a section of one of the Mount Vernon parking lots she declined to elaborate.
There is no word on when the section of Mount Vernon parking that remains barricaded will be reopened. Mount Vernon officials see the issue as closed despite the section of parking remaining blocked.
Ms. Wood was able to refute a claim made in a highly trafficked piece on the conspiracy site infowars which asserted that the National Park Service attempted to “blockad[e] the entrance”. According to her email “No one tried to block the visitor entrance”.
She did not respond to my question about whether or not the National Park Service had tried to block the tour bus turn around as former house speaker Newt Gingrich had asserted on Twitter.
I asked the Department of Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, and National Park Service spokesperson Michael Litterst for comment on the parking lot closures but haven’t received a reply. I will be sure to pass it along if I do.
The barricading of the parking lots at Mount Vernon comes at the same time the National Park Service has blocked off many other public monuments, memorials, and parks. They’ve even blocked off small parking lots that are otherwise unmanned. In fact, every parking lot along the George Washington Memorial Parkway has been barricaded.
That includes a parking lot with a mere 3 spots located on the parkway between Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria.
At the moment there is no word on when the government shutdown will end, when the National Park Service will remove their barricades, or why the barricades were really necessary in the first place. Hopefully those answers will all become apparent soon.
UPDATE 10/4/13: The large section of parking lot I reported on earlier remains blocked off as of Friday morning.
I have still not received comment from the Department of Interior or National Park Service spokesperson Michael Litterst.
Additionally, Mount Vernon spokesperson Melissa Wood has not answered any of my other questions. Mount Vernon appears to consider the matter closed and there is no telling when, or if, the barricades will be removed.