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Congress passes lands package that gives D.C. more say over federal parks in the city

The District would be able to enter “cooperative management agreements” with the National Park Service

Franklin Square Park in downtown D.C.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

On Tuesday, congressional lawmakers passed a bill that explicitly permits the District and the National Park Service (NPS) to strike joint management agreements for city parks that are on federal land, as part of a sweeping federal lands package. “This important bill clarifies the District’s ability to preserve and enhance the many NPS parks here,” District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a statement. “Franklin Park, our first to engage, will serve as a model for parks to come.” The lands package now heads to the White House for presidential review.

On Twitter, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser hailed the legislative news on after it was announced.

Original post, February 13:

The federal government owns thousands of acres of parkland in D.C., but for years, many of these parks—particularly, small triangles and traffic circles—have experienced neglect. That could soon change thanks to a provision tucked in a public-lands bill that the Senate passed with bipartisan support on Tuesday and that the House is poised to pass in the coming days.

Based on an earlier stand-alone bill by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the provision lets the District enter so-called “cooperative management agreements” with the National Park Service (NPS) for the oversight of federal parks located in the city. NPS is currently able to enter such agreements with states and cities, but federal law is not clear about the District.

The model for the prospective change is Franklin Square Park, which is controlled by NPS and is one of the largest green spaces downtown. In recent years, local and federal leaders, including Norton, have been pushing to rehabilitate the roughly five-acre park, which lacks robust programming and has a drab central fountain. Under plans hatched while Congress handled the legal issues, the DowntownDC Business Improvement District will oversee the park. (Per the Washington Post, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the lands bill.)

In a statement on Tuesday, Norton noted that “NPS owns nearly all of D.C.’s neighborhood parks,” so city residents stand to benefit from the legislation. Local lawmakers also welcomed the news, pointing out that other federally controlled parks in D.C. could see changes as well.

Franklin Square Park is situated between K and I streets NW and 13th and 14th streets NW. Still to be seen is what will ultimately happen with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium site and three golf courses in the District: The federal government continues to control them.