Sections of upper Beach Drive that have been closed to motor vehicles since April 2020 will remain that way. The National Park Service says the Rock Creek Park road segments will be reserved for recreation 365 days a year.
This is a reversal for Rock Creek NPS. In July, it recommended that upper Beach Drive reopen to motor vehicles on weekdays, nine months out of the year. The Park Service said the return of cars would deter hikers and dog walkers who had been going off trail, trampling ground cover and contributing to erosion.
“That view baffled many supporters of preserving the road for people on foot and bikes,” reported The Washington Post.
In the end, Rock Creek NPS says it went with full-time recreational access because its concerns about those impacts could be addressed. Some solutions include better educating users about existing park access points and trails, and of the harms caused by going off trail.
I encourage our community to safeguard the sensitive wildlife habitat in the Park by staying on designated trails and keeping dogs on leash. It is up to all of us collectively to protect Rock Creek Park and its natural resources so it can remain an oasis in the heart of DC. pic.twitter.com/F9yNpwgL2D
— CM Janeese Lewis George (@CMLewisGeorgeW4) November 2, 2022
The Park Service also says that by barring cars year-round, it is recognizing the park’s “enormous mental and physical health benefits to those who have used the upper portion of Beach Drive for recreation since its initial closure in April 2020.” The full-time closure to cars, it says, will make for safer and more equitable park experiences by “reducing conflicts between people who walk, bicycle and drive,” and improving access for visitors with disabilities. Beach Drive is the only paved and accessible route through this section of the park.
Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn told WAMU/DCist, “This was a very difficult decision…. We had some deep conversations, some good analysis, a lot of thoughtful input from the public.”