If your travels take you through Rock Creek Park after dark, you might encounter road closures from now until the end of March. That’s because the park’s annual “deer management” operation is now under way.
In simpler terms, it’s a deer hunt. During the first one, which occurred over a few nights in 2013, sharpshooters employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture bagged 20 deer. The operation has since expanded into other parks under Rock Creek National Park Service management, including the Soapstone Valley and Reservation 630 (the former Melvin Hazen Park). The hunt also takes place over a longer period of time: from late November until the end of March.
The reason for each hunt: to reduce and control the park’s deer population. The National Park Service said in 2013 that the population had grown so large that they were eating nearly all the tree seedlings and preventing the forest from regenerating itself. Since then, the agency says, tree seedling density has tripled.
Each year, the venison collected during the hunt is donated to food banks and other organizations that provide food to those in need. The Park Service says DC Central Kitchen received 1,100 pounds of venison last winter.
The press release here and below has more details on the operation’s hours and the potential road closures.
National Park Service announces 2022-2023 deer management operations for Rock Creek Park
Contact: Megan Nortrup, 202-339-8314
WASHINGTON—Since 2013, when the National Park Service (NPS) began reducing the deer population in Rock Creek Park, tree seedling density has almost tripled in areas of the park. To continue to protect and restore native plants and promote healthy and diverse forests, the NPS will conduct deer management operations in Rock Creek Park between Nov. 22, 2022, and March 31, 2023.
During this year’s deer management period, the NPS plans to reduce deer populations in the park and other areas under Rock Creek Park’s management. These areas could include Melvin Hazen Park, Soapstone Valley Park, Pinehurst Parkway, Glover Archbold Park, Battery Kemble Park and Fort Totten Park, among others.
Extensive safety measures will be in place to protect park visitors and neighbors during operations. Biologists, who are also highly trained firearms experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be working under the direction of NPS natural resource management specialists and in coordination with U.S. Park Police and local law enforcement, to conduct reduction actions at night when the parks are normally closed.
NPS staff will be posted during temporary night-time road and trail closures for visitor and employee safety during reduction activities. Commuters, including cyclists, are advised to plan alternate routes.
Over the past 20 years, an overabundant white-tailed deer population has damaged Rock Creek Park. Prompted by a marked decline in forest regeneration, the NPS initiated a public process to create a plan, finalized in 2012, which calls for reducing the deer population to a level that will support long-term protection and restoration of native plants and promote a healthy and diverse forest. Learn more about the park’s Environmental Impact Statement and Management Plan: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=14330
Research has shown that vegetation damage occurs when deer populations exceed 20 per square mile. Without continued management, deer populations would quickly rebound and again eat tree seedlings and other young plants. The NPS continues to monitor how well plants are growing with fewer deer, and the findings will help inform ongoing deer management actions.
The most recent 2021-2022 deer reduction work in Rock Creek Park produced 1,100 lbs of venison, which the NPS donated to DC Central Kitchen, providing hundreds of meals to District families in need. The NPS plans to continue donating venison from deer reduction operations.
For further information including a list of sites managed by Rock Creek Park, visit https://go.nps.gov/RockCreekDeer.
The following roads will remain open at all times:
- Piney Branch Parkway NW.
- Broad Branch Road NW.
- Beach Drive south of Broad Branch Road NW.
Roads to be temporarily closed during operations:
Bingham Drive NW, which is closed to vehicle traffic for a sewer rehabilitation project, will remain closed.
The NPS may temporarily close the following roads from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. to conduct deer management operations:
- Horse Stable Road NW.
- Ridge Road NW, south of Grant Road NW.
- Glover Road NW, south of the Rock Creek Park Horse Center.
Temporary road closures from 6:45 p.m. to 4 a.m. may include:
- Wise Road NW.
- Ridge Road NW.
- Glover Road NW.
- Grant Road NW.
- Joyce Road NW.
- Morrow Drive NW.
- West Beach Drive NW at Parkside Drive NW.
- Stage Road NW.
- Beach Drive between Joyce Road NW and Picnic Grove 10.
The following roads are currently closed to motor vehicles for reasons unrelated to deer management operations. These areas may also close to pedestrians, bicyclists and non-motorized recreation from 6:45 p.m. to 4 a.m.:
- Beach Drive from Broad Branch Road NW to Joyce Road NW.
- Beach Drive from Picnic Grove 10 to Wise Road NW.
- Beach Drive from West Beach Drive NW to the Maryland Boundary.
- Sherrill Drive NW.
- Ross Drive NW.