If the National Park Service doesn’t reopen Glen Echo Park by Friday morning, Montgomery County will do it for them, County Executive Isiah Leggett said on Tuesday.
Leggett said the county is prepared to remove parking lot barricades and let the artists and theaters based in the park open back up in “an act of civil disobedience.”
Leggett, members of the Glen Echo Park Partnership and Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) spoke at a press conference about the need for the National Park Service (NPS) to reopen the park as it has done with other national parks that similarly are run without federal funding.
Montgomery County is prepared to pick up the trash cover security services the NPS provides for the park, services Leggett and others characterized as minimal.
Glen Echo Partnership Executive Director Katey Boerner said the NPS has not responded to the group’s requests to reopen the park. Boerner estimated cancelled events and the inability to host private rentals have meant $300,000 in losses since the government shutdown began on Oct. 1. She said another weekend of closures would mean another $80,000 in losses.
“We’ve gone to them all along, trying to state our case that we run with private funds and we don’t need federal funds to operate,” Boerner said. “We never got any word from them that they would keep us open. We’ve had no line of communication with them since the closure. It’s been absolutely a nightmare.”
Since the shutdown, five weddings planned for the Park have been moved. Adventure Theatre MTC, a children’s theater company that operates out of the Park, has had to cancel 16 performances of “Good Night Moon,” at a loss of $3,000 per show.
“When it snows and you’re closed, you know that the snow is going to melt. When the power goes out and you close, you know the lines are going to be fixed,” said Adventure Theatre MTC producing artistic director Michael Bobbitt. “But with this, you have no idea. I wake up every morning, first thing I do is turn on the news and hope that the government is going to be reopened.”
Montgomery County created the Partnership in 2002 as a nonprofit to operate a dance program, resident artists studios, two children’s theater companies, an environmental education program, an arts workshop program and the historic 1921 Dentzel Carousel.
The Partnership and county pointed to Fort Mason Center, a group that operates out of the Fort Mason National Park in San Francisco, as an example of uneven treatment by the NPS. That park has been reopened. The Partnership modeled much of its program after it.
“The federal government should in fact allow us to reopen immediately. If they fail to do so by the end of business Thursday afternoon, we should simply go in and utilize the facilities and start opening this facility for business,” Leggett said. “I’m prepared to look at whatever the potential consequences might be. But it is our view that we should address this now. Failure to do so and we will simply just go in on Friday morning. There is no excuse at all for us not to do so.”
Many of the artists in the park have scrambled to find other accommodations. Adventure Theatre MTC has another facility in a Rockville shopping center it has used for classes. Some have used county recreation centers or the Glen Echo Town Hall.
But for most, including the glassworks and pottery artists, and the Spanish Ballroom dance classes, those activities can’t be replicated anywhere else.
“Our classes can not be moved,” said Michel Rubin, who runs the Glen Echo Glassworks studios.
The studios house seven resident artists and 12 studio artists who have nowhere to work and all open hours and classes have been cancelled.
“We are losing not only our revenue, but I fear we are also losing a bit of our integrity because we have relationships with our students and our community,” Rubin said. “What has happened so far, even if we reopen tomorrow we will be seeing the effects for a long time to come.”
Boerner said simply finding NPS officials to talk to has been part of the difficulty in getting a response. The NPS media email returns an automatic response that says limited staffing means only periodic check-ins.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s office has reached out to urge for a reopening. So did Berliner, who on Monday sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking the same.
Boerner said the NPS did not shut down Glen Echo during the last federal government shutdown in 1995.
“This government shutdown is an insult to democracy. It’s made a mockery of our nation and as a lawyer, I would say it is government malpractice,” Berliner said. “This park takes no federal dollars. It is run by volunteers who have devoted their life to enriching our community in this way and it runs on a shoestring budget. …The government needs to get out of our way and allow us to reopen this park.”
Even if members of the Partnership and the county don’t have to walk into the park on Friday, Bobbitt says the uncertainty of the situation has meant a decrease in ticket sales for upcoming weeks and months. Then, there’s the question of another shutdown showdown down the line.
“There’s no consistency,” Bobbitt said. “We love having NPS here but we can do all the things NPS is doing. Let’s hope we’re not going to be back in January.”