Proposed National Park Service First Amendment and Special Event Permit regulations would provide clarity while protecting iconic views in Washington, D.C.

Aerial view of the National Mall and President's Park
Iconic views of the National Mall and President's Park.

United States Park Police photo

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News Release Date: August 7, 2018

Contact: Mike Litterst, 202-245-4676

UPDATED 10/30/2018
The National Park service received more than 120,000 comments on potential changes to regulations for demonstrations and special events at the National Mall and Memorial Parks. We are pleased that so many people are engaged and interested in the rulemaking process. The National Park Service is currently reviewing and analyzing the comments, which may take several months. We are committed to continuing this conversation with the public and will provide notifications on this page.

> WASHINGTON - In an effort to provide clarity to First Amendment demonstrations and special event permit regulations, the National Park Service (NPS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 7.96 for the National Mall, President’s Park and other national parks in the Washington, D.C. area. The modifications would maintain opportunities for people to hold special events and exercise their right to demonstrate while outlining clear parameters that protect the iconic landmarks, views and grounds for use and enjoyment of citizens and visitors from around the globe.  

“From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the Ellipse —D.C.’s national parks have always served as a stage for groups wanting their voices heard. The role the National Park Service plays in facilitating these groups’ First Amendment rights—regardless of their views—is not something we take lightly,” said acting National Capital Regional Director Lisa Mendelson-Ielmini. “These proposed changes would provide much needed clarity to regulations while ensuring those unalienable rights remain. They will also ensure that iconic viewsheds are left unobstructed for the millions of people who visit every year to experience them. We have a great opportunity to improve the ways we make these special places accessible while preserving them for future generations. We encourage everyone to review the proposal and share their thoughts.”

The National Mall and President’s Park are regarded as premier civic and symbolic spaces in our nation and the volume and complexity of permit requests has increased dramatically over the years. Each year, the NPS issues an average of 750 permits for First Amendment demonstrations and an additional 1,500 permits for special events in and around D.C. More individuals and groups seek to use these iconic locations for demonstrations or events such as concerts and festivals. As the use of these areas increases, the NPS is looking for more efficient ways to serve the public while at the same time protecting the resources that others seek to enjoy. For example, this rule would provide more information to permit applicants about the status of their requests and simplify maximum permit duration periods.

The rule would identify areas that are best suited for the placement of structures such as art installations and concert stages. This would provide permit applicants with more certainty about where their event can take place while protecting iconic viewsheds, such as the view from the White House to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and places of solemn contemplation, such as the Freedom Wall Plaza at the World War II Memorial.

 

Make your voice heard

Through October 15, 2018, the public may comment on the NPS proposal for Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 7.96, the federal regulation that governs the permitting of demonstrations and special events in the National Capital Region. The official proposed rule appears in the Federal Register. From https://www.regulations.gov/, search “RIN 1024-AE45”.

Comments must be submitted through official channels during the 60-day comment period:

  • Comment online at Regulations.gov (preferred method). Search for “RIN 1024-AE45” and click on the "Comment Now" button.

  • Mail or hand deliver comments to National Park Service, National Mall and Memorial Parks, 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC 20024, Attn: Brian Joyner.

  • Comments submitted by email will not be accepted.

Following the public comment period, the NPS will review all comments received and conduct an analysis. The NPS will then determine to either proceed with the proposal and prepare a final rule, issue a new modified proposal, or withdraw the proposal.

View the proposed rule

 

Proposed Rule - Special Regulations, Areas of the National Park System, National Capital Region, Special Events and Demonstrations

Supporting documents:



Frequently asked questions

The National Mall and Memorial Parks (National Mall) and President’s Park (White House) are regarded as premier civic and symbolic spaces in our nation. Each year, the NPS issues an average of 750 permits for First Amendment activities, 1,500 permits for special events and an additional 800 permits for commercial filming in and around the National Mall. These types of events range from expressive activity such as marches and art displays, to wedding ceremonies, national celebratory events, and sporting activities.

The NPS is entrusted to preserve these nationally significant natural and cultural resources for the benefit of all people, including the scenic views and vistas that surround them. The NPS National Capital Region (NCR) protects and manages the more than 1,000 acres in the District of Columbia (DC), including 14 national parks and more than 150 reservations, circles, fountains, squares, triangles, and public spaces that make up the National Mall and President’s Park. In addition, the NCR oversees six national parks in the greater DC area that include nearly 10,000 acres of land, trail systems, forts, monuments, and commemorative parkways.

The intent of the proposed revisions is to maintain the public’s opportunity to hold special events and right to demonstrate while outlining clear parameters that protect the iconic landmarks, views and grounds for use and enjoyment of citizens and visitors from around the globe.

Improve the process
Significant resources are dedicated to processing permit applications and managing permitted activities to ensure the safety and enjoyment of those involved. Revisions to the rule would make it easier and more efficient for the public to plan and apply for a demonstration or special event permit. They would help the NPS to better manage the high volume of requests in the DC area and provide a better service to the public.

Preserve the parks
The NPS seeks to establish research-based regulations to guide decision making on temporary structures associated with permitted activities in and around the National Mall and President’s Park. These regulations would allow structures to be placed in locations that mitigate the impact to iconic viewsheds.

The proposed revisions would introduce a clear, uniform set of parameters for First Amendment demonstrations, special events and national celebratory events for national park units in the DC area. A summary of the proposed revisions is outlined below, for details and to comment on the proposed regulations, visit Regulations.gov and search for “RIN 1024-AE45”.

Permit process would be simplified and streamlined

  • Park units that are located farther away from the DC metropolitan area (see below) would be removed from the applicability and scope of section 7.96. This would streamline the process for submitting permits and reduce confusion about where permit applications should be sent. Permits for the National Mall, President’s Park, and units in close proximity would continue to be centrally managed under a single set of regulations, while permits for parks farther from the nation’s capital would handle permit requests directly.

  • Definitions for common terminology like “demonstrations,” “special events” and “structures” would be clarified to reduce confusion and make it easier for the public to find and understand their meanings.

  • Regulations would provide greater clarity and certainty to the public about how the NPS processes permit applications. It would also clarify decision making criteria used by the NPS to approve or deny a permit application.

Balance Visitor Use with Resource Protection

  • The NPS seeks comment on whether it should increase or decrease the maximum number of participants that may demonstrate without a permit in certain locations. The NPS seeks to better align these numbers with the size and location of designated areas.

  • The rules would clarify that a permit is required to erect a structure, even if the event would otherwise not need a permit, so that the NPS can best manage for public safety and resource protection.

  • NPS seeks comment on whether it should recover costs for all permitted events - including demonstrations and other First Amendment activities - in order to provide better service to the public and minimize the financial impact to the American taxpayer.

  • Revise and create a uniform maximum duration of permitted events (30 days plus set-up and take-down of structures) in order to provide greater clarity to permittees and more opportunity for groups and individuals to use specific locations for demonstrations and special events.

  • Regulations would identify restricted zones to help preserve an atmosphere of contemplation, tranquility and reverence around memorials on the National Mall and would establish security zones at President’s Park.

  • The NPS proposes to establish areas where structures would not be allowed and other areas where structures would be allowed but subject to maximum height restrictions. These proposed regulations are based on the visual impact study and evaluation completed earlier this year.

Under the proposed changes, 36 CFR 7.96 would no longer apply to parks outside of the immediate D.C. area. These parks would process permit applications directly - rather than going through the National Mall permit office - according to national regulations. This would include:

  • Manassas National Battlefield Park

  • Prince William Forest Park

  • Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park - the portion outside of D.C. and Montgomery County, Md.

The proposed changes would apply to all of the following:

  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park - the portion located in D.C. and Montgomery County, Md.

  • George Washington Memorial Parkway

  • National Capital Parks - East

  • National Mall and Memorial Parks

  • President's Park

  • Rock Creek Park

Learn more about the parks managed by the NPS National Capital Region.

The proposed height restrictions for temporary structures associated with First Amendment demonstrations and special events are based on the results of a Preliminary Visual Impact Analysis, conducted by the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technical staff from the National Park Service’s National Capital Region and the Denver Service Center. The analysis used GIS to create a series of maps (viewshed analysis) and ground-level scenes (3D visualizations), with and without virtual structures at varying heights.

The NCR cultural resources staff evaluated the maps in the analysis and came up with recommendations on the appropriate height of structures in various locations, which can be reviewed in full in the Evaluation of Visual Impact Analysis for Temporary Structures in the National Mall: Cultural Landscape Vista and View Preservation. The evaluation recommended maximum heights for temporary structures in acceptable-use areas within the National Mall and President’s Park. These height restrictions would allow permittees to safely hold their events while protecting the historic scenic views for visitors not associated with the events.

Detailed guidance on height restrictions for structures and exceptions may be found in the proposed rule. Several exceptions exist in specific locations for telecommunications equipment such as speakers and video displays, as well as stages, podiums and lighting.

Last updated: October 31, 2018

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