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Congresswoman urges National Zoo to reevaluate reserve passes policy

D.C. Del. Eleanor Homes Norton claims the policy will deter people without access to a smartphone or the internet from visiting the zoo spontaneously.

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Eleanor Homes Norton (D-DC) is urging the National Zoo to reevaluate a policy requiring visitors to reserve passes ahead of time. 

According to the National Zoo website, while admission is free, entry passes are required for all guests, including infants, and visitors must follow safety measures.

Norton claims the policy will deter people without access to a smartphone or the internet from visiting the zoo spontaneously. The Congresswoman also points out the requirement differs from the standard Smithsonian policy of not needing passes for entry. 

Norton penned a letter to Dr. Brandie Smith, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute Monday. In the letter she expresses concern regarding the new policy. 

“The National Zoo, which is in a residential neighborhood, is popular with both tourists and District of Columbia residents, and both should have easy access to the National Zoo,” Norton wrote. “I am concerned that the entry pass requirement may be limiting access or deterring visits to the National Zoo, especially for people who cannot get online, whether because they do not have a computer or smartphone or are unable to use such devices, for people who want to spontaneously visit and for people who have been led to believe by the website that entry passes are available only online.”

Norton urges the National Zoo to reevaluate whether the entry passes are even necessary. 

Brandie Smith from the National Zoo responded to the letter days later, saying that the advance passes allow the zoo to be better prepared to address visitors' needs and volume. 

"Advance knowledge of our attendance allows us to plan for the most efficient and responsible park operations, especially for staffing and providing guest amenities," Smith wrote. "We take visitor accessibility very seriously and have a process to accommodate guests who want to visit the Zoo but are unable to use or access technology." 

Smith says visitors who arrive without advance passes can get them through a smartphone the day of their visit. Staff is available to help at pedestrian entrances to help anyone who may be having trouble getting passes but the zoo has seen minimal issues in this area. 

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