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NPS: Upper Beach Drive closed to traffic year-round

Upper Beach Drive was first closed in April 2020 so people could have a place to get outside while continuing to social distance.

WASHINGTON — The National Park Service (NPS) announced Wednesday that a portion of Beach Drive will be closed to vehicles year-round, in order for visitors to enjoy Rock Creek Park 365 days a year. 

Upper Beach Drive was closed in April 2020 so people could have a place to get outside while continuing to social distance.

Approximately five miles of the roadway will remain open only to only pedestrians and cyclists including Bingham Drive, Sherrill Drive and Beach Drive in three sections:   

  • From Broad Branch Road to Joyce Road,   
  • From Picnic Area 10 to Wise Road, and   
  • From West Beach Drive to the DC/Maryland line.

NPS believes the closure will help create a safer park experience year-round by reducing issues between people who walk, bike and drive.

"Opening this section of Beach Drive to pedestrians and cyclists has provided our community with increased opportunities for healthy recreation, greater access to nature and outdoor enjoyment," Julia Washburn, Rock Creek Park superintendent, said. "We hope to continue seeing you all on Beach Drive and ask for your help as we work to protect sensitive habitat surrounding the road."  

NPS has worked with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) during the closure and found the year-round closure will impact a minimal amount of traffic during peak commute times. NPS plans to coordinate with DDOT to install a new traffic signal, adjust traffic signal timing and implement safety improvements and traffic calming inside and adjacent to Rock Creek Park. 

There is one downside to the year-round closure. NPS says it could have a potentially negative impact on park resources, particularly wildlife, rare, threatened and endangered species, and their habitats. With more people coming to the area, the park has seen an increase in visitors cutting through the forest and damaging plants and sensitive wildlife habitats.

"The NPS will continue to monitor the effects of the year-round closure to allow the park superintendent the flexibility to modify the closure in the future, based on changes to the condition of park resources and the visitor experience," NPS said in a release.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association and the People's Alliance for Rock Creek Park released a statement Wednesday applauding the decision.

"We are so glad that NPS recognized that parks are for people and should be open, safe, and accessible for recreation, transportation, and simply being outdoors. They listened and they got it right. " said Jeremiah Lowery, Advocacy Director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

"We are ecstatic that the 40-year effort for ‘Rock Creek Park Seven Days a Week’ has finally succeeded,” said Peter Harnik, coordinator of the People's Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC),

 “We applaud the National Park Service for its courage in preserving and improving this great urban park for the people of the nation's capital.”

WATCH NEXT: National Park Service removes name of DC segregationist featured in Rock Creek Park

According to NPS, a stream in the area is often referred to as the Melvin Hazen Stream. The park will now be referred to as Reservation 630.

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