Upper Beach Drive will remain closed to vehicles year-round
Release Date: November 2, 2022
Contact: Chelsea Sullivan, Chelsea_Sullivan@nps.gov, 202-619-7177
WASHINGTON—After careful consideration, the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to keep the upper portion of Beach Drive closed to motorized vehicles year-round. This decision will allow visitors to enjoy the park’s recreation and nature opportunities 365 days a year.
In July 2022, the NPS published the Environmental Assessment (EA) for public comment and shared three alternatives for consideration: Alternative 1: No-Action Alternative Pre-Covid-19 Pandemic Management; Alternative 2: Full-Time Closure for Recreation; and Alternative 3: Seasonal Closure for Recreation, the preferred alternative at the time of the EA publication. Based on the analysis presented in the EA, extensive public input and NPS internal deliberation and analysis, the NPS has selected Alternative 2 for implementation.
This decision prioritizes park access for recreational use including walkers, runners, cyclists and others seeking respite in natural areas. In selecting the year-round closure over the previously proposed seasonal closure, the NPS recognizes that the closure has allowed outdoor recreation in the park to flourish and has provided enormous mental and physical health benefits to those who have used the upper portion of Beach Drive for recreation since its initial closure in April 2020.
A full-time closure of this section of Beach Drive will provide safer park experiences year-round by reducing conflicts between people who walk, bicycle and drive. It also expands access for visitors with disabilities to areas of the park that lack separated pathways and accessible trails.
“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.”
The NPS worked closely with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to analyze the potential impacts to traffic in all three alternatives. The upper portion of Beach Drive is a minor road that carries a small amount of traffic relative to nearby roadways. The DDOT traffic studies concluded that a full closure to motorized vehicles would result in minimal impact to traffic during peak commute times. The 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. We also plan to make improvements to the gates to ease access for emergency response.
Protecting park resources
The year-round closure does have the potential to have negative impacts on park resources, particularly wildlife, rare, threatened and endangered species, and their habitats. During the closure of the upper portion of Beach Drive, the park has seen an increase in visitors cutting through the forest (often to get to or from the road) and damaging plants and sensitive wildlife habitat. The NPS plans to mitigate these impacts by developing a visitor use plan, which will include monitoring and active management of unofficial trails, and implementing the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Plan for the Hay’s Spring amphipod. The public can help us protect sensitive resources by staying on designated trails (look for trail blazing) in Rock Creek Park and keeping dogs on leash. Additional planned mitigation measures are listed in the EA.
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.
Approximately 5 miles of roadway will remain open 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.
Between Joyce Road and picnic areas 6-10, Beach Drive will remain open to motorized vehicles only to access group picnic areas and parking lots. Ross Drive will reopen to motorized vehicles.
The NPS completed an Environmental Assessment to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with its development of the Upper Beach Drive Management Plan for Rock Creek Park and signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on Nov. 1. The FONSI describes why the selected plan will have no significant effects on the environment, provides the rationale for the decision and outlines conservation measures that will be taken to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts.
The FONSI and other planning documents are available at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=102800.
You can find the notification and the map on the web here: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDOINPS/bulletins/335c2a2.