Campaign to save the Smithsonian Folklife Festival - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Campaign to save the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

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The National Mall is gearing up for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival later this month, but this could be its last one on the Mall. A turf battle has put the annual event in danger. Now there is a grassroots campaign that hopes to save the festival.

It is held in the middle of America's front yard. In an effort to save the grass though, the National Park Service created new restrictions.

"That's not fair to blame the Folklife Festival," says Kym Stryker, who has attended and worked at the annual event for many years.

The festival is a summer tradition 47 years in the making that Stryker wants saved. As the tents rise on the Mall for the 2014 festival featuring China and Kenya, she is pressing her campaign "Save the Smithsonian Folklife Festival."

She launched it on social media through Facebook and Twitter and created a website urging people to write Congress.

"The state of the Mall is the result of many, many things. Not just the Folklife Festival," she argued.

The campaign is her own personal mission.

The National Park Service is restoring the lawn with a hardier grass and new hardscape. The festival's stages and tents, which are up for weeks, kill the grass.

Ingrid Hernandez, who lives in Sterling, Va., is split on the issue. She doesn't think it hurts to move it off the grass.

"I like the whole preserve the grass thing, but I come to D.C. for the festivals," she said.

The Mall too is America's center stage. The festivals, some say, are as much a part of the Mall as the monuments.

"It needs that kind of liveliness the festivals bring,” said Tito Hernandez. “Especially here in the heart of D.C.”

The Park Service is negotiating with the Smithsonian to keep the Folklife Festival on the Mall, but minimize the damage.

In a statement, spokesperson Carol Johnson said, "We are encouraging the Folklife Festival in 2015 and beyond to make use of the new hardscape and to have shorter-term activities on the grass. We have offered to close Jefferson and Madison Drives on the Mall."

She is "confident" the two agencies can find a plan that will work.

Stephen Sunday was on the Mall taking in the sights. He is visiting from Key West, Fla., and said he wouldn't mind if his tax dollars were spent re-sodding the grass after the festival.

"I would definitely say it's worth having the party here,” he said. “It's a beautiful sighting, it's the national capital. They should keep it here and replant the grass.”

The yearly festival runs ten days coinciding with the Fourth of July and has become a tradition as much as the fireworks. With more than 4,000 likes on the Save the Folklife Festival Facebook page, plenty of people want it to stay.

"By having them there front and center on the National Mall, it really celebrates them in a way you can't have anywhere else," said Stryker.

The Smithsonian tells FOX 5 it hopes to have an agreement with the Park Service in the next few weeks on the future of the festival.

The event is not in danger of being eliminated, but the Smithsonian said because of the new restrictions, it is very likely the event will have to change.


Twitter: @SaveTheFestival

Statement from the National Park Service:

We are currently working on an agreement with the Folklife Festival to ensure that the event will remain on the National Mall in a way that minimizes damage. Maintaining the health of the Mall while ensuring that it is open and available as a unique public space is challenging. We believe that our three-pronged approach of thoughtful restoration, maintenance best practices and scientific strategies for event management provides an appropriate balance. Our plan was devised with a team of experts familiar with the kinds of soil, grass, irrigation, and protection measures used on professional sports fields and other sites subject to extreme conditions.

The restoration itself was planned with events in mind. We worked with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission to increase hardscape to the maximum extent possible to accommodate longer-term events. The grass and soil were chosen to withstand heavy use.

The National Park Service is proud of its tradition of supporting the public's First Amendment right to assemble in the center of the nation's capital, as well hosting numerous festivals, celebrations, tourism, and softball games, just to name a few. And we are dedicated to continuing that tradition.

We are encouraging the Folklife Festival in 2015 and beyond to make use of the new hardscape and to have shorter-term activities on the grass. We have offered to close Jefferson and Madison Drives on the Mall. We are confident that with a little ingenuity and compromise, the National Park Service and the Smithsonian will be able to come up with a plan that both works for the event and protects an important cultural landscape for all to enjoy.

The National Mall is the place where "the constitutional rights of speech and peaceful assembly find their fullest expression." With our new operational plan, it will continue to be, not only for the Folklife Festival, but the many other events that use it every day of the year.

Carol Bradley Johnson
Chief of Communications
National Mall and Memorial Parks

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