Roiling on the River: Let’s Talk More


While everyone has been talking about big and little, showy and practical changes coming to Georgetown, less attention has been paid to the future of activities along the Potomac River. It’s all well and good to talk about gondolas across the Potomac somewhere down the line, but what’s happening on the river itself – in terms of people using it for recreation, athletic competition or exercise – is a serious matter of more immediate concern.

The National Park Service, in command to some degree of all things river and waterway, recently presented a far-reaching proposal that will affect how and when the Potomac is being used – and by whom. This proposal is called the Georgetown Non-motorized Boathouse Zone Development Plan.

The plan focuses primarily on the creation of permanent, world-class facilities for the Gs: Georgetown University and George Washington University and their rowers.

What the NPS did not address was the ultimate use of – or fate of – the Key Bridge Boathouse, which has an NPS paddleboat rental concession. In an earlier incarnation, the place was, for years, Jack’s Boathouse. Jack’s reported renting boats to more than 70,000 recreationalists seasonally. The new proposal addresses uses that are far from those numbers and may, in fact, limit recreational use.

In an atmosphere of change, there has been a general attitude of inclusion by particular organizations, such as the Georgetown Business Improvement District. But the NPS has limited the opportunities for public input and comment on its proposal, claiming that its decisions are internal matters. In addition, the NPS did not provide details about how the project would be financed and to what extent.

We have seen in the past how federal control and planning impacts – and sometimes inhibits – public participation at the local level. This seems odd to us in looking at public use of public spaces, the most democratic sort of opportunity that exists in our republic and its nation’s capital. Input from the community should be cultivated, especially, as in this case, when it concerns a resource so central to an area’s well-being.


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