An old friend of DC parklands

Hello Superintendent Vietzke!

I’m reaching out on behalf of a group of my favorite people: November Project’s DC affiliate. This diverse group of health-conscious DC metro area residents has been convening safely and respectfully at many of DC’s notable parklands for almost 3 years now to participate in early morning group exercises three times a week. Every Monday we tackle gruesome elevations at Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights. Every Wednesday we’ve pushed ourselves even further physically at the Lincoln Memorial with a combination of Lincoln Logs (one log equals running from the reflecting pool to the top of the steps and back down) and “spice” (different exercises like push ups, burpees, squats, mountain climbers, etc.). Every Friday we choose a different location throughout the city to gain exposure to new sites and new fitness challenges.

My friends in the group and I are worried, because we’ve recently run into a situation where we’ve been requested to obtain a permit in order to continue these activities. And while we’re all willing to oblige, we want to make sure we’re working together with NPS to find the best solution for both sides. In normal circumstances, it’s our understanding that a group of our size will be turned away completely from areas like the Lincoln Memorial that we have historically and enthusiastically relied on and looked forward to each week. And while many of us have waxed poetically about the importance of the Lincoln via various Medium posts over the past couple of days, I won’t go in to too much narrative here in order to not waste your time and get right to the point. I’m sure you understand that this group is about more than getting in shape, achieving that summer bod, or even getting healthy.

This group is about the community, the friendships that are formed when normally connections would go left unmade, and the challenges — physical, mental, and emotional — are conquered. And our connection to the Lincoln Memorial goes far beyond the eagerness to scamper up and down the treacherous steps associated with this monument. The characteristics of strength, leadership, acceptance, and compassion for all humankind are the very fundamental elements of November Project’s mission. While this grassroots crew does promote access to free fitness in most major US cities, at its core it supports connecting good people who are doing good things. In fact, each week, each NPer is expected to complete a “homework assignment” — an unannounced and random act of kindness toward anyone we encounter that will never be repaid or acknowledged publicly. It’s not to boast, it’s to help.

All of that said, I’m sure at the end of the day the local park authorities have very real concerns when it comes to some of these prized locations, especially the Lincoln Memorial. Things like safety, preservation, worrying about setting a standard for future groups and events. All of these things we understand. Which is why we’re hoping to have a conversation and a partnership that will help establish a permit that works for all parties involved. We really need the Lincoln steps to continue being a part of the physical areas we call “home” in this city. The consistency of just showing up every Wednesday and the privilege of watching the sunrise while we push our bodies, minds, and friendships to new limits are not things that we take for granted. Nor could they be replicated on another set of stairs in the city to the same degree.

Having all of the fun racing each other and ourselves in one of DC’s most memorable settings and most challenging set of steps.

These steps, and this monument, are actually so revered and so loved that the symbol of the Lincoln memorial serves as NPDC’s official “tag” — which is the emblem that we spray paint onto our shirts. The symbol that visiting NPers get spray painted on THEIR shirts when they come to town via a #traverbal. The symbol of American history that stands so solidly in our skyline and looms over us every Tuesday night when we set our alarms for 4:40am or 5:40am. I’m not exaggerating. Our efforts come to a head on the final Wednesday of each month when we show up for PR day — a time when we drop all shenanigans. We forget the burpees, the hoistees, the squats, the laughs, and we get serious for one morning. During PR day we race our past selves. We run 17 Lincoln Logs straight, for time. Some of us can run them in 20 minutes. Some of us run them in 40 minutes. Some of us walk them. All of us cheer each other on and sprint it out at the end for a strong finish to the workout and an even stronger start to the day.

I can tell you that NPDC will live on, if things don’t go our way. We’ll somehow navigate the robust landlockings of the DC parklands. We’ll try to find parking lots, streets, maybe even schools, where we can replicate similar challenges and continue to foster our community. But what a disservice it would be to disconnect this group from these monuments without exploring all opportunities to find a way to make it work. I know we are open to compromise, dialogue, and ideas around this topic. I hope that NPS and the National Capital Region staff agree. I actually hope even more so that we can convince you to come out and join us one morning — either at the Lincoln, at Meridian Hill Park, or any of our locations for Friday mornings. I want you to meet the people behind these letters. I hope you can see in person the emotion and friendship behind this community. I hope you can be inspired by the challenges and motivated by the collective successes we experience during each workout. I think with one day’s events you’ll be drinking the koolaid just like the rest of us.

As I mentioned, we’ve got a lot of great storytellers in our midst who have expressed what November Project and the DC parklands mean to us. I hope you read a little bit more about us, join us for a workout, and help us find a solution to this permitting discussion so we can continue to #JustShowUp and enjoy the beautiful outdoor areas of our city that the NPS so eagerly wishes us to enjoy in this centennial anniversary year.

Thank you for all that you do for the city and the park service. We truly enjoy and promote the good work your team does, and only hope to make you proud with our actions.

Caity Rogo

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