News & Politics

Eleanor Holmes Norton Hopes to Allow Capitol Hill Sledding By Spring

There's always next winter.

Children sledding somewhere in DC in 1915. If they tried in on Capitol Hill today, they'd be chased off by the cops. Photograph via Library of Congress.

Once again, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is taking the fight to the US Capitol Police. But this time, DC’s non-voting envoy to Congress isn’t irate about the Capitol’s security perimeter eating into more residential neighborhoods. Instead, she’s standing up for District residents’ right to sled on Capitol Hill.

Recent snowstorms prompted thrill-seeking tykes (and their parents) to trek through the frosty climes toward the West Front of the Capitol for a round of sledding, tobogganing, and other wintertime fun that can only be enjoyed on an incline. Fun was had by most, if not, all, until Capitol Police officers chased the sledders off the hill. According to Roll Call, the most recent sled outing last Saturday was canceled at the behest of the chairman of either the House or Senate Appropriations Committee, though Representative Hal Rogers and Senator Thad Cochran both deny sending out the fuzz.

Still, Norton’s not waiting for Rogers or Cochran to come clean. In a letter today to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin, Norton is calling for an end to this “Scrooge-like ban” on what was long one of Washington’s most popular cold-weather activities, and one that brings few environmental hazards.

“Because of high-residential density, there are few places to sled in the city, and the grounds of the US Capitol—the Hill—provide a perfect sledding venue,” Norton writes. “The sledding ban appears to be arbitrary. There is so little snow here that there will not be frequent sledding and, therefore, no significant damage to Capitol Grounds.”

Norton’s understanding of landscape aesthetics is admirable, but sledding on Capitol Hill was not banned in out of some sudden concern for the shrubbery. Like most ridiculous prohibitions around Washington, the no-sledding rule was implemented more than 13 years ago as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. While there have been some achievements in the ensuing global war on terrorism, the restoration of the rights of small children to scoot down an iconic hillside on cheap hunks of plastic is not one of them.

Perhaps Washington’s snow enthusiasts should applaud Norton for sticking up for Old Man Winter, but there’s cause for hesitation in her letter, too. The letter, dated today, gives Larkin 30 days to respond to her demand. Thirty days from now, it’ll be March 26, well into the first week of spring. Maybe Washington will get a late-season Arctic blast that extends sledding time, but the odds are against it. The historic temperature range in DC for March 26 is between 40 and 58 degrees. Looks like the no-fun Congress wins again.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.