News & Politics

UPDATED: Norton Asks Capitol Police to Allow Sledding Ahead of Storm, Cops Say No

DC's delegate wants to make sure kids don't get chased off Capitol Hill after tonight's snowfall.

With Washington bunkering down for anywhere between four and ten inches of fresh snow today, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is trying to secure one wintertime activity for the DC children who have the day off from school on Thursday. The District’s voteless envoy to Congress is asking the Capitol Police for a brief reprieve on the Capitol Hill sledding ban.

“[T]he District of Columbia is expected to receive seven to eight inches of snow tomorrow, the largest snowfall this winter,” Norton writes in a letter to Frank Larkin, the Senate sergeant-at-arms. “Families have started calling my office because they do not want to be turned away once again from sledding on US Capitol Grounds. Therefore, I am requesting a waiver of the sledding ban effective from Thursday, March 5, 2015, through Sunday, March 8, 2015, so that children, parents, residents and visitors to the nation’s capital can sled on US Capitol Grounds, one of the best hills in DC for sledding.”

Norton took up with the District’s tobogganers last month after would-be Hill sledders were chased off the West Front of the Capitol by police officers acting on the orders of the chairman of either the House or Senate Appropriations Committee. (Both panels’ leaders, Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, have denied scrooging DC’s snow-loving kids.)

While today’s request only seeks to cover the aftermath of current weather patterns, Norton last week asked Larkin, who oversees the Capitol Police, to consider a permanent end to the sled prohibition. Although sometimes attributed as a post-9/11 security measure, the ban actually dates back at least to 1983, though it has been invoked several times in the name of “national security.”

Outside the conveniently located Capitol Hill, DC’s best bet for sledding is Battery Kemble Park in the Palisades. Larkin’s office has not yet responded to Norton’s call plea on behalf of District residents’ right to sled. But Norton is appealing to his inner youngster.

“Have a heart, Mr. Larkin, a kid’s heart that is,” she says.

UPDATE: Under Norton’s terms, Larkin and the Capitol Police are heartless.

“If the forecast holds true, there are many families who will want to enjoy the snow tomorrow,” Larkin says in an e-mailed statement. “Although, for security reasons, the Capitol grounds are not your typical neighborhood hill or playground.”

But Larkin doesn’t just cite security in his refusal to lift the sledding ban. He also chalks up the decision to national rate of sled crashes. “According to recent media reports, at least 20,000 sledding injuries occur in the US each year,” he says. “For liability reasons, a growing number of US cities are banning sledding on public property.”

Norton says she is “deeply disappointed.”

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.