News & Politics

Capitol Hill Sledding Ban Set to Fall

Language in an appropriations bill would order Capitol Police to stand down against people seeking snowy fun.

Victory! Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

While Congress busies itself with tearing down the District’s reproductive-health laws, it is set on allowing locals at least one small measure of freedom. The longtime prohibition on sledding down Capitol Hill is set to fall thanks to a provision inserted into the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2016, which passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday and is now headed for a full vote.

Dating back to 1876, the sledding ban has been more stringently enforced in the name of “national security” since 9/11. But the movement for the right to sled down Washington’s most visible slope kicked up in February after an unnamed committee chairman dispatched Capitol Police to scare away a rabble of youngsters who attempted to sled down a fresh blanket of snow. In response, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting delegate in the House, declared her intentions to end the sledding ban once and for all.

Norton’s goal appears to have been achieved, thanks to some legislative wrangling from Representative Sam Farr, a California Democrat who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

“Children with sleds are not a threat to our national security,” Farr says in a press release.

Farr’s amendment does not technically overturn the sledding ban, but it instructs Capitol Police to ignore it in favor of more pressing law-enforcement duties, like monitoring traffic and trying to remember not to leave service weapons in the bathroom.

But more than Norton, what might have moved Congress the most on this issue is the Great Sled Uprising of March 5, when, following another snowstorm that resulted in DC Public closing for the day, dozens of children ascended Capitol Hill, sleds and toboggans in tow, and brazenly defied the law. The few Capitol Police officers patrolling the sleepy mound that afternoon were easily overwhelmed and made no attempt to stop the fun.

“In a Congress that doesn’t solve problems they solved one problem,” says Tim Krepp, a tour guide and parent who accompanied his rebellious kids to the snowy insurrection. “It’s one small step forward.”

While the potential end to the sledding ban is encouraging for the District’s struggle for greater autonomy, it pales against a House vote last night to strike down a recent District law that would prevent employers from dismissing workers based on choices they make about birth control and reproductive health. Although the White House says President Obama will veto the move, it still marks the first time in more than three decades Congress has formally used its authority to overturn legislation passed by the DC Council.

“The juxtaposition of allowing sledding while also stripping away our rights is hard to take,” says Krepp.

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.