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New Security Rules Could Screw Up One of DC’s Best Running Routes

The National Zoo's proposal calls for fewer entry points with ramped-up security.
A rendering of the proposed checkpoints, which would be found at all entrances to the National Zoo. Rendering courtesy of National Capital Planning Commission.

New security measures at the National Zoo could impact one of the best running routes in DC. On Thursday, the Smithsonian Institution rolled out a proposal before the National Capital Planning Commission calling for stronger security measures that, if approved, would cut access points from 13 to four: the main entrance on Connecticut Avenue, the Lower Zoo, the bus parking lot, and a “mid-entry” point that is still to be determined, says Pamela Baker-Masson, Associate Director of Communications at the Smithsonian Institution.

The narrowed-down entries include proposed checkpoints with metal detectors and security guards. You’d still be able to run around the grounds, but type-A runners who get irritated just waiting at an intersection should take note: This is a full-on stop, so prepare to pause your Garmin, and if you run with a pack, expect to have it searched.

The zoo still welcomes runners, says Baker-Masson, saying that the community is very important to its staff. “These security checkpoints should not prohibit anybody. This is no more or no less than what anybody in our metropolitan area experiences at any museum,” she says. “The bottom line is the safety and security of our visitors, our staff, and our animals.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the zoo made changes directly affecting runners, citing safety as the reason. In 2015, after years of runners colliding with vehicles shuttling staff around the grounds (and even running into parked vehicles), it cut its hours, opening at 8 AM rather than 6AM, and closing an hour earlier at night, 7 PM in the summer, not 8 PM, and 5 PM in the winter rather than 6 PM.

The NCPC will review the zoo’s proposal July 12. If approved, next steps involve the Smithsonian requesting federal funds, which will take years. Baker-Masson estimates that construction of the checkpoints wouldn’t start until fiscal year 2020-21.

Until then, runners are free to zoom through as usual.

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Kim Olsen
Associate Editor

Kim Olsen joined Washingtonian in 2016 after moving to DC from Pittsburgh, where she earned an MFA in nonfiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Alexandria.