- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Northwest D.C. park maintained by the federal government is falling into disrepair, marred by graffiti, vandalism, dry water features and broken fencing.

Nearby residents and visitors to Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, say the National Park Service is failing in its maintenance of the park in Columbia Heights.

“This is a tremendous bit of green space that needs very serious restoration and upkeep,” said voice-over writer Wendi Berman, who frequents the park at least twice a week to walk her brother’s dog, Wallie. “I love this park, but right now I love to hate it because it needs so much love. It could be so much more.”

One resident complained about broken sidewalks, defaced statutes and a large tree that had toppled over early this year but wasn’t removed until months later.

Built between 1912 and 1940, Meridian Hill Park encompasses 12 acres where statues of French heroine Joan of Arc, Italian poet Dante Alighieri and President James Buchanan stand — all damaged by vandals and graffiti.

The park also displays several fountains, including a 13-basin water feature that is the longest cascading fountain in North America that has been dry for months.

“We know how much the community loves Meridian Hill Park’s fountain, and it is a priority to get it up and running as soon as possible,” said Park Service spokeswoman Katelyn Liming.

A water supply line is broken underneath the receiving pool at the bottom of the fountain, she said. A contractor has been hired to cut out a portion of the fountain floor, repair the line and replace the floor to match the existing historic finish.

Park Service officials hope to have the cascade running again by the end of summer, Ms. Liming said.

She said that park staffers perform routine maintenance in Meridian Hill Park every day.

“We also hire mowing contractors, horticultural contractors and leaf removal contractors to complete seasonal work in Meridian Hill Park. We have also partnered with Washington Parks & People on a stewardship agreement in which volunteers assist park staff with clean-up and other maintenance operations,” she said.

Yet some areas in the northern end of the park flood; trash is nestled into corners, in fountains and under bushes; the grass is dying; and sidewalks are cracked or missing chunks.

Out-of-state visitors have noted the neglect.

“The trees and bushes are overgrown and have no beauty to it,” said Misha, a visitor from Michigan who has visited the park often in the last two months.

Ms. Berman was showing off the park this week to a friend from Alabama. Neil David Seibel, a performing arts professor at Auburn University, said the park’s condition is “telling” and resembles that of other national parks.

“The bones of this place are amazing, but it might need a little bit of structural work,” Mr. Siebel mused.

Ms. Berman agreed. “There’s a disconnect between the foundation of the park and what it is right now,” she said.

(A bipartisan group of senators has introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, which aims to address nearly $12 billion in deferred maintenance in the park system.)

Children like to play on two grassy areas in the northern end of the park. One field is patched with dirt, the other fenced off for no apparent reason. Some park visitors break through or hop the short fence to get to the grass.

“I would like it if there was more grassy space,” said Sarah Squires, 28, a nanny in Adams Morgan.

Miss Squires said she and the 18-month-old child she cares for spend between 30 minutes to an hour at the park every day picnicking, playing soccer or walking the dog.

“We haven’t seen the fountain on during our adventures. She [the child] loves fountains, and I’m all for what the kids are about,” Miss Squires said.

The two fountains in the northern end of the park are filled with trash, murky puddles and rotten foliage. Miss Squires said she hasn’t seen any groundsmen maintaining it for several months.

“I’d like to see a park ranger, not more. I’d like to see more than zero,” Ms. Berman said.

Mr. Seibel said Meridian Hill Park didn’t break down over night, and it shouldn’t be expected to be fixed overnight either.

“The clean up is going to take decades because it took decades to let it fall to disrepair,” he said.

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