The presidential inauguration is basically Woodstock for the National Mall. That’s why the National Park Service went to great lengths to prepare America’s front yard for Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, installing 16 acres of protective decking over the turf.
The Monday after crowds descended on Washington to either celebrate or protest President Trump’s induction into office, WAMU spoke with the person responsible for maintaining the country’s most famous green space. He’s Michael Stachowicz, turf management specialist for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The National Park Service has spent $40 million restoring the National Mall. In a nutshell, what have those renovations accomplished?
Those renovations have accomplished a huge amount that you don’t even see on the surface. There’s a million gallons worth of stormwater storage under the Mall. There is an irrigation system and a drainage system, engineered soil, a curbing that’s new. There was a lot that went into trying to rethink the Mall but keep it looking like the same concept that [Pierre] L’Enfant wanted, and what we were all used to knowing the Mall as.
How did you prepare the grounds for last weekend’s inauguration?
First of all, [we had] a good base. Having a good root zone that doesn’t compact all that well, and having good varieties of turf that are resilient to traffic [are critical]. But what most people [saw] when they were there was the protective decking that went out over about 16 acres.
Even though it looks white, this decking is actually translucent. It lets through about 25 percent of the ambient light, and that helps the turf continue to photosynthesize. It kind of sits above the turf — there’s a honeycomb structure in back. If you can imagine little tiny greenhouses, that’s basically what ended up going over it.
Did the decking pay off?
Oh yeah, absolutely. As we started peeling them back on Saturday after inauguration, the grass looked fine. It looked like it had not even been touched.
So was that after the Women’s March, which brought a great many more footsteps to the National Mall?
On Saturday we started to remove the panels, then the overflow from the Women’s March — which was supposed to be on Independence Avenue — backed up onto the Mall to the point where we couldn’t work anymore. So we were kind of stuck in place and stopped operating. We do have a couple of test plots where the decking was lifted up, and you can definitely see where there was some wear damage from the sheer numbers of people that were coming through.
Looking at the rest of the Mall, where the tree panels are — the tree panels are the trees that flank either side of the Mall center panels — they are mostly dirt now. There’s very little grass left in many of those tree panels. Just, once again, because of the sheer numbers of people.