David Sonntag
15 May 2013

The Future of Event Planning on the National Mall: 2013 Guide to New Event Rules & Regulations

The National Mall has just completed their first renovation of the grounds in 30 years. To protect the new grass and the new irrigation systems, new event planning rules have been issued governing where on the National Mall events can be held, and where tents and structures can be pitched. The Decibel team has created a comprehensive chart to clarify the new regulations for the event planning community.

The New National Mall Grid: Mall Turf Panels

Under the new system, the National Mall is broken up into numbered panels. Each panel has been assigned a designation of “turf area” or “non-turf area”. Turf areas are panels covered by grass, while non-turf areas are covered either by trees, or by gravel or cement, like walkways and hardscape panels.

Each panel is assigned its own rules in terms of event capacity and event type. If you’re planning to hold an event that involves structures, such as exhibits, tables or tents, be aware that these may not be set up on every panel, and you’ll need to book a panel which allows structures.

The below numbered chart shows which panels are considered “turf areas” and which are considered “non-turf areas”. Click on the chart to see a larger version.

Event Management Blog: Event Management Professionals

Turf-Area Events: Assessing the Event Location

The National Mall prefers that events are held on non-turf areas, especially if you plan to pitch tents or use other structures – in other words, they’d really like it if you’d keep off the grass. That doesn’t mean that grassy areas cannot be booked for events, just that there are additional rules and costs associated with holding an event on the turf.¬†Before any event begins and after any event is over, the event planners must walk through the event site with a turf manager who will evaluate the pre- and post-event condition of the grass and the irrigation systems.

Event planners will be held responsible for:

  • Putting up enough protective turf covering (like a deck) to keep the turf from being trampled.
  • Fencing off unprotected areas.
  • Paying for new sod if there is a damaged area larger than one square yard.
  • Trash removal.
  • Paying for damage to curbing and irrigation.

Holding a Turf-Area Event: What’s allowed on the grass?

The below items are never allowed on the turf:

  • Vehicles of any kind shouldn’t be driven or parked on the grass
  • Back of house, trailers, generators, boneyards, portable toilets, etc.
  • Vehicle-mounted equipment such as signs, LED screens, media towers and light towers
  • Plywood or landscape fabric material

The below items are sometimes allowed on the turf, with approval from the National Park Service:

  • Seating, pedestrian surfacing, bike racks, cardboard recycling or trash containers
  • Equipment that does not exceed 10 pounds per square inch in weight
  • Structures less than 500 square feet
  • Structures more than 500 square feet, if weight does not exceed 10 pounds per square inch

Non-Turf Area Events

Even if you hold your event in a non-turf area, the traffic your event generates may effect the turf. For this reason, the National Mall will require that:

  • While setting up the event, you keep set-up equipment five feet away from the curb
  • Tents, stages, tables, exhibits and other structures set up on non-turf areas must not be so large that vehicle and foot traffic is forced onto the curb or turf.

The Active Wear Index

The Turf Manager will assess your event on the “Active Wear Index”, a scale designed to assess how much wear and tear your event will place on the turf, and how much recovery time the National Park Service should allow before permitting another event to be held in the same spot. If your event’s Active Wear Index exceeds 250, there may be additional fees associated with your event.

Letting the Grass Heal: Recovery Times

Grass must be given an opportunity to rest and recover. For that reason, not all panels will be open at all times.

Weather conditions & Seasonal issues

Certain weather and environmental conditions can make the grass temporarily more susceptible to long-term or permanent damage. Because of this, the National Park Service reserves the right to cancel any turf-area events during times where weather forecasts or soil moisture indicate the turf would be more likely to sustain damage.

During winter (November 15 РMarch 14), only one event may happen per turf area for the whole season. During Spring (March 15 РMay 15), Summer (May 15 РSeptember 14)  and Fall (September 14 РNovember 14), each turf panel will need a period of rest between events, depending on how many attendees your event.

If your Spring, Summer, or Fall event had:

  • Less than 25 attendees, no recovery time is necessary.
  • 26-199 attendees, recovery time is 3-5 days.
  • 200-4,999 attendees, recovery time is 5-10 days.
  • 5,000 – 50,000 attendees, recovery time is 2 weeks.
  • 50,000-249,999 attendees, recovery time is 3-4 weeks.
  • 250,000+ attendees, recovery time is 4-5 weeks.

Recovery time from structures (stages, tents, etc.)

If your event included structures, like tents, stages, booths, or mounted signage, additional recovery time may be needed. There are also restrictions on how long you can leave structures up (this includes set-up and take-down time) – times vary per season.

  • In Spring, structures can stay up 5 days. Recovery time is 5-10 days.
  • In Summer, structures can stay up 2 days. Recovery time is 2-3 weeks.
  • In Autumn, structures can stay up 5 days. Recovery time is 5-10 days.
  • In Winter, structures can stay up 7 days. Recovery time is 5-10 days.

Where to Pitch Your Tent: No Stake Zones

In the new renovation, the National Park Service is detailing where the irrigation system will be buried. For the center turf panels, there is a 10′ no stake zone setback around the entire panel, and a 20′ zone going east-west in the center of the panel. On the tree panels, there is a 10′ no stake zone on the interior path side of the panel. These are detailed in the image below.

Closing Thoughts:

These are just a few of the many new permitting rules that govern events on the National Mall. We have done our best to highlight the biggest changes, but there are many more details not covered here. Feel free to call or email with any questions on the details.

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