Park Service ponders repairs at McPherson, home of Occupy DC

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Local,DC,Aubrey Whelan

Picnickers dot the grass in Franklin Square. Scoring a park bench at noon in Farragut Square is akin to winning the Mega Millions lottery. But tiny McPherson Square, home of Occupy DC for more than six months now, still boasts more tents than people these days.

Since protesters calling for an end to corporate greed and inequality pitched their tents in McPherson, some of their neighbors in office buildings along K Street say they've been avoiding the park, which after a $430,000 renovation had become a grassy oasis for picnic lunches or a short break from fluorescent office lights -- though only briefly before Occupy moved in.

U.S. Park Police removed most of Occupy's tents in February to enforce a camping ban in McPherson. But what was left behind was more mud than grass, scarred by tire tracks from Park Police dump trucks.

The National Park Service insists it wants to refurbish the park back to its pre-Occupy appearance. The Park Service has for the past month been discussing whether to resod the square, NPS spokeswoman Carol Johnson said.

"They are really working on getting it done - they'd like to get it done as soon as possible," she said.

But the Park Service faces two obstacles: The Occupiers and the cost.

The NPS now estimates that it would cost about $8,000 to replace the grass, though private landscapers estimated the cost at a minimum of $54,000 and the Park Service itself last October said it would cost about $200,000.

The Park Service also hasn't spoken to Occupiers about the re-sodding plan, and it's unsure how to proceed with the project while they remain in the park.

"We're discussing it in terms of what would be the best way to do it and when to do it," Johnson said. "Should we do it in different quadrants? Should we just wait until everybody leaves?"

In the meantime, some office workers have returned to the park to eat lunch, quietly unpacking brown bags on benches next to Occupy's information tent or the anarchist library. Others repeat a familiar refrain -- it's been long enough, the protesters have had their say, and we'd like our park back.

Protesters say it was never their goal to deter locals from the park. During Occupy's heyday, in fact, they had a de-escalation team to defuse potential tensions between Occupiers and visitors.

Occupier Sam Dukore said protesters are open to helping the Park Service re-sod the area but that it's not likely the tents will come down anytime soon.

"I will be staying around until I see ... equality introduced in a meaningful way, an end to corporate greed," he said. "It's going to take a lot to get us out of the park."

awhelan@washingtonexaminer.com

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