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National Park Service Prepares to Host Millions of Visitors for the Presidential Inauguration and Parade


Facilities construction for the presidential inauguration is already underway. For the Inaugural Parade, this Lafayette Park site on Pennsylvania Avenue will have a news media reviewing stand positioned directly across from the presidential reviewing stand erected in front of the White House. NPS photo.

The National Park Service, working directly with the Presidential Inauguration Committee, is making elaborate preparations to host what may very well be the biggest crowd ever to gather in Washington, D.C.

On January 20 as many as four million people are expected to descend on the National Mall & Memorial Parks to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States. Hordes of spectators will cram the National Mall to witness the swearing-in ceremony that will take place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Vast numbers will line Pennsylvania Avenue to see the ensuing Inaugural Parade, an event that moves the new president, physically and symbolically, from the Capitol, home of the legislative branch of the federal government, to the White House, home of the executive branch.

Having huge numbers of Americans and people from all over the world personally witness the peaceful transition of power in the world’s most important democracy is a proud tradition. However, it is also a gargantuan logistical headache for the National Park Service. If the projections of three-four million visitors prove accurate, the crowds will dwarf the previous largest events in the history of the National Mall by three or four times. And no matter the size of the crowd, a huge amount of work will have been done before, during, and after the event by National Mall & Memorial Parks and the Park Police.

To help everyone get a view, the National Park Service is installing JumboTrons on the National Mall. JumboTrons, big screens that carry a live television feed of the event, were successfully used during the last several Presidential inaugurations.

As in the past, large numbers of people will camp overnight on the Mall to lay claim to the places offering the best views. Well, at least they’ll be competing for the best spots not reserved for the approximately 240,000 people with invitations to the inauguration (mostly in the form of free tickets distributed by senators and representatives). People who don’t have reservations and aren’t willing to camp on the Mall will have to depend on binoculars and the JumboTrons. Extra JumboTrons are also planned for the parade route to help those who won't have a front-row view.

All of the best places along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route will be taken long before the inauguration ceremony commences. Since it’s not possible to attend both events, officials are cautioning visitors to “pick one.”

The National Park Service is used to dealing with big crowds in our nation’s capital. Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration drew an estimated 1.2 million spectators (the most ever for an inauguration), and at least 1 million people gathered on the National Mall for the nation’s Bicentennial celebration on July 4, 1976.

Nevertheless, crowds of the size anticipated for the upcoming inauguration are several orders of magnitude bigger than any that the Park Service has dealt with before. One might reasonably wonder whether three or four million people can be safely accommodated on the National Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (yes, Pennsylvania Avenue is actually a national park - and a separate Unit of the National Park System), and President’s Park (which includes not only the White House and the Ellipse, but also Lafayette Park, which will have a news media reviewing stand). So far, officials say “yes,” but some special arrangements will be necessary.

One of the important adjustments is the relocation of the parade staging area. For previous inaugurations, certain sections of the National Mall near the Washington Monument were reserved for use as a staging area for the Inaugural Parade. This year that space will be needed for spectators and will not be available for parade staging. As of this writing the NPS hasn’t announced where the new staging area will be located.

The Park Service is apparently considering allowing crowds to fill in not just the National Mall from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument, but also the grounds of the Washington Monument (which sits on an elevated hilltop) and perhaps even the Parks and Monuments area stretching all the way to the Lincoln Memorial. All told, the corridor from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial stretches some two miles and encompasses about 300 acres (nearly half a square mile). Although it's unlikely that the space will be packed with people (since it will be impossible to view the inauguration from most places behind the Washington Monument), the area will be available if it's needed.

Security is naturally a major concern. The U.S. Secret Service is serving as the lead federal law enforcement agency for this event, which has been declared a National Special Security Event (NSSE), but the NPS has important responsibilities. The United States Park Police, an administrative unit of the NPS, is working with the Secret Service and numerous other participating agencies to help create what is designed to be “a “seamless security plan that will create a safe and secure environment for President-elect Obama and his family, other dignitaries, event participants, and the general public.”

Traveler tips and caveats, no extra charge: Whether you are attending the inauguration or the parade, get there as early as you can manage. That's the only way you'll have a chance at a decent vantage point. If you're attending the inauguration, try to get a spot near the center of the Mall so your view won't be obstructed by one of the JumboTrons. Bring good binoculars. At best, you'll be trying to view a six-foot tall figure from a quarter-mile mile or more away. (Many people don't realize that it's a quarter of a mile from the top of the Capitol steps to the other side of the fountain/pool in front of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial where the National Mall begins.) At this time, maps and checkpoint information have not been released for the 2009 Inaugural. There will be bag checks at certain checkpoints, and you can expect good crowd control directing you to them. It's likely that certain Metrorail Stations will be closed, including the Smithsonian/National Mall Station and the National Archives/US Navy Memorial Station. MetroRail will direct inauguration attendees to get off at the appropriate spots.

Postscript: There will be no rest for the weary after the inauguration is over. Just two days later, on Thursday, January 22, opponents of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Roe vs. Wade will participate in the annual March for Life, which includes a rally on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, followed by a march down Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court Building. At least 100,000 people are expected to participate in the event.


I attended the March for Women's Lives on the Mall in 2004; that rally had 1.1 million people on the Mall and stretched from 3rd Street to the Washington Monument; it was the only time I ever felt claustrophobic on the Mall (and I don't have claustrophobia, and the Mall is gigantic). The area from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial could hold several hundred thousand more.

If it's true that most people won't go to the Mall, where will they go? You can only fit in the hundreds of thousands on the actual motorcade route, and even then, most can't see much. There are only so many bleachers because of court rulings that forbid the privatization of the street.

I have my doubts that 3-4 million will actually be there; however, if there are, this is not good news for the residents of the District, who can expect their residences and streets trampled over and sheer madness. DC is used to large crowds - very large crowds - but this is insane. 1 million is barely tolerable; what will 3 to 4 million do? The human crush of people could be very dangerous.

I ask that if people go back to my former city that they do whatever they can to remember that people live there and to respect those people. Granted, half the city will be trying to attend the Inauguration, but it's no less true that outsiders often show an absolute lack of respect for the fact that there's a local population. If people can clean up after themselves (even though the garbage cans will be full), tread as lightly as possible, and remember that this is causing a dangerous situation for themselves and others alike, then maybe ...

Also, remember DC's large homeless population. They are always scooped up off the streets during the Inauguration or forced away from their homes, especially those who live in the streets along the parade route (a large area, for instance, is next to the Canadian Embassy). During the Bush Inaugurations, those homeless were being forced to show ID's and were otherwise harrassed. There are approximately 12,000 homeless living within the city, a little more than 2% of the population. Think of them and if you see a police officer, please ask them what they are doing for the homeless in light of the Inauguration and that they be treated with respect.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Yes, four million people to gather and see this remarkable event is quite astonishing if not monumental in grandeur. I would calculate the magnitude of this size definitely represents a logistical safety and health problems. But, considering the mood of the nation and the transition of this new administration that represents change and hope, it's understandable why the masses would sacrifice the discomforts of overcrowding to see this remarkable new President take office...Barack Obama! People are desperate for new leadership, a new direction that's not hell bent on criminal ideology which has been built on lies and deception for eight years. I say, let the flood gates open and let the world see these faceless people which were poorly represented for eight years. Fill the streets, the avenues and plazas with joy and be glad the (Bush administration) is finally out of office. Welcome to the White House President Obama!

Actually Anon, it WILL BE the homeless, the great unwashed if you will, who will be coming to see their "savior."
Hope? Change? What exactly do you mean? Old Clinton appointees? I'll tell ya what, you keep the CHANGE, I'll keep my freedom.
"Let the world see these "faceless people"...hmmmm...ever read "Camp of the Saints?" Those kind of people??? The "homeless?" The unmotivated?

There are many highly motivated, successful folks who will be celebrating this event. I have not felt represented or well-served by the current administration, or the current incarnation of the Republican party, which I have formerly supported. To suggest that only homeless, unmotivated people support Obama is a typical Republican tactic; if you can't out-argue the message, slander the messenger… Let’s all try to be open-minded and give the new administration a chance to prove itself. Regarding Clinton advisors, they actually did a great job – unfortunately, Bill’s indiscretions overshadowed the positive attributes of what would have otherwise been regarded as a very successful Presidency.

LOL...Bob says "open-minded" open your brains are falling out.
Give 'em a chance? When did the left wing ever give Bush a chance?? Why is it that it is O.K. for the left to trash people (aka Palin) but not the right? Answer that one, Bob....
BTW, just take a good look at the majority of those attending THIS inauguration..."great unwashed" is certainly correct! The inmates are now in charge of the asylum.

Hey kids----ain't democracy grand?!!!!

Once again I defer to the Sage of Baltimore:

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

-----H. L. Mencken

Gerald, Sylvia:
You are so right:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that THEY CAN VOTE THEMSELVES LARGESSE from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.

Somehow I don't doubt the estimated crowd for the Big Ball. Every idiot 'round the globe with a press credential will be attending (sorry, Kurt) along with the obligatory circus train of mobile broadcast units. They'll be measuring the total volume of cables / wiring used for this spectacle not in linear feet but in AU.

Maybe it'll rain.......

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