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Norton Defends Wednesday Night Ultimate on the Ellipse

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., is standing up to the National Park Service on behalf of ultimate flying disc players and other recreational leagues that have been displaced from their fields by tree planting on the Ellipse, an open lawn south of the White House in President’s Park.

In a letter released Tuesday by Norton’s office, she asks NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis to propose an alternative site for her constituents’ recreational activities and send 30 days notice of “any future plans the NPS or the Secret Service has for planting trees in President’s Park.”

Norton’s concern over tree-planting in the 52-acre park began in June, when she was contacted by the group Wednesday Night Ultimate on the Ellipse. But the players have been battling since spring to protect the limited public space available for their low-profile sport.

In April, the group reached out to Michelle Obama, hoping the health-conscious first lady would support its fitness cause. In a letter reported on by DCist, the group detailed its plight: “The growth of softball and kickball leagues over the last several years has made field space harder and harder to find. Once the summer season starts, league softball games fill the central Ellipse field, leaving only the outer ring of green space for groups like us.”

This summer, Norton took on the ultimate fight from a different angle, alleging that her constituents were denied the opportunity for public comment before the trees were planted.

The NPS and the Secret Service agreed to discuss those concerns during a July 9 public meeting, Norton said, but she claims in her letter that “no further information was given to the community about the trees.

“Despite being able to ask individual questions after the presentations, my constituents were concerned that they were not able to ask public questions to raise the issue that they were promised would be discussed,” she wrote.

NPS officials were not available for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

The Ellipse was once the site of Washington’s early baseball contests during the mid-19th century. Union Army soldiers camped there during the Civil War. The large open area hosts the annual Christmas Tree lighting each winter, softball games each summer and is a site for protests year-round.