Whether it’s a Republican president or a Democratic president, it doesn’t matter — on Inauguration Day, the loser on the National Mall has been the grass. Hundreds of thousands of people trample on it, destroying its delicate, verdant blades, and costly repairs are then required.
Not this year, reports Sarah Laskow in a fascinating piece at Atlas Obscura. The National Park Service has just finished a $40 million renovation of the Mall that included excavating soil 4 to 5 feet deep, installing a new 250,000-gallon drainage system, replacing the soil with high-tech trample-resistant dirt fortified with sand, and then covering that soil with a special turf blend sourced from a farm in New Jersey. “One thing is sure: The central axis connecting the Capitol to the Washington Monument hasn’t looked this good in decades,” the Washington Post reports. (The Post has a great explainer on the renovations, which you can read here.)
To prevent damage to the pristine new turf, Laskow explains, the NPS has laid down special panels designed to protect it from hundreds of thousands of feet:
For the inauguration, contractors are bringing in special panels, 16 square feet each, to cover up the grass. To the human eye, they look white, but they’re actually translucent, which allows light to reach the grass and keep it healthy. The bottoms of the panels are honeycombed with small, square cells that protect the grass crowns from being crushed and act like mini greenhouses.
(NPS used similar panels in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration after his first inauguration in 2009 wrecked the grass badly.)
It’s a reminder that the National Mall is a highly engineered architectural space. (Even the squirrels that inhabit it were originally a design element included by the architect of the Capitol.) Thirty-three million people visit it each year, and so it needs to withstand big crowds and the test of time.