You are here

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 don't think too many folks in this forum are going to be real happy soon...Obama has announced deep cuts in federal spending. His budgets for the Park Service look like they are going to be SMALLER than Bush's.

Russ: I'll take a knowledgeable ivy leaguer any day running this country, then a bottom rung college graduate from the Naval Academy or a five college drop out like McCain & Palin. Both smooth talkers and no show! Sounds like you live in some kind of mental state called paranoia that fears change. Step out of your small world (and thinking) of guns and fear mongering and help with the transition of positive change.

Mr. father of a ( ivy leaguer!):
I'll keep my guns, money and can keep the "change!"
P.S.: Have fun trying to find a clean toilet at "the one"s


Bush did play a role in deregulation, but it was only part of the problem:

"Gramm-Leach-Bliley was a blunder. But far more generally, banks that are financed by insured deposits should never have been allowed to do what they did. There is no excuse for regulators to allow such banks to write inordinate mounts of insurance via credit default swaps, or to extend inordinate amounts of loan guarantees that are another form of insurance. There is no excuse for government to have encouraged home loans to people who could not afford them. There is no excuse for government to encourage people to take on excessive amounts of debt, period. Insured banks shouldn't have had large obligations hidden away in off-balance-sheet subsidiaries. These banks shouldn't be so highly levered. Government is fully responsible, not only for the welter of regulation but also for the inept deregulation and the resulting financial tragedy that has unfolded."

Part of the blame must fall on the Clinton administration for its attempts to social engineer home ownership and for its mismanagement of the quasi-governmental agencies of Freddy and Fanny.

"The economy of the Clinton years" was superheated by cheap credit, which was in turn manipulated by another quasi-governmental organization, the Federal Reserve.

You talk of the Constitution, so certainly you know that Article I states "Congress shall have the Power to Coin Money and Regulate the Value Thereof." The Constitution does not give authority to Congress to delegate this task to the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve has devalued our currency and created artificially low interest rates, which have spurred malinvestment. The market is attempting to correct itself, and all government efforts to halt this correction--from either the left or the right--will only prolong the agony.

Again, since you cite the Constitution, you know that document invests the Executive Office with only 12 enumerated powers. None of those powers include the power to regulate the economy, the ability to legislate through executive orders, or the ability to interpret the Constitution through signing statements.

While it's good to have a president who can think for himself, that does not preclude the abuse of Executive Power. FDR was a thinker, and he issued more executive orders than any other president in history, some with egregious civil rights implications; he issued about 3500 EOs, or roughly ten times more than Bush II. Obama has shown an inclination to further use executive orders, supposedly to overturn Bush EOs, but ostensibly they could be used to further undermine the Constitution and individual rights.

Scoffing at Bush defenders is easy. But when it's done in the same breath used to defend the usurpation of the Constitution by Democratic presidents, it's hypocritical. The problem is systemic, and unless we return to Constitutional government--and Obama shows no predilection to abstain from using EOs and no inclination to abolish the Federal Reserve and return us to Constitutional money--expect more pillaging from ALL the thieves in Washington.

Vince, beautifully expressed with excellent political satire that has good solid punch with words. Out of those four million potential visitors, I wonder how many are unemployed, homeless and sick from the lack of good comprehensive medical care. And, I wonder how many gave up visiting the National Parks due to those rip-off gas prices during the summer months. Remember those obscene oil profits? Bring on and welcome the intelligentsia to the White House. We finally have some good brains running this country again. Soooo, freshing indeed!!!

OK, all you right-wing trolls, go back to your Fox/Rush/Hannity fantasy lands. When did the "left-wing" give Bush a chance?? How about after 9/11 when he squandered our international good will? Do you remember the massive international support for us after 9/11? How fast did Bush destroy that? Remember the economy during the Clinton years? How's it goin' for you now that Bush has deregulated us into a depression? Like your park lands? Or would you prefer them drilled, sold, and butchered as Bush has tried to do to them? Remember the Constitution? Oh, no, I forgot, you don't know about that. By the way, I'm an attorney, a teacher, and a former civil engineer and I will be at the inauguration along with my son (who attends an Ivy League school -sorry, I know intelligent people make you uncomfortable) and my wife (who is a.... wait for it... community organizer!!). At last, we'll have a President who makes us proud and who is intelligent. What a breath of fresh air being able to go to sleep each night knowing that the President can actually THINK!

And how much (change) is this going to cost us? (And the NPS?)

Here's another gem from H.L. Mencken:

"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are."

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.......

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments