Claude Moore Farm contretemps 3
 A circa-1771 replica farmhouse and its garden, surrounded by a high wooden fence to ward off deer, are among the attractions at Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

[Updated to include comments from U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th).]

Members of the Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm have only four months before they must vacate the 77-acre site in McLean, but they’re hoping Congress can step in with a solution.

The friends group is pinning its hopes on a bill submitted by U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), which would allow the farm to operate as an independent entity.

“We believe it has a good chance for success,” said Elliott Curzon, the friends group’s director, during an Aug. 9 presentation to the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce.

The House Committee on Natural Resources sent the measure to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands on March 22, but no further action has been taken.

Comstock told the Sun Gazette her office had participated in negotiations for months between the National Park Service and the friends group. Comstock said she introduced the House Resolution 5201 in an attempt to keep the farm independent and operating. 

“I remain committed to finding a solution, be it legislative or administrative, and have communicated to both the executive branch and relevant committees of jurisdiction in Congress the importance of maintaining this historical treasure in our community,” she said. “At this time I am working on revised legislation in consultation with the friends [group] that improves upon the previous version and is more likely to achieve passage.”

Alexcy Romero, superintendent of the National Park Service’s George Washington Memorial Parkway, which includes the Claude Moore site, had been scheduled to speak at the chamber meeting, but did not attend.

The friends group’s 1981 agreement with the National Park Service expired in 2011 and had been extended ever since. Curzon, an attorney, drafted a potential new agreement last December, but park agency officials sought more control over the farm’s operations and gave the group a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, Curzon contends.

National Park Service officials announced in March that unless the friends group signed the new memorandum of understanding, the agency would end its relationship with the group Dec. 21.

Park Service officials refused to give the friends group the long-term agreement it sought, instead offering a 10-year pact that Curzon said was “woefully inadequate” for long-range capital planning.

If the friends group accepted the Park Service’s agreement, it would put the farm into a “death spiral,” Curzon said.

“The farm would become another zombie park facility, covered in tumbleweeds with an occasional visitor,” he said.

Matters between the Park Service and friends group have not become friendlier in recent months.

In an Aug. 7 letter to Anna Eberly, the friends group’s executive director, Romero clarified that the organization must remove any temporary and movable improvements or personal property, including livestock, that were furnished by the group. But the site’s buildings and other structures permanently affixed to the land belongs to the U.S. government and cannot be removed by the friends group, he added.

The agency and its contractors will access the farm Sept. 5 and 6 to conduct a safety-and-health assessment, an environmental audit and an inventory of U.S. government real property that must be returned to the National Park Service.

By Oct. 1, the Park Service and its contractors will perform an environmental site assessment at the farm to identify any existing or potential environmental contamination from the property’s land and physical improvements, Romero wrote.

The Park Service remains committed to working with the friends group to “conclude the parties’ relationship in a safe and orderly manner,” he wrote.

“We value the memories that people have made at the farm, and remain committed to a public and fully transparent process as we work with the community and the farm’s many dedicated volunteers to determine its future,” added Aaron LaRocca, Romero’s chief of staff, in a statement to the Sun Gazette.

About 60,000 people annually visit the Claude Moore site, which mimics authentic rural life from 1771 using crop fields, a tobacco-curing shed, livestock and a farmhouse. While the Park Service provided infrastructure support in the past, the friends group has not received any federal  moneys since 2011, Curzon said.

More than 6,900 people have signed the friends group’s petition to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, asking him to intercede in the matter.

“There is abundant statutory authority for the secretary to waive any requirements that the Park Service thinks it must impose on us,” Curzon said. “They’ve never explained adequately why they want to do it.”

Park Service officials this spring said the updated memorandum of understanding matched laws and current policies applicable to thousands of the agency’s other partners.

Jim Wordsworth, owner of J.R.’s Stockyards Inn in Tysons, which has been running Claude Moore’s pavilions at the friends groups’ behest, said the farm is a “treasure” that teaches young people history and the intricacies of farm life.

Watching a farmhand churn butter shows youths that this household staple “doesn’t come from the grocery store in quarter-pound sticks,” he said.