Archive for July, 2019

Earth Day Park

During this lunchtime bike ride, I discovered a very small park wedged into a narrow strip of land along 9th Street, stretching from Independence Avenue to C Street (MAP), and situated between the Federal Aviation Administration Building and the U.S. Department of Energy Building.  The land also serves as the roof of  the Interstate-395 Tunnel.  A small sign at the northern end identified it as Earth Day Park.  Having passed by it many times without ever noticing or hearing about it, I decided I needed to find out more.    

It turns out that the park was a combined effort of several government agencies, including the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration, and the D.C. Department of Transportation.  Apparently enough employees from the adjacent government buildings, including Department of Energy Secretary Hazel R. O’Leary, had gotten tired of seeing the neglect of this weedy, trash-strewn piece of land located adjacent to their buildings.  So contact was made with the General Services Administration, which manages and supports the land and buildings and basic functioning of federal agency facilities, who then coordinated the building of the park with the D.C. Department of Transportation, who owned the land.

Earth Day Park has a number of unusual aspects to it.  As part of the celebration of Earth Day 1994 President Bill Clinton outlined a series of recommendations for Federal agencies to increase “Environmentally and economically beneficial policies on Federal landscaped grounds.”  Earth Day Park embodies these “greening” principles.

The park utilizes solar energy, including an array of photovoltaic cells on top of the sign at the front of the park,  to provide electricity for the lamp posts and lighting.  The park also incorporates the use of different plants.  For example, it uses dwarf ornamental grass instead of lawn perennials and annuals, reducing the need for gasoline powered mowers, edgers and trimmers along with fertilizers and pesticides.  The park’s use of mulch and drought tolerant plant species, as well as the raised beds, allows for moisture to be retained by the soil, thus conserving water.   And the use of regional plant material, adapted to local climate and biological conditions,  provides a unique ecosystem that increases the rate of success of the plants.

And because of the incorporation of these principles, Earth Day Park requires far less maintenance than that of a traditionally developed park, making it a truly “green” park.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Bust of Alberto Santos-Dumont

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I happened upon a bronze bust mounted on a wall near the Embassy of Brazil, at the intersection of R and 22nd Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.  Upon closer examination I saw a plaque on the bust, which reads:

Alberto Santos-Dumont
First to Fly an Aircraft
Heavier Than Air by Its Own Means
of Propulsion
1906 – 2006
Brazilian Aeronautical Commission
Washington, D.C., Aug 2nd, 2006.

But this didn’t make an sense to me.  I thought everyone knows that the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were the first to fly an aircraft.  So later I researched Alberto Santos-Dumont to find out more about him, as well as the claim made about him on this bust.

Alberto Santos-Dumont was born and died in Brazil where he is honored as the “Father of Aviation” and considered to be the inventor of the airplane. He designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible balloons and thereby became the 1st to demonstrate that routine, controlled flight was possible. This made him one of the most famous people in the world during the early 20th century.

Santos-Dumont also made the first public European flight of an airplane in Paris on October 23, 1906. That aircraft, designated “Oiseau de proie”, which translates as “bird of prey”, and is considered to be the first to take off, fly, and land without the use of catapults, high winds, launch rails, or other external assistance.  The Wright Brothers’ early aircraft, first successfully flown on December 17, 1903, used a stiff headwind and launch rails.

Much of the controversy about Santos-Dumont and the Wrights arose from the difference in their approaches to publicity.  Santos-Dumont made his flights in public, often accompanied by the scientific elite of the time, then gathered in Paris. In contrast, the Wrights were very concerned about protecting their trade secrets for patentability and made their early flights in remote locations, without many international aviation officials present.  The defense of their flight was further complicated by the jealousies of other aviation enthusiasts and disputes over patents.

In January of 1906, a Frenchman named Ernest Archdeacon sent a taunting letter to the Wrights, demanding that they come to France and prove themselves, but the Wrights did not respond.  Thus, the aviation world, of which Paris was the center at the time, witnessed Santos-Dumont’s work first hand later that year.  As a result, many members, French and other Europeans, dismissed the Wrights as frauds and assigned Santos-Dumont the accolade of the “first to fly.”

After learning about Santos-Dumont, I think he was an inventive and innovative man.  But I still recognize the Wright Brothers as the first to fly.  The launch rail they used simply provided a long, smooth surface for the airplane’s take-off roll, similar to a runway.  So I think attempting to negate the Wright Brothers 1903 flight based on the use of a launch rail lacks substance and was simply an attempt to claim the title of “first.”

OBXbike

OBX Bicycle, Kill Devil Hills, NC

I first started going to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a group of college friends in the 80’s.  Then my Mom started a tradition of holding family reunions there for me and my five siblings, and our families.  I went there every year for decades.  But I had not been back since my Mom passed away, until last week that is.  Last week my family joined my brothers and sisters and their spouses, and their children and their children’s spouses, and their children’s children, and spent the week on the Outer Banks.

It was a fantastic week of family, food and fun.  Unfortunately, due to a combination of a full schedule of activities and extreme heat advisories issued by the National Weather Service, I was not able to get in as much bike riding as I had originally hoped.  On the days when it was possible I enjoyed riding a beach cruiser (although it took some time to get used to using coaster brakes again).  I even stopped by one of my favorite local bike shops on the Outer Banks, OBX Bicycle.

Although I was not able to ride as much as I would have liked on this trip, I have another trip planned which will consist almost entirely of riding.  When I retire I plan to go long-distance bike touring in several areas around the country, including the Outer Banks.  And depending on how those tours go, I may go on a bike tour across the country.

In fact, I have already researched, developed plans for, and mapped out my bike tour of the Outer Banks.  It begins at the northernmost lighthouse in Corolla, and goes south through the barrier islands before circling back through the coastal plains and returning to where it began.  The tour will include all of the lighthouses along the scenic coast, as well as historic sites, national memorials, state parks, marshlands, wildlife refuges, estuarine reserves and national forests.  It will also include some of the best restaurants and breweries in the country.

To find out more about my plans for bike touring on the Outer Banks before I go, click here.  To find out about it as it happens, just keep reading this blog.

NeabscoBoardwalk (1)

For this long holiday weekend I decided to get away for a little while.  And there is such a diversity of things to see and do in the local area that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to experience something new and different.  So this morning I went for a bike ride at the newly-built Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, located about 30 miles south of D.C. on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15125 Blackburn Road in Woodbridge (MAP), Virginia. 

The three-quarters of a mile long, 10-feet wide boardwalk, which includes a two-story observation deck, opened just last month.  It traverses Neabsco Creek, and allows bikers and hikers access to wetlands where the tall grasses and marsh filter pollution from the river and provide a rich habitat for great blue herons, wood ducks, mallards, sparrow and red-winged blackbirds, just to name a few of the winged wildlife known to populate the area.

The 3.8 million dollar boardwalk is designed to showcase Woodbridge’s most valuable natural asset — the Potomac Waterfront.  The boardwalk is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and encompasses educational sites that highlight information on native wildlife and plants.  Guided tours are also occasionally offered.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors recently voted to combine the Neabsco Creek Boardwalk with the Julie J. Metz Wetlands Park, the Rippon Lodge Historic Property, Kings Highway, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and Rippon Landing Neighborhood Park, and designated the combined recreation and historic sites as the Neabsco Regional Park.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NeabscoBoardwalkAir01

Aerial view of the boardwalk, courtesy of Prince William County.

                                                                                                           civilwarunknowns01

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, also known as the Tomb of the Unknowns, is not the only local memorial dedicated to soldiers who had died in battle but later could not be identified.  There is The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution, located in the churchyard Burial Ground of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria.  And during this lunchtime bike ride, I rode to another of these memorials.  I visited The Civil War Unknowns Memorial.  It is also located in Arlington National Cemetery, on the grounds of Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.  And the memorial I saw today actually predates the other two, making it the earliest such memorial in the local area.

In 1865, U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs decided to build a memorial to Civil War dead.  The following year, in September of 1866, The Civil War Unknowns Memorial, was dedicated.  It stands atop a masonry vault containing the remains of 2,111 soldiers gathered from the battlefields of first and second battles of Bull Run as well as the route of the Union army’s retreat along the Rappahannock River.  The remains were found scattered across the battlefields or in trenches and brought to the cemetery.  None were identifiable.  And because in some instances only a few bones or a skull was recovered, it is presumed the vault contains the remains of both Confederate and Union Soldiers.

In constructing the memorial a circular pit, measuring approximately 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep, was dug.  The walls and floor were lined with brick, and it was segmented it into compartments with mortared brick walls.  Into each compartment were placed a different body part: skulls, legs, arms, ribs, etc.  The vault was then  sealed with concrete and soil.  Atop the burial vault was placed a 6-foot tall, 12-foot long, and 4-foot wide grey granite and concrete cenotaph, which was personally designed by General Meigs.  On the west face is an inscription that reads:

BENEATH THIS STONE
REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS
GATHERED AFTER THE WAR
FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN, AND THE ROUTE TO THE RAPPAHANOCK,
THEIR REMAINS COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED. BUT THEIR NAMES AND DEATHS ARE
RECORDED IN THE ARCHIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY, AND ITS GRATEFUL CITIZENS
HONOR THEM AS OF THEIR NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866.

The original memorial has undergone a number of aesthetic changes over the years.  But it’s original purpose, to honor our country’s unidentified dead from the Civil War, remains unchanged.