Archive for the ‘Parks’ Category

The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin

On this bike ride I rode back to the Tidal Basin (MAP) in West Potomac Park to enjoy the remaining cherry blossoms that haven’t yet been ruined, but soon will be by the rain storms that are being predicted to arrive soon.  And as I was walking around the Tidal Basin and passing by The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the southwest bank of the water, I saw a rough-hewn stone structure about the size of a man located just a few feet off the sidewalk that surrounds the water’s edge.  When I went over to get a closer look and find out more about it I learned that it is a pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves, built in traditions originating as stupa in historic South Asia and further developed in East Asia or with respect to those traditions, common to Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

The pagoda at the Tidal Basin is a Japanese one, which is directly derived of the Chinese pagoda, itself an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  Japanese pogodas can be built in many forms.  Some are built out of wood, and are frequently buildings.  But the vast majority of pagodas carved out of stone, like the one at the Tidal Basin.  Stone pagodas are nearly always small, and as a rule offer no usable space. If they have more than one storey, pagodas are called tas.

Like The Japanese Stone Lantern directly across the Tidal Basin, the pagoda was similarly a gift from Japan to the city of Washington.  According to a small plaque on the pagoda, it was presented by the Mayor of Yokohama and dedicated on April 18, 1958, to “symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854 .”

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

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Lake Accotink Park

Long holiday weekends are always a great opportunity to venture outside of the city and go for a bike ride in one of the many nearby state, regional, or county parks and recreation areas.  And on this early-morning, holiday weekend ride I rode the bike trail that goes around the lake at Lake Accotink Park, which is a multi-purpose park located at 7500 Accotink Park Road (MAP), just outside of D.C. in North Springfield, Virginia.  

Lake Accotink is a reservoir in eastern Fairfax County, Virginia, which is formed by the damming of Accotink Creek. The 55-acre park surrounding the lake is maintained by the Fairfax County Park Authority.  But the park was severely damaged not too long ago by flooding in the area.  And although evidence of the damage can still be seen, the trails are usable again.

Running through the park is a trestle bridge for the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, which was an intrastate railroad in Virginia.  The railroad extended from Alexandria to Gordonsville, with another section from Charlottesville to Lynchburg.  The railroad played a crucial role in the Civil War, and eventually became an important part of the modern-day Norfolk Southern rail system.

A sign near the bridge reads, “The original bridge crossing the Accotink Creek was built in 1851 as part of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During the Civil War the wooden trestly was an attractive target for Confederate soldiers. In his 28 Dec 1862 raid on Burke’s Station, Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart sent twelve men to burn the trestle. Although termed an “inconsiderate structure” by the Union press, the raid was alarming to many because of its close proximity to Alexandria. The trestle was quickly rebuilt, allowing the Union to continue transporting vital supplies along the line for the remainder of the war.” 

The park also has canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats available for rent.  Visitors can also take a tour by boat.  The park’s trail loop around the lake is a multi-use trail that accommodates bikes, as well as walkers and runners.  And there are other trails that stretch beyond the park and connect to the Cross-County Trail, with its running trails and mountain biking trails.  There is also a miniature golf course and an antique carousel near the south entrance to the park.

Accotink Park was one that I had not been to before, and I very much enjoyed the parts of the park that I saw.  However, it is so big that there are still more parts to explore.  So I guess I’ll just have to go back again soon.

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

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The Bernard Baruch Bench of Inspiration

On today’s bike ride I stopped in Lafayette Square Park (MAP) to eat my lunch.  And as I was sitting on a bench near the Andrew Jackson statue in the middle of the park, I noticed a bronze plaque on a granite base next to the bench. The plaque reads: “The Bernard Baruch Bench of Inspiration; Dedicated in Honor of Mr. Baruch’s 90th Birthday – August 19, 1960 For His Inspiring Devotion to Country And Distinguished Service to Boyhood; By Both The National Capital Area Council and The Boy Scouts Of America; The Boy Scout Motto — Mr. Baruch’s Philosophy; ‘Be Prepared’.”  So naturally, I had to look into who Bernard Baruch was, and why he had a bench in the park dedicated to him.

Bernard Mannes Baruch was born in August of 1870, in Camden, South Carolina. He grew up in New York City, where his family moved when he was eleven years old, and graduated from the City College of New York.   After graduating in 1889, Baruch initially worked as an office boy in a linen business before later starting work as a broker and then a partner at A.A. Housman & Company. With his earnings and commissions, he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, where he amassed a fortune while he was still in his twenties.

After his success in business, Baruch left Wall Street in 1916 to become an adviser President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Three years later President Wilson asked him to serve as a staff member at the Paris Peace Conference, where Baruch supported Wilson’s view pertaining to the creation of the League of Nations. In the 1920s and 30s, Baruch remained a prominent government adviser, and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s domestic and foreign policy initiatives after his election, which included being part of the President’s “Brain Trust” during the New Deal.  During this time he also expressed his concern that the United States needed to be prepared for the possibility of another world war. Then when the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt appointed Baruch a special adviser. And after World War II, President Harry S. Truman appointed Baruch as the United States representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, where he played an instrumental role in formulating policy regarding the international control of atomic energy.  The designation of “elder statesman” was applied to him perhaps more often than to any other American of his time, and he continued to be active until his death in June of 1965 at the age of 94.

While I found the information about this successful American investor, financier, philanthropist, statesman, and political advisor interesting, I was still curious about why there was a “bench of inspiration” dedicated to him.  It turns out that Baruch was well-known, and often walked or sat in Lafayette Square Park across from the White House.  And it was not uncommon for him to passionately discuss politics and government affairs with other people and passersby while sitting on his favorite bench in the park.  He even preferred to meet with Presidents and other important people in the park as well.  In fact, this became one of his most famous characteristics, resulting in him coming to be known as the “the Park Bench Statesman.”

So in 1960, within days of his ninetieth birthday, a commemorative park bench in the his favorite spot across from the White House was dedicated to him by the Boy Scouts.  When told of the bench and the planned ceremony to dedicate it, “Baruch said he hoped ‘the young people, who are the future of our country’ might receive inspiration from sitting on this bench in the future, as he had over the years.”  So maybe I have some things I need to think through or a big decision to make, I’ll head over to Lafayette Square Park, sit on the bench and hope for a little inspiration.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

NOTE:  Some of the quotes attributed to Bernard Baruch gives us some insight into the advice he provided to Presidents and others.  It who Baruch who is quoted as having said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  He also said, “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

More of Baruch’s wisdom is evident by what he said the bench.  Baruch said,”In this hectic Age of Distraction, all of us need to pause every now and then in what we are doing to examine where the rush of the world and of our own activities is taking us. Even an hour or two spent in such detached contemplation on a park bench will prove rewarding.”

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Today was the day that the National Park Service predicted would when the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin would reach their peak.  So I took my lunch break as soon as I got to work today so that I could ride down to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms in the light of the sun at sunrise.  When I got there I mixed in with the thousands of photographers and tourists who were lining the water’s edge, and took these photos.  I really enjoyed watching how the light changed as the sun rose in the sky.  This morning’s colorful sunrise was at 7:04 a.m., and as full of yellow and pink and violet.  But by 8:00 a.m. the light was completely different, and had changed bright light and clear, blue skies.  It’s difficult to believe the difference in the lighting for these photos took place in a matter of only an hour or so.  I like how the photos turned out today.  And I can only imagine how much better they would have been if I’d had a real camera instead of using just my cell phone.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

On this three-day Columbus Day holiday weekend I ventured to the outer areas of the D.C. metro area, where I visited the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of the city, at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Woodbridge, Virginia .

Up until the 1940’s, the site was a popular tourist spot known as Dawson Beach. Then in 1950 the U.S. Army purchased the site. Named Harry Diamond Laboratories, the Army initially used the area for a radio transmitting station. In the 1970s, the base’s mission shifted to top secret research. Electromagnetic pulse testing and sight lines for security kept the vegetation low, primarily in grasslands. The base was eventually closed in the 1990s, and ownership of the 644-acre site was transferred to the Department of the Interior’s United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Originally referred to as the Marumsco National Wildlife Refuge, the refuge was officially established in 1998 and renamed the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.   Today it consists of a mix of wetlands, native grasslands and forest areas that provide a diversity of habitats for wide variety of species. The wetland habitats cover about half of the refuge and include wet meadows, bottomland hardwoods, open freshwater marsh, and tidally influenced marshes and streams. Upland meadows and mature forest comprised mostly of oak, hickory and beech trees are interspersed among the wetlands.

The unusual number and interspersion of habitats provides visitors an opportunity to view a wide variety of wildlife species and habitats in a relatively small area. The plant diversity of this refuge is outstanding in that over 650 plant species are known to be present. The refuge also boasts being able to documented over 220 different types of birds which are either native to the area or are migratory birds passing through, many of which are uncommon or rare in the region.

The refuge has approximately four miles of old roads are reserved for foot traffic, overlapping among three circular routes. It also has two miles of roads which are reserved for motor vehicle and bicycle access. Information is posted at the visitor contact station and at trail heads.

The highlights for me included seeing white tailed deer, a red fox, a turkey, more than a dozen rabbits, wood ducks, migratory geese, painted turtles and a nesting bald eagle.  As much as I enjoyed seeing all of the wildlife, it made me sorry that I only had my cell phone with which to take photographs. On my next visit I will definitely be taking along a good camera.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Occoquan Regional Park

I like to take advantage of the opportunities long holiday weekends provide to venture out from D.C.’s city limits and visit some of the places in the metro area which are not as easily travelled to during a workday lunch hour bike ride.  For this Labor Day weekend, I decided to go for an early morning ride and visit Occoquan Regional Park.

Administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Occoquan Regional Park is located at 9751 Ox Road, in Fairfax County, Virginia (MAP).  It is situated on the banks of the Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac River, and is directly across from the Town of Occoquan, which is in neighboring Prince William County.  The park is composed of approximately 400 acres of recreational space which is comprised of dense forests as well as open spaces, and includes picnic shelters and gazebos, soccer and baseball fields, volleyball courts, a batting cage, and a marina with a fishing pier, sundeck, boat launch and kayak rentals.  And although it is not mentioned on the park’s website or in any guidebooks, it is one of my favorite places to pick wild blackberries.

The park also contains several attractions of historical significance, including preserved Civil War arsenals, the site of the Women Suffrage Prison at Occoquan Workhouse, and the Lorton Prison Beehive Brick Kiln.  The prison was in operation in 1917, and housed women who dared to speak out in favor of the right to vote for women.  It even house women picketers who were arrested in front of The White House.  And the kiln was in operation from the turn of the century until the late 1960’s, and was a primary local source of the red bricks used in constructing many of the historic buildings which can be seen throughout Northern Virginia.  I hope to visit these places and learn more about them in the future.

And last but not least, the park contains not only a paved cycling trail, but is also one of the few places in the region to serve as a trailhead for and site within multiple routes of regional and national significance.  These include: Park lands, trails and associated waters that are part of the Fairfax Cross-County Trail; the diverse, braided network of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail; an historic journey commemorated by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail; and the Occoquan Water Trail, recognized as both a National Recreation Trail and part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network.

With all that is has to offer, Occoquan Regional Park serves not only as a destination in and of itself, but as a starting point as well.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Jones Point Park

Jones Point Park

On this lunchtime bike ride I decided to go to Jones Point Park, which is located just south of Old Town Alexandria (MAP) in Virginia. The 65-acre park is operated by the National Park Service as land of the U.S. Department of Interior, and is located in an historic area on the banks of the Potomac River, on land which was a critical piece of the city of Alexandria’s early history as one of the largest centers for shipping, manufacturing, and transportation in the nation. A large portion of the park also is located under the massive The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Potomac River and connects Virginia with Maryland.

The park has formal spaces for recreation which include two playgrounds, one for children under age five and one for children ages six to ten. It has two basketball courts, restrooms, water fountains, picnic tables, multi-use recreational fields, as well as the historic Jones Point Lighthouse.

Jones Point Park also includes a small boat launch that offers access to the Potomac River for canoes and kayaks, and two fishing piers, which all provide excellent opportunities to cast for American catfish, rock bass, and American eels. Fishing is permitted with the appropriate license. However, the boundaries for Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia all intersect at Jones Point. So depending on where you fish, the regulations for the different entities will apply. Federal fishing regulations also apply throughout the park. For anyone wanting to fish in this area, they should be aware of the health advisories on eating fish caught in this area of the Potomac River. The advisories may be found on state and municipal fisheries websites.

Less formal areas of the park, including trails through an adjacent hardwood forest, are also available at the park by crossing the multi-use recreational fields. The 80-foot trees that make up the forest offer a haven for wildlife amid the local urban area, and are great habitat for viewing fall and spring birds that are drawn to these woodlands during migration in search of food and cover. And the trail down to the Potomac River offers spectacular views of waterbirds, wintering waterfowl and bald eagles. There is also an interpretive trail which provides information about the human and natural history behind Jones Point Park.  Signs and exhibits along the trail highlight the area’s fresh water marsh habitat, its use by American Indians, and its role in shipbuilding and navigation.

Jones Point Park is easily accessible by bike, because it is located along the Mount Vernon Trail, which actually runs through the park. So the next time you’re looking for a ride that’s a little bit longer, I highly recommend this park. It’s not only a great destination, but there’s plenty to see along the way during the ride from D.C.

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

Historic Fort Lincoln

Historic Fort Lincoln

After getting temporarily lost on a recent bike ride, I got out a map when I got back to my office to see where I had been.  It turned out that the area where I had been riding, which is just north of The National Arboretum, has as many, if not a greater number of historical sites than practically any other location I’ve seen of comparable size.  While looking at the map I also noticed that I had been very near historic Fort Lincoln, so on this ride I went back to explore.  There was too much too see in one trip, however, so I’ll have to plan to go back again.

Fort Lincoln was a Civil War-era fort constructed by the Union Army in 1861 for use in the defense of the national capital city.  The remnants of the fort are just past the D.C. city limits in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and is located at 3401 Bladensburg Road (MAP) in Brentwood, Maryland.  The fort is located within the boundaries of Fort Lincoln Cemetery, near the Old Spring House and adjacent to the infamous Bladensburg Dueling Grounds.

The area surrounding D.C. had 68 major enclosed forts, as well as 93 prepared, although unarmed, batteries for field guns, and seven blockhouses surrounding it during the Civil War.  This system of forts is known collectively as the Civil War Defenses of Washington, or the Fort Circle Parks.  Fort Lincoln was part of this system of forts.

Much of what remains of the system of forts is now a collection of National Park Service properties, while other forts have become state and city parks in the area.  Forts Foote, Greble, Stanton, Ricketts, Davis, Dupont, Chaplin, Mahan, and Battery Carroll are administered by National Capital Parks-East. Forts Bunker Hill, Totten, Slocum, Stevens, DeRussy, Reno, Bayard, Battery Kemble, and Battleground National Cemetery are administered by Rock Creek Park. And Fort Marcy is administered by George Washington Memorial Parkway.

There is also a trail connecting four of the parks, the Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail, which is also operated and maintained by the National Park Service.

The inscription on the historic marker at the entrance to Fort Lincoln reads, “These earthworks are a portion of the original fortifications which made up Fort Lincoln. This fort was built during the summer of 1861 to serve as an outer defense of the city of Washington. It was named in honor of President Lincoln by General Order No. 18, A.G.O., Sept. 30, 1861. The brigade of Major General Joseph Hooker was the first to occupy this area. In immediate command of the fort was Captain T.S. Paddock. The Civil War cannons have been placed here through the courtesy of the Department of Defense to commemorate this auspicious occasion.”

I look forward to going back to the area near Fort Lincoln to explore more of the history there, as well as eventually visiting all of the other remaining Fort Circle Parks.

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

A Tandem Ride at Burke Lake Park

A Tandem Ride at Burke Lake Park

I am still taking some time off from work after the holidays.  And as I’ve written previously in this blog, weekends, holidays and other time off from work provide ideal opportunities to venture away from the city and explore any one of the many local, regional and state parks in the D.C. metro area. For this ride, I took my oldest daughter along and we enjoyed a tandem ride at Burke Lake Park.

Burke Lake Park is located off Interstate 95, approximately a half an hour south of D.C., at 7315 Ox Road in Fairfax Station, Virginia (MAP). The public park is owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority, and was built on 888 acres of land that had been purchased by the Federal government in the 1950s for an international airport. However, when the site where Dulles Airport is now located was chosen as a replacement, the land was developed by Fairfax County as a public park.

The park is open from sunrise to sunset and offers a myriad of activities, including a miniature train, carousel, outdoor volleyball courts, open fields, Frisbee golf, horse shoe pits, an ice cream parlor, picnic areas with grills, three playgrounds, an amphitheater, camping, and a marina and boat rentals for enjoying the main feature of the park, a 218-acre lake owned by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  The park also includes a miniature golf course, as well as an 18-hole par-three golf course, a driving range, and a clubhouse with snack bar.

As if all of these amenities were not already enough, Burke Lake Park also boasts one of the ten best fitness trails in the nation, as named by the American Hiking Society.  The Burke Lake Loop Trail follows the shoreline 4.7 miles around the lake, with bays jutting out from the main body of water that provide variations in the trail.  Gravel surfaced for most of its length, Burke Lake’s loop trail is not just suitable for walking and running, but is an excellent trail for biking as well.

The Burke Lake Trail Loop is one of the most scenic and enjoyable trails in the D.C. area.  The only thing that could make it better is enjoying it with someone special, like I did.

The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas Tree

On this bike ride I went by the Ellipse in President’s Park (MAP), just south of the White House.  It was at this location that the first National Christmas Tree was placed in December of 1923.  The tree was a 48-foot Balsam fir donated by the President of Middlebury College in Vermont, and was decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, donated by the Electric League of Washington.  At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light the tree from his native state.  Music for this first lighting ceremony was provided by a local choir and a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Band.

It has now been almost a century since that first National Christmas Tree was illuminated, and the American holiday tradition will continue later today. This evening President Obama and his family will flip the switch for the 92nd annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This year’s ceremony is sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, and will be hosted by actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Scheduled performers for tonight’s lighting ceremony include multi Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter NE-YO, multiplatinum-selling artist Steve Miller, and country star Chely Wright along with pop phenomenon Fifth Harmony, Grammy-winning legend Patti LaBelle, pop world duo Nico & Vinz, and award-winning vocal group The Tenors, who will all be performing a collection of holiday favorites.

Santa Claus, who has been known to drop by for past Christmas tree lightings, just might make another appearance this year as well. However, if you don’t see him this evening, he and his elves will be at his workshop near the tree on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12.30 – 9.30 pm through December 21.  After that, he and his elves will return to the North Pole to finish getting ready for the big day.

If you don’t already have tickets for this evening, don’t even plan to go. Free tickets were given out weeks ago through a national lottery that closed on October 20th. But even if you can’t be there, you can experience it online live. The pre-show starts at 4:30 pm this afternoon, and along with the lighting ceremony can be viewed live online.  Following today’s online stream, the show will also be available anytime on-demand. The event will also air on public television throughout the month of December.  For broadcast times, check local listings or the National Christmas Tree Lighting website.

The National Tree and all of the state trees surrounding it will be lit from dusk until 10 p.m. through New Year’s Day. Plus there will be free musical performances each day from musical groups from D.C. and across the country. No tickets are required for the nightly entertainment.

Since the lighting ceremony takes place in the evening and my daily break for a lunchtime bike ride always comes during the day, I was not able to see the illuminated tree on this ride. However, one of the other features surrounding the National Christmas Tree can be seen during the day. That is the National Christmas Tree Railroad.  Celebrating it’s 21st year, the National Christmas Tree Railroad is a group of large-scale model trains which are sponsored, constructed and operated by a group of non-paid volunteers who operate the trains in a display around the base of the tree. It is one of my favorite aspects of the display, and makes a trip to see the National Christmas Tree worth it, even during the daytime.

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