Archive for the ‘Parks’ Category

Walking a Labyrinth for World Labyrinth Day

Starting in 2009, The Labyrinth Society designated the first Saturday in May, which this year falls on May 5th, as World Labyrinth Day.  And although that is not until tomorrow, during today’s bike ride I decided to stop and walk the labyrinth located in the sanctuary of The Church of The Epiphany, which is open to the public Monday through Friday from 10:00am until 3:00pm.

At different times, the practice of walking a labyrinth has been associated with pilgrimages and pagan rituals.  More recently however, labyrinths have popped up in modern spirituality for contemplation and as prayer.  People walk a labyrinth for as many reasons as the number of people who walk one, including centering, feeling grounded, as prayer, as meditation, or as a great way to just unwind and clear your mind.

If you would like to walk a labyrinth tomorrow to celebrate World Labyrinth Day, there are nine labyrinths here in D.C., and more than a dozen more now exist within a ten-mile radius of the city.  Of these, there are at least a half a dozen outdoor labyrinths that are open to the public, and most are open daily from sunrise to sunset or shortly thereafter.

One of a few local labyrinths located outdoors and available to the public, the Georgetown Waterfront Park Labyrinth provides a means to walk a labyrinth in a scenic location.  It is located at the southern end of 33rd Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood.

The American Psychological Association also has a labyrinth on the green rooftop of their building at 10 G Street (MAP), near Union Station in northeast D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood.  The 42-foot labyrinth features trellises, plantings, tables, a journal, and a finger labyrinth that you can “walk” with your fingers—a good option for those with ambulatory issues. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:00am to 7:00pm.  You can sign in at the building’s security desk to go up to the roof, or call Holly Siprelle (202-336-5519) to arrange a guided walk.

There is also an outdoor labyrinth that is available to the public at Barton Park, located across the river at the corner of North Barton and 10th Streets (MAP) in Arlington, Virginia.  Originally part of the former Northern Virginia Whitman-Walker Clinic’s healing garden, the 37-foot labyrinth of precast stone and pavers went into storage when that branch of the clinic closed.  It was later moved to Barton Park in late 2013.

Set among old pines and other trees, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, also has a public labyrinth.  Located at 8531 Riverside Road (MAP), the 40-foot labyrinth is made of rubber mulch with white stones outlining the path and is set near a memorial garden with benches. At the nearby Art at the Center, parishioner Kathryn Horn Coneway offers workshops on making finger labyrinths from clay.

The city of Bethesda’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, located at 6030 Grosvenor Lane (MAP), has a 62-foot labyrinth made from turf and pavers, as well as a 36-by-36-inch Plexiglas finger labyrinth, available to the public.  At this labyrinth, a journal to record your thoughts is available, and is located under the bench.

The University of Maryland’s Garden of Reflection and Remembrance, located at 7600 Baltimore Avenue in College Park (MAP), also has a labyrinth adjacent to the campus chapel. Guided walks, yoga sessions, and special events are regularly scheduled. Benches, trees, and water elements help visitors connect with nature.

If you want to walk a labyrinth, but these options are not readily available to you, I encourage you to find one that is.  To find others labyrinths here in the D.C. area, or anywhere else in the world, just use the Labyrinth Society’s online worldwide labyrinth locater.  And if there is not a labyrinth near you, there are also finger labyrinths now available as a smartphone app.  Just check the Google Store or iTunes.

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

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The Indicator Tree

There are approximately 1800 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  And every year the visual spectacle of their blooming draws tourists from all around the world. The most recent estimate by the National Park Service is that they will reach peak bloom between March 17th and 20th this year.  Peak bloom is the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open in the trees around the Tidal Basin.  If the Park Service is correct, this year’s peak bloom will be quite early.  In the past, peak bloom has occurred as early as March 15th and as late as April 18th.

Because different trees can bloom ahead of or behind the average, the entire blooming period can last up to 14 days.  However, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period, which includes the days leading up to peak bloom. However, there is one particular tree that is consistently a week to ten days ahead of most of the others around the Tidal Basin.  Because of this distinctive trait, it has become known as “the indicator tree”, and it is used to get an idea of where the other trees will be in a week to ten days. It’s also one of the key pieces of the puzzle that the Park Service horticulturalists use in making their predictions.

There are no signs indicating which tree is the indicator tree. So unless it happens to be covered in blossoms while the other trees around it are not, you really have to know how to find it.  Here’s how: From the south end of the bridge on Ohio Drive looking towards the Jefferson Memorial, the walkway splits into two, with one path to the left going alongside the road and another path to the right, which then splits into two as it approaches the water of the Tidal Basin. The indicator tree is where the path to the right splits into two (MAP). It’s the first old-looking tree you come across and is standing right next to a large holly tree.

It’s not the most majestic of the old trees.  Not even close.  And it’s been severely pruned over the years. But for whatever reason, this tree can be counted on to provide advance warning of the much-anticipated peak bloom.

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see the indicator tree. The tree seemed to be several days, or maybe even a week or more away from blooming.  Also, the weather prediction is also calling for colder weather, including possible snow or wintery precipitation later this week, which may impact the timing of the peak bloom.  So if my reading of the indicator tree is accurate again this year, the peak bloom may occur later and the Park Service’s prediction may have to be revised.

I am fortunate enough to be able to see the cherry blossoms every day, from the: initial green color in the buds; to when the florets are visible; through the peduncle elongation stage; and when the buds turn puffy white; and then, finally, when they are in full or peak bloom.  But if you aren’t as fortunate and are traveling here from out of town to see the blossoms, keep checking to see if the Park Service revises their prediction.  However, as it stands now, the park service says you should be here in D.C. starting on March 17th.  And since that’s St. Patrick’s Day, you should consider stopping by the Irish embassy and/or having a green beer and a Reuben at one of the city’s many Irish pubs while you’re here.

         

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

UPDATE:  On March 12th, the National Park Service revised its prediction for the cherry blossoms peak bloom, shifting it0 back ten days later than it initially predicted.  They are now saying peak bloom is likely to occur between March 27th and 31st.⠀

Benjamin Bannekar Park

During today’s bike ride I found myself riding in a traffic circle near the south end of L’Enfant Promenade and the intersection of Interstate 395 and Maine Avenue (MAP), in Southwest D.C.  Located within the traffic circle is a little used and rather neglected park.  Although I had been there before, I knew almost nothing about the park other than it’s name, Benjamin Bannekar Park.  So I decided to find out more about it.

Operated by the National Park Service, it was designed by modern landscape architect Dan Kiley and constructed in 1967.  But the small park that comprises the terminus of L’Enfant Plaza initially had no name.  However, after Congress passed legislation in 1998 authorizing a memorial in D.C. to Benjamin Bannekar, the park was chosen and named in his honor.

The 200-foot wide elliptical park sits atop a hill with grassy expanses surrounding it.  It’s elevated location offers of the D.C. Waterfront to the south, including The District Wharf and the Maine Avenue Fish Market.  The park’s circular plaza forms a conical central water feature of more than 30 feet in height when in operation, and combined with concentric rings of London plane trees and low concrete walls make the setting makes for a nice respite from the city, especially to workers in the numerous office buildings along L’Enfant Plaza.

The park’s namesake, Benjamin Banneker, was born on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland, to Mary Banneky, a free black, and Robert, a freed slave from Guinea, who became a primarily self-taught astronomer, mathmetician, naturalist, farmer, almanac author, abolitionist, writer and surveyor.  Banneker’s knowledge of astronomy helped him author a commercially successful series of almanacs.  He also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the topics of slavery and racial equality.  Abolitionists and advocates of racial equality promoted and praised his works.  Unfortunately, most of his written works were lost due to a fire that occurred on the day of his funeral.

What he is best known for, and the reason for a memorial in his honor here in D.C., is that Bannekar was part of a group, led by Major Andrew Ellicott, that surveyed the original borders and set the original boundary stones of the District, thus helping Pierre Charles L’Enfant design the national capital city.

Sadly, years of neglect have caused Benjamin Bannekar Park to fall into a state of severe disrepair.  And the numerous renovation discussions that have occurred in the past have not resulted in any significant changes.

But that is now changing. With the opening of the first section of The District Wharf, the National Park Service, in cooperation with the National Capital Planning Commission, began constructing an improved pedestrian connection between the National Mall and Memorial Parks and the waterfront along Maine Avenue, which includes a stairway and ramp between the overlook at Benjamin Banneker Park and the southwest waterfront.  The rest of the renovation project, which is currently underway, also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management.  If all goes as proposed, the park will not only be restored to it’s former glory, but exceed it. I look forward to going back and seeing it again once the renovation is completed.

         

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

Early Season Wildflower Blooms

They are predicting a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain every day for the coming week.  And although it was slightly overcast yesterday, the weather was cool and dry.  So I decided to go for a late afternoon weekend bike ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of D.C., at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Prince William County, Virginia .

Having been there before, it occurred to me as I was initially riding through the refuge that there was very little color compared to the last time I was there.  This is evidenced by the above photo.  The green has returned with the Spring.  But most of the other colors have yet to follow because many of the larger blooming plants do not peak until later in the summer.  But as I continued riding I looked more closely and was intermittently able to find a variety of color in small flowers and leaves along the way.

The small size of the blooms gave me the chance to practice some selective focus photography. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts as shown in the photos below, there is no type of photography can capture their true beauty.  For that I recommend you get out there and see it for yourself.

The whole experience reminded me of how there is always beauty all around you.  It’s just that sometimes it’s not obvious.  Sometimes you have to look for it to find it.

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

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

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]