Posts Tagged ‘Anacostia’

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The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

On this lunchtime bike ride I went for a leisurely ride on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which is located in southeast D.C. and runs along banks of both sides of the Anacostia River (MAP). Although the trail is not yet complete, extensive improvements and additions have been made to the trail in recent years, making it already one of the most scenic and enjoyable trails in the city. To date, 15 of the ultimate 28 miles of the trail are open for use. And completion of the remainder of the trail is a priority project under President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

In the past one of the trail’s biggest obstacles was the need to cross the CSX railroad tracks, which bisected the trail just north of the John Philip Sousa Bridge on both sides of the river. But that hurdle has been overcome with the relatively recent addition of two fiber-reinforced polymer, weathering steel bridges that allow trail users to cross over the railroad tracks.

The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens segment of the trail was started in the spring of 2014 and is currently underway. This portion will extend from Benning Road in northeast D.C. to the Anacostia River Trail in Bladensburg, Maryland, and is expected to be completed by Summer 2016.  The other remaining segments to complete the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail are being constructed as part of the Buzzard Point Trail Project, South Capitol Street Trail Project, various partner development projects along Maryland and Virginia Avenues in southeast D.C., or, in the case of the National Arboretum segment, by the National Park Service.

Once complete, the trail will provide seamless, scenic travel for cyclists, joggers and pedestrians along the Anacostia River, and access to a number of the city’s treasures along the way, including The Maine Avenue Fish Market, Nationals Park, The Yards Park, Diamond Teague Park, The Titanic MemorialThe Washington Navy Yard, Historic Anacostia, Anacostia Park, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, RFK Stadium, and The United States National Arboretum, as well as 16 different communities between the National Mall at the Tidal Basin and Bladensburg Marina Park in Maryland. The trail’s northern end will eventually connect to Maryland’s Anacostia Tributary Trail System for nearly 60 miles of contiguous pathway.

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Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which is administered by the National Park Service, is located in Southeast D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. Established in 1988, the site preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African Americans of the 19th century. Despite the home at the historic site being better known and more visited, however, this was not Douglas’ original D.C. home.

When he moved to D.C. in 1871, Douglass purchased an Italianate-style house at 316 A Street (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Northeast D.C. Two years later he also bought the adjacent house at 318 A Street. It was not until years later that Douglass moved to a house he had built on 17th Street in northwest D.C., and finally to the house in Anacostia, where he lived until his death in 1895.

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February of 1818. His mother was a slave woman in Talbot County, Maryland, and his father was a white man, rumored to be her master. As a boy, he realized the importance of education, especially after his master forbade the reading lessons that a kindly mistress had begun to give him. So he secretly taught himself to read and write. While working as a slave in Baltimore, he met and married a free woman named Anna Murray in 1838. This was the same year he fled Baltimore to escape slavery, briefly passing through New York. After settling in Bedford, Massachusetts, he changed his surname to Douglass, taken from Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Lady of the Lake.”

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, and famously stated, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” It was this belief that helped influence him to become involved in the abolitionist movement to abolish slavery.  Douglass conferred with President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers, and with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage.

However, as his involvement in the movement and his outspokenness brought recognition, it lead to his identity being found out. This resulted slave hunters trying to hunt him down, and caused Douglass to have to flee once again. This time he left the country and moved to England, where some British friends purchased his freedom in 1846, letting Douglass go home to Massachusetts as a free man and well-known public figure. In 1847, he settled in Rochester, New York where he continued his work, for which he gained even more recognition and popularity for his speaking and writing skills. As a leader of the abolitionist movement, he became known as a social reformer and American statesman, who stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

He then moved to D.C. in 1871, eventually being appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to the position of U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877, and the Recorder of Deeds in 1881. It was also while living in D.C., in 1884, that he married his long-time friend Helen Pitts, a white feminist from New York, after his first wife to whom he had been married for 44 years died. After mounting criticism, including from both their families, Douglass responded by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.

The original houses on Capitol Hill stayed in the Douglass family until 1920′s, and remained in private hands until the mid-1960s when Warren Robbins established the Museum of African Art in them. Later Robbins gave the properties and the museum collection of 5000 works and an extensive photo archive on African art and culture as a gift to the Smithsonian Institution. To help subsidize the cost of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture currently being built on the National Mall, the Smithsonian institution sold the property.

The exteriors of the houses have changed very little since the Douglass family live there in the 1870s, and have been partly restored and furnished with period pieces. They currently house The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame.

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Kingman and Heritage Islands Park

Kingman and Heritage Islands Park

On this bike ride I set off with no particular destination in mind. I initially rode to Southeast D.C., and then started following the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. As I was riding past the Redskins’ old home at R.F.K. Stadium, there was a turn off on the trail that went through a gate and disappeared into the woods. So naturally I turned to follow it. As I followed the path I discovered it was the entrance to Kingman and Heritage Islands Park. I later discovered that there is also an entrance on the other side of the park, on Benning Road in D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood.

Heritage Island and Kingman Island are located Southeast and Northeast D.C., in the Anacostia River. Kingman Island is bordered on the east by the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Potomac River, and on the west by Kingman Lake, while Heritage Island is surrounded by Kingman Lake (MAP). This makes both accessible to be explored by boat. The islands were developed from sediment dredged from the bottom of the Anacostia River. Additionally, the wetlands found around the edges of Kingman Lake were developed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and several other partner organizations. The islands were federally owned property managed by the National Park Service from the time they were constructed in 1916, until they were turned over to the District of Columbia government in 1995.

The park is comprised of over 50 acres of natural area to be explored on these two island habitats.  Riparian wooded areas, river views, and wetlands comprise much of the sights to be experienced, where a variety of flora and fauna native to the area can be viewed.  And the area is an ideal spot for birdwatching as well.  Over 100 species of birds have been identified at the park including Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and osprey.  The islands are home to many different types of animals as well, including beavers who can be observed build dams and foxes excavate holes.  And the Kingman Island Trail provides over a mile and a half of paths for walking, hiking, and bike riding.

Interestingly, once each year the serene character of these islands is interrupted for the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival, which draws up to 10,000 people to the oft-forgotten green oasis. Attendees bring lawn chairs and sunscreen, and sprawl in the sun for an afternoon of live music that is the biggest fund-raiser for the Living Classrooms Foundation of the National Capital Region, which currently maintains the islands along with the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Despite numerous efforts to develop the area over the last 100 years, the southern half of Kingman Island and all of Heritage Island remained largely undeveloped. A variety of proposals have been made in recent years, most focusing on retaining the islands’ character as one of the few remaining wild places within the city’s limits. As such, it continues to remain largely unknown, which makes it an ideal location for riding completely undisturbed, as I did on this ride.

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Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail

Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail

The Fort Circle Trail is what’s known as a hiker-biker trail, and follows along part of a route connecting historic sites that are collectively known as The Civil War Defenses of Washington.  The seven-mile trail passes through four of D.C.’s dozens of Civil War era forts which were originally built to defend bridges, naval installations, Capitol Hill and the rest of the city from likely approaches by Confederate rebels through southern Maryland during the Civil War.  Trail end points are at Bruce Place (Fort Stanton) in southeast D.C. (MAP), where I entered the trail on this ride, and at 42nd Street (Fort Mahan) in northeast D.C., where I ended.

The Fort Circle Trail contains surprising expanses of natural open spaces in what is otherwise a highly urban area.  It runs along the traces of old roadways, as well as through forests which are thick with oaks, beech, maples, and pine.  It can also get overgrown with vegetation at times along the route.  There are a few busy road crossings too, and navigating the starts and stops can sometimes get tricky if a rider is not paying attention.  The trail’s surface is mostly natural earth, with some improved sections which are paved with asphalt.  Be aware that the natural surface areas can also get muddy after heavy rains.  But the trail is signed in most places and easy to follow.

The Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail was designated in June of 1971, and was one of the first National Recreation Trails.  It is administered by the National Park Service, and is part of the larger American Discovery Trail as it winds its way from Chesapeake Bay to Georgetown, as well as the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, whose 425 miles of trail stretch between the Chesapeake Bay and the Allegheny Highlands.

The Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail is unique in that it is the only natural-surface trail within the D.C. city limits that allows mountain bikes.  In fact, a good way to see the trail is on mountain bike guided tours that are offered on the last Saturday of the month during warmer weather, and are lead by a Park Service ranger.  And if you don’t have a bike, the National Park Service will even provide one for you with advanced notice.

Whether you happen upon it like I did and explore the trail at your own pace, or plan ahead and take a tour guided by a ranger from the National Park Service, the Fort Circle Trail is unique among D.C.’s many trails, and worth experiencing in whatever way you choose.

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The Really Big Chair in Anacostia

One of my bike rides took me to the Anacostia neighborhood in southeast D.C. to see what at one time held the record for the world’s biggest chair. This Duncan Phyfe-style chair is 19 1/2 feet tall and weighs 4,600 pounds, and was originally made of real mahogany. It was created by the Virginia-based Bassett Furniture Company for Curtis Brothers Furniture as a promotional ploy to draw customers to the family’s furniture showroom.  It is located at the corner of Martin Luther King Avenue and V Street (MAP) in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast D.C.  It lost the world record when The Bassett Furniture Company constructed a 20 ft. mission style chair in 2002 to appear at its stores across the country. I have included this roadside attraction in this blog to remind people that D.C. is much more than monuments and memorials.  There are many worthwhile sights off the beaten path. Some are unusual and whimsical, while others are more serious and contemplative. I encourage you to seek them out because all are essential ingredients in the recipe that gives D.C. its unique flavor. 

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