Posts Tagged ‘East Potomac Park’

This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch

On of the favorite local early-spring pastimes in the D.C. area is the “cherry blossom watch.”  This involves observing the progress of the Yoshino cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin as they approach “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is traditionally defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open on the famous trees.  But because approximately half the blossoms on the trees were killed when unseasonably cold weather returned just as they were about to reach peak bloom, that didn’t happen.  Instead, this year definition had to be slightly altered.  Officials defined peak bloom for 2017 as the day 70 percent of the remaining blossoms were open.  And that occurred a few days ago.

As expected, the bloom this year was a little more subdued than usual simply because of the diminished number of buds that survived the weather.  However, the trees put on a beautiful show nonetheless.  Over the past few days since the peak bloom the blossoms have gradually been going from white to their iconic pale pink.  But the blossoms are also becoming quite fragile.  And with a prediction of one hundred percent chance of rain tomorrow, the rain will most likely knock the remaining petals off and blanketing the ground with so many petals it looks like blossom snow.

If it’s possible for you to get down here to the Tidal Basin by the end of the day today, you will still be able to see the last part of this year ‘s blooming cycle.  Otherwise, I hope you will enjoy the following photos that I took this year.  You can also see  my blog posts with photos of the cherry blossoms from previous years.

          

         

          

         

          

         

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

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Temperatures warm enough to shed winter jackets, the Washington Nationals playing in Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, and setting the clocks ahead like we did this past weekend are all signs that springtime in our nation’s capital is on the horizon.  Another sure sign of spring’s imminent arrival is when the dark spindly trees lining The Tidal Basin begin sprouting their green buds, hinting of the florets that will soon become the world-famous pale pink or white cherry blossoms that annually attract so many visitors to the city during the first weeks of spring.

I look forward to the coming days when I will be fortunate enough to be able to watch the blooming process unfold.  It is expected that the blooms will peak this year between this Friday (March 18th) and next Wednesday (March 23rd), which because of recent unseasonably warm weather is earlier than initially thought.  So although the National Cherry Blossom Festival doesn’t begin until a week from today (March 20th) and runs through April 18th, this coming weekend will be the ideal time to experience this year’s phenomenon.

So whether you for opt for an outing to the Tidal Basin and National Mall area, the tree-lined streets of East Potomac Park and Hains Point, or the diversity and variety of species of cherry trees at the National Arboretum, don’t put it off for very long.  Because the visual splendor of these delicate cherry blooms is given to us, unfortunately, for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life itself.

(Note: Click here or on the above photo to enlarge it and see the photo in such detail that you’ll be able to see both antennae of a small bug peaking over the branch above the buds.)

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, the White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

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

East Potomac Park and Hains Point

East Potomac Park and Hains Point

East Potomac Park is a section of Potomac Park located south of the Jefferson Memorial and the 14th Street Bridge, and sits on a peninsula that drives a grassy wedge between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River on the south side of the Tidal Basin (MAP). The 328-acre finger of land is bordered on the east by the Washington Channel, on the west by the Potomac River, Hains Point at the southern end, and is separated from West Potomac Park by the iconic Jefferson Memorial.

The peninsula on which the park is located was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  After a disastrous flood in 1881, the Corps of Engineers dredged a deep channel in the Potomac and used the material to create the current banks of the river and raise much of the land near the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue.  Much of the dredged material was also utilized to build up existing mudflats in the Potomac River as well as sandbars which had been created by resultant silting, including the peninsula which led to the creation of Potomac Park on March 3, 1897.

In addition to providing terrific views of the city, East Potomac Park also features many of Washington’s famous Kanzan cherry trees.  These double-blossoming cherry trees line Ohio Drive and bloom about two weeks after the single-blossoming Toshino variety that attracts throngs of tourists to the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin during the National Cherry Blossom Festival each spring.

Ohio Drive, which is a six-mile loop that runs the perimeter of East Potomac Park, is a popular route with bicyclists, runners and walkers, and inline skaters.  And a scenic riverfront sidewalk, which winds around the park’s shoreline, remains a popular place for fishing, despite falling apart and literally sinking into the river in places.  The park is also home to one 18-hole and two 9-hole public courses at the East Potomac Park Golf Course, a driving range and a miniature golf course, a public swimming pool (the East Potomac Park Aquatic Center), tennis courts, picnic facilities, a playground, and a recreation center.

The southern end of the park at the end of the peninsula is known as Hains Point.  This location offers stunning views of the river, as well as Fort McNair and the National War College in D.C. to the east. To the west, visitors can watch planes take off and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located across the Potomac River in Virginia.  Hains Point was also formerly the home of a popular public artwork entitled “The Awakening,” a 70-foot sculpture depicting the arousing of a bearded giant who is embedded in the earth.  However, the sculpture was sold in 2008, and the new owner moved it to its current location at National Harbor in Prince Georges County, Maryland.

It is rare for anything in D.C. to lack controversy or intrigue, and East Potomac Park is no exception.  In 2004, an area of four acres adjacent to the National Park Service offices at Ohio and Buckeye drives was enclosed by a 10-foot high security fence and large beige metal buildings were constructed. The action, initiated by the U.S. Navy, bypassed normal multi-agency review procedures usually required for the use or taking of Federal parkland.  The Navy, which operates the site, calls the work a “utility assessment and upgrade” and will not say if the project is classified or whether it has a name.  Nor will the Navy say how much it cost, how many people were on the job or why it was needed.

When questioned about activity at the site, D.C.’s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, advised that she “is aware of what’s going on but cannot comment.”  Similarly, Frederick J. Lindstrom, acting secretary of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, advised that he had been advised that it would be illegal for him to discuss the matter.  Lindstrom went on to state, “Let’s just say when they’re finished, you’ll be glad they’ve done what they’ve done.”

Athough the Navy originally advised that work at the complex would last approximately four years, a decade later the ongoing activity and construction that goes on inside the security fence, involving regular arrival and departure of dump trucks, remains a mystery.  Amid the secrecy, theories about the four-acre complex and hangar-like structures abound.  In a city which contains radiation tracking instruments atop the Federal Reserve building, biowarfare sensors analyzing the air on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Institution castle, and antiaircraft systems on a rooftop next to the White House, the Navy’s secretive activity on East Potomac Park is presumed by many to be related to national security.

Although we may never know the details of the Navy’s activity there, that should not prevent visitors from enjoying the remaining 324 acres of this active yet pastoral park.

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The Awakening

The Awakening

On this bike ride I went to see “The Awakening.”  The Awakening is a 70-foot sculpture depicting the arousing of a bearded giant who is embedded in the earth.  The sculpture was created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr., and owned by the Sculpture Foundation, a group that promotes public art.  It was part, along with 500 other pieces, of a city-wide public art exhibition in 1980.  After the exhibition it was subsequently loaned to the National Park Service for almost thirty years, who placed it on display at Hains Point in East Potomac Park in southwest D.C.   However, the sculpture was sold in 2008, and the new owner moved it to its current location at National Harbor in Prince Georges County, Maryland (MAP).

The Awakening consists of five separate cast aluminum pieces partially buried in the sand on the shores of the Potomac River.  Cumulatively they create the impression of a distressed giant emerging from the earth.  The left hand and right foot barely protrude, while the bent left leg and knee jut into the air.  The right arm and hand reach the farthest out of the ground.  The giant’s bearded face, with the mouth in mid-scream, appears to be concurrently angered and distressed as he struggles to free himself.

There is also a copy of the same statue just west of the Chesterfield Mall in West St Louis, Missouri, but that is a much longer bike ride from D.C.  So despite the move from Hains Point to National Harbor making the ride to see The Awakening a longer one than it used to be, it’s still the shorter of the two options, and was worth the effort.

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The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin

The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin

Of the numerous and varied attractions worth visiting in D.C. and the surrounding area, most are permanent fixtures.  The monunments and memorials, the statues and museums, the buildings and parks – all are available and routinely visited year round.  But one of the capitol city’s biggest attractions is one of the few that is temporary in nature.  Occurring for only a few days each spring, the blooming of the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin is one of the biggest attractions in the city, bringing in visitors from around the country and around the world.

The cherry trees have been a fixture in D.C. for just over a century, but not as long as originally planned.  In the summer of 1909, the Embassy of Japan informed the U.S. Department of State that the city of Tokyo intended to donate 2,000 cherry trees to the United States.  However, when the trees arrived the following year, the inspection team from the Department of Agriculture found that the trees were infested with insects and roundworms, and recommended that the trees be destroyed.  President William Howard Taft subsequently gave the order to burn the trees.

Two years later, a total of 3,020 replacement cherry trees consisting of 12 different species were shipped on Valentines Day, and subsequently arrived in D.C. on March 26.   In a ceremony the following day, First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two of these trees on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  Today, these original two trees still stand at the terminus of 17th Street Southwest, marked by a large plaque.  A few years later, the United States government responded with a gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan.

From 1913 to 1920, trees of the Somei-Yoshino variety, which comprised 1800 of the gift, were planted around the Tidal Basin. Trees of the other 11 species, and the remaining Yoshinos, were planted in East Potomac Park.  In 1965, Japan gifted additional Yoshino trees, many of which were subsequently planted on the grounds of The Washington Monument.  Since then, the number of trees has expanded to approximately 3,750 trees of 16 species in three National Park Service locations – the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, East Potomac Park, and on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

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

The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum

The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum

In 1912, the people of Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. as a gift of friendship. Those trees were planted around the Tidal Basin in D.C. Since that time, when people in this country hear the words “cherry blossom,” they often think of the trees made famous by that historic planting. There are now approximately 3,750 trees. In addition to the Tidal Basin, they are located nearby in East Potomac Park and on the grounds of The Washington Monument as well. When it comes to cherry trees, the area near the Tidal Basin is definitely the place to go for quantity.

Although most of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin area are the familiar Yoshino Cherry, there are 11 other species there as well. They are the Kwanzan Cherry, Akebono Cherry, Takesimensis Cherry, Usuzumi Cherry, Weeping Japanese Cherry, Sargent Cherry, Autumn Flowering Cherry, Fugenzo Cherry, Afterglow Cherry, Shirofugen Cherry and Okame Cherry. However, there are also numerous other species of these ornamental Prunus that offer a diversity of flower color, bloom time, and shape.  So on a recent bike ride I went to the United States National Arboretum in northeast D.C. to see some of these trees that are not available downtown.  The Arboretum has all 12 of the cherry tree species that are downtown, as well as 64 more. And the cherry trees at the National Arboretum are incredible specimens. So if you’re looking for quality and variety, I recommend the National Arboretum.

The National Arboretum displays 446 acres of different trees, shrubs and plants and is one of the largest arboretums in the country. Visitors enjoy a variety of exhibits from formal landscaped gardens to the Gotelli Dwarf and slow growing Conifer Collection. The National Arboretum is most known for its bonsai collection.  Other special displays include seasonal exhibits, aquatic plants, and a National Herb garden. However, during this time of year, the site is an excellent but relatively little-known spot to see cherry trees. They currently have 76 varieties of cherry trees in the research and display collections there. And you can take a self-guided, self-paced tour and explore the acres of flowering cherry trees by bike, by foot, or by car.

The tour, aptly named the “Beyond the Tidal Basin Tour,” introduces visitors to a wide range of flowering cherries. You can see flowers in peak bloom on only some of the trees though, as different types of cherry trees have different bloom times. Many of the trees are in full bloom, but there are some that have already bloomed this season and lost their petals, while others are only beginning to bud. You should be aware that cherry trees have other ornamental features, such as trunk shape or ornamental bark, so be sure to look at the whole tree so you can appreciate the differing qualities as well as the different blooms.

For centuries, the Japanese have valued the ornamental qualities of flowering cherries, equating the transient beauty of the blossoms with the brevity of human life. I’d encourage everyone to visit the National Arboretum at some point in their life. And life is short, so don’t put it off for too long. It’s okay if you can’t come in the Spring to see the cherry trees. It’s worth coming at any time of the year.

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