Posts Tagged ‘National Harbor’

Miniature Stonehenge

Miniature Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England. It dates back to approximately 3100 B.C., and was constructed in three phases over a 1,500-year period. It is comprised of roughly 100 massive Bluestone, Sarsen and Welsh Sandstone boulders which were placed upright in a circular layout. And it has been estimated that the monument’s construction required more than thirty million hours of labor.

Although it is one of the most famous sites in the world, it has puzzled historians and archaeologists for centuries.  Many currently believe it to be markings of an ancient burial ground, however, speculation continues on what other purposes the megalithic monument may have also served. Theories for its design and the reason it was built range from astronomy, to human sacrifice, to a temple made for the worship of ancient earth deities. Although nobody knows for sure, only something extremely important to the ancients would have been worth the effort and investment that it took to construct it.

Adding to the mystery is that scientists have yet to determine and how a civilization without sophisticated tools or modern technology – or even the wheel – produced the mighty monument built from stones, some of which weigh more than 40 tons each. Its construction is all the more baffling because, while the sandstone slabs of its outer ring hail from local quarries, scientists have traced some of the non-indigenous bluestones that make up its inner ring all the way to Wales, some 200 miles away.

On this lunchtime bike ride I did not go to Stonehenge. That is because it is 3,591 miles from D.C., and my lunch break at work does not give me enough time to go all the way there and back. Besides, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a bike is very difficult.

But I did ride to a miniature replica which was loosely based on the original monument. Located on a slight hill overlooking the entrance to National Harbor, near the intersection of Waterfront Street and National Harbor Boulevard in Fort Washington, Maryland (MAP), is a public art installation comprised of boulders arranged in a Stonehenge-like circular fashion. Very little information about the replica is available, giving it a slight air of mystery, much like its larger and more famous inspiration. But unlike the original, which receives nearly one million visitors per year, very few people, including those passing by it on their way to National Harbor, even know this stone monument exists.

National Harbor

National Harbor

On this bike ride I decided to go on a longer ride than usual, and made the 30-mile round trip out and back to National Harbor in Maryland. National Harbor is a 300-acre multi-use waterfront development on the shores of the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, Maryland, south of D.C. near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Its official address is 165 Waterfront Street in National Harbor, Maryland (MAP).

The land developed for National Harbor was previously the site of the Salubria Plantation. Originally built in 1827 by Dr. John H. Bayne, the site was renowned by local historians for its connection to Black history and to the Civil War. It was on the Salubria Plantation in 1834 that a 14-year-old slave girl named Juda, thought to have possibly been influenced by Nat Turner’s slave rebellion a few years earlier, poisoned her master’s two sons and infant daughter, and attempted to burn the house down, as an act of resistance to slavery. She is listed in the Maryland Archive as the first Maryland woman who was reported to have resisted slavery. She was tried and hanged in nearby Upper Marlborough, thus earning the dubious distinction of being the youngest female ever executed in the United States.

Despite the murders of his children, Dr. John Bayne became a Union officer in the Civil War, and went on to help convince the state of Maryland to compensate slave owners to free their slaves. He also later worked to provide public education to freedmen.

Despite being called “Hallowed African American Ground” in a headline by The Washington Business Journal, the site lost its historical designation and opportunity to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places when the plantation house burned down in 1981. Despite Prince Georges County being a majority Black county which ranks as the most educated and affluent Black county in the United States, a vote was taken by the Historic Preservation Commission to take away, not to nominate it for the national register. The remains of the plantation were then offered for sale along with the surrounding land. It sold in 1984, and was subsequently rezoned for mixed-use development.

Now known as National Harbor, the site has a convention center, six hotels, restaurants, condominiums, museums, stores, and an outlet mall. The site also has amusement rides, including a children’s carousel, and the Capital Wheel, a 175-foot ferris wheel on a pier that extends out into the Potomac River. National Harbor also includes a beachfront, where an outdoor sculpture entitled “The Awakening” currently resides, and a walking path. And an MGM-branded casino is expected to open at National Harbor within the next couple of years. It also hosts outdoor activities such as a culinary festival, famers markets, concerts by local artists, an annual ice sculpture exhibition, and an annual international Beatles festival.

However, access to National Harbor remains an issue. National Harbor has road access to Interstate 95/495 (the Beltway), Interstate 295 (Anacostia Freeway), and Oxon Hill Road. The state of Maryland has funded over a half a billion dollars in road improvements in order to handle the number of vehicles expected to drive daily to National Harbor. Since National Harbor is not accessible by the Metro, the Washington area’s rapid transit system, the state of Maryland also pays approximatley $312,000 annually for bus access to National Harbor from the Branch Avenue Metro station. A water taxi line run by the Potomac Riverboat Company also connects the National Harbor to Alexandria, Virginia. The City of Alexandria also runs shuttles from the water taxi terminal to the King Street/Old Town Metro station. The service costs the city almost a million dollars each year. Despite the government subsidies, National Harbor remains difficult to access via public transportation. I did, however, find it to be accessible by bike via the separated bike lane that crosses the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, but lacking in secure parking and storage facilities for your bike once you arrive.

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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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