Posts Tagged ‘National Park Service’

The District Boundary Stones

As I often say, there is history all around you if you just know how to look for it.  And that is particularly true in the D.C. area.  On this bike ride back to the Jones Point Lighthouse (MAP), I came across a brass-lined window in the floor of the lighthouse’s front porch.  Looking through the murky glass I saw a worn and weathered stone marker which was partially underground near the shore of the Potomac River.  It looked like it could be a grave’s headstone.  But the shoreline seemed like an odd place to bury someone.  So I decided to look into it.  And when I did I learned some more local history that dates back well over 200 years.

What I came across was what some people refer to as one of our country’s first Federal monuments — a District Boundary Stone.  In 1791, at the behest of President George Washington, 40 boundary stones were set in place to designate the original physical boundary of the nation’s new capital city.

Of course the city’s boundary has since changed.  Land from both Virginia and Maryland was ceded in 1790 to form the District of Columbia.  But in 1846, the area of which was ceded by Virginia was returned, leaving the territory originally ceded by Maryland as the current area of the District in its entirety.  But amazingly, 36 out of the original 40 stones still exist today, although some are now in Virginia.  The other four stones are replicas, such as NE1 which was demolished by a bulldozer  or SW6, which was smashed by a car.

Some of the stones are well cared for, such as the original West Boundary Stone, which now sits in Benjamin Banneker Park in Falls Church, Virginia (not to be confused with the Benjamin Banneker Park in D.C.), and is surrounded by a five-foot fence installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Others are not as fortunate, such as NE3, which sits at New Hampshire Avenue, Eastern Avenue and Chillum Road in northeast D.C., surrounded by trash at the edge of a McDonald’s parking lot.  The stone known as S1, the one at Jones Point, is in relatively good shape.

So, the Boundary Stones are federal monuments.  However, they are not treated like any other federal monuments.  For the District, the stones are ostensibly owned by the District Department of Transportation, but the ground they sit on is owned by the National Park Service.  Of the stones located on the land that was retroceded to Virginia, many of the stones sit in people’s yards, and the private citizens own the land on which they sit.  Others are in municipal parks or cemeteries.  But regardless of who owns the land on which they are located, the stones remain Federal property.  And the fencing that surround some of them are owned and maintained by volunteer organizations.

Eventually, I would like to see and photograph all of the Boundary Stones.  And a good way to do this would be participating in the next Boundary Stone Bike Ride, an annual event sponsored by the Boundary Stone Public House in the northeast D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood.  Participants can ride one, two, three or all four sides of the original D.C. perimeter, which is about 60 miles altogether.  Last year’s ride, the fifth annual, was held on October 14th.  I think I’ll keep an eye on the bar’s web site for an announcement about this year’s ride. 

Enlarge this map and then zoom in for the most effective view.

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Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms

The  much anticipated peak bloom for this year of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin has officially arrived.  The National Park Service originally predicted at a press conference on March 1, that D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms would reach their peak bloom for 2018 between March 17th and 20th.  But after an unusually warm February, March was much cooler than normal.  In fact, March actually ended up being colder than February.  So although the cherry blossoms got off to an early start, their progress slowed considerably in the subsequent cooler temperatures.  So on March 12, the Park Service revised the prediction to between March 27th and 31st.  Then on March 23, they pushed it back again to between April 8th and the 12th.  Judging that 70 percent of the buds had reached the “puffy white” stage, the final development stage before peak bloom, on April 1st, the Park Service once again adjusted their prediction, and on April 3rd they moved it up to between April 5th and 8th.  And they were correct.  The blossoms are now in peak bloom.  But they will only be that way for a few more days.  And if the weather forecast of snow for Saturday is correct, they will be gone after tomorrow.  So hurry and get to D.C. if you want to see this natural spectacle.  But if you can’t, enjoy these photos that I took earlier this afternoon.

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

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2107)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view extremely high resolution photos]

Horticulturalists at the National Park Service are predicting that the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin here in D.C. will peak sometime between this coming weekend and the following Tuesday.  One of the methods by which they make this prediction is by gauging the stages of development of the buds on the indicator tree and then comparing that to the development of the buds on the other trees.

There are basically four stages of development for cherry blossoms before they reach their peak bloom.  The first stage is referred to as the green buds stage. This stage, when green color begins to be visible in the small brownish buds, usually occurs between late February and early March.  Cherry blossoms emerge before the leaves on the trees do, and the first sign of their impending arrival are green buds on the branches of the tree.

In the second stage of development florets begin to be visible as the buds slowly open.  This routinely occurs from early to mid March, and anywhere between 12 and 17 days before peak bloom.

The middle stage is referred to as peduncle elongation.  This may be my favorite stage for no other reason than just because of the name.  This is when the blooms grow stems and emerge outward from the buds.  When this stage occurs it is usually about 5 to 10 days until peak bloom.  However, this stage is very susceptible to weather, particularly frost, which can delay the process.

The last stage of development before peak bloom is referred to as puffy white.  This applies to all blossoms, regardless of color.  This averages between four and six days prior to peak bloom, and is characterized by the blooms begin to open up.

Finally, the tree’s peak bloom arrives.  How long the bloom last depends on how long they have been exposed to cold temperatures.  A warm spell in the 60s or 70s will produce blooms lasting four to five days, while colder temperatures could extend the blooming period so that it lasts between seven and 10 days.

Interestingly, during the blooming stage not all blossoms remain the same color.  Many are dark pink when in bud, lighter pink when they first blossom, and then eventually pale pink or white.  Others may open as a white flower and change color to pink over the course of a few days.

The entire blossom season is relatively short.  Full bloom, known as mankai in Japanese, is usually reached within about one week after the opening of the first blossoms, or kaika.  Another week later, the blooming peak is over and the blossoms are falling from the trees like snow from the sky.  Strong wind and rain or other adverse weather can cut the blooming season even shorter.  So don’t hesitate going.  If you do, you may be too late.

Note:  After enlarging it, see if you can find the photo-bomber in the photo for the Green Buds stage.

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]

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The Holodomor Memorial

During this bike ride I picked up some take-out in Chinatown and then rode over to a Lower Senate Park across from Union Station to watch the travelers coming and going while I ate my General Tso’s chicken. But on the way to the park I happened upon a memorial I had not seen before.  I would come to find out that it is The Holodomor Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood.

The Holodomor Memorial was designed by Larysa Kurylas, a local architect.  Her design, “Field of Wheat,” was chosen for the memorial through an open competition.  It built by the National Park Service and the Ukrainian government, and opened on November 7, 2015.  Formally known as The Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933, it was built to honor the victims of a brutal artificial famine imposed by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime on the Ukraine and primarily ethnically Ukrainian areas in the Northern Caucasus in 1932 and 1933 that killed an officially estimated 7 million to 10 million people.  Also known as the Terror-Famine and Famine-Genocide in Ukraine, it was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33, which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country.

The word Holodomor is from the Ukrainian word Голодомо́р, which is derived from морити голодом and is translated as, “to kill by starvation”.   Using Holodomor in reference to the famine emphasizes its man-made aspects, arguing that actions such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement confer intent and, therefore, define the famine as genocide.

Despite a targeted loss of life comparable to that of the Holocaust, many people remain unaware of the genocide.  So in addition to honoring the victims, another purpose of the memorial is to educate the American public about the genocide.  And today it achieved its purpose by educating one more.

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

Battleground National Cemetery

On this lunchtime bike ride, while I was riding north on Georgia Avenue with no particular destination in mind, I came across a small cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Avenue (MAP).  Located near Fort Stevens in the city’s Brightwood neighborhood, I found out that it is named Battleground National Cemetery, and it’s a military burial ground managed by the National Park Service, together with other components of Rock Creek Park.  Later, I found out a lot more.

The cemetery was created after the Civil War Battle of Fort Stevens, which took place on July 11 and 12, 1864.  The battle was significant in that it marked the defeat of General Jubal Anderson Early’s Confederate campaign to launch an offensive action against the poorly defended national capitol city.  The Battle of Fort Stevens also gained notoriety as being the only military action in which the commander in chief, President Abraham Lincoln, came under direct fire from an enemy force.  President Lincoln lived, but during the battle, 59 soldiers were killed on the Union side, and there were approximately 500 casualties on the Confederate side.

After the battle, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs seized an acre of farm land to use for burying the dead. Under direction from President Lincoln and General Meigs, forty were buried on the evening of July 12, 1864, on the battlefield site. That night, Lincoln came to the site to dedicate it as Battleground National Cemetery.

The piece of land seized for the cemetery was previously part of a fruit orchard owned by farmer James Malloy.  When he returned to his land after the dust cleared from the battle, Malloy was upset that his land was taken and challenged the action. Through an act of Congress passed on February 22, 1867, the land was acquired and officially transferred to the Federal government, and on July 23, 1868, payment made to Malloy.

Battleground National Cemetery is one of our Nation’s smallest national cemeteries. The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two Civil War vintage 6-pounder, smoothbore guns.  Also near the entrance are monuments commemorating each of the units which fought at Fort Stevens.  They were the 25th New York Volunteer Cavalry, the 98th Pennsylvania Volunteer, the 122nd New York Volunteer, and the 150th Ohio National Guard.

The center of the cemetery is marked by a central flagpole, surrounded by 41 regulation marble headstones, marking the remains of the honored dead of Fort Stevens. Behind these headstones and to the east, stands a marble rostrum used to conduct yearly Memorial Day services. The four granite pillars are in memory of the four volunteer companies who fought at Fort Stevens.

Also within the cemetery grounds is a series of cast iron markers containing the first of the twelve stanzas of a poem entitled “Bivouac of the Dead,” which was written by Theodore O’Hara in memory of those men who perished during the Mexican-American War.  The poem, as well as the words of the Gettysburg Address found on the side of the caretaker’s lodge, are reminiscent of many national cemeteries.

For an aimless bike ride with no particular destination in mind, I sure came across a lot of interesting history.  Unfortunately, that portion of Georgia Avenue is not particularly bike friendly.  So I imagine the vast majority of those driving hastily by in their vehicles probably have no idea of what they are passing by, and the history behind it.

         

         

    

         

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

BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

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The Oldest Miniature Golf Course in the United States

There are not a lot of choices when it comes to playing miniature golf in D.C. In fact, there is only one miniature golf course in the entire city.  And that is the course in the East Potomac Park Golf Center, located in East Potomac Park at 972 Ohio Drive (MAP), just south of The Jefferson Memorial and north of Hains Point, situated on a peninsula between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River.  And this was the destination of my lunchtime bike ride today, which combined with taking the afternoon off from work, turned into a miniature vacation.

East Potomac Park’s miniature golf course began operating in 1930, and is the oldest continually-operating course in the United States.  As you can imagine based on its age, it is a little more plain in appearance than the typical modern dinosaur or pirate-themed courses, or the fluorescing glow-in-the-dark indoor courses, that are prevalent in seaside resorts, amusement parks, and other tourist destinations.

Each of the course’s holes are simple cement, brick and stone structures with lightly rolling hills and angled turns and corners.  But with varying degrees of difficulty, the overall course is challenging enough to keep the game interesting.  My score made it clear that I was not one of the best players to play the course.  But I think I can safely say that I had as much fun as anyone there.  And a leisurely late lunch at the clubhouse after a full round of 18 grueling holes was a perfect way to top off the day.

The East Potomac Park Golf Center also has two 9-hole and one 18-hole regular golf courses in addition to its miniature version, as well as a covered and lighted driving range, a practice putting green, a FootGolf course (also the only one in D.C.), a retail pro shop, a tennis center, and an aquatic center. There is also a restaurant in the club house, The Potomac Grille, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. And everything is overseen by the National Park Service and, therefore, open to the public.

The center has available on-site parking, as well as an ample number of bike racks.  So regardless of how you get there, I highly recommend going.  For me, it was a great way to end the workday, and begin the workweek.

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

The Amur Cork Tree

Perhaps the National Capital City’s biggest attraction in early Spring is the blooming of the historic cherry trees surround the Tidal Basin, the National Mall, and the Potomac waterfront. Visitors come from all over the world to witness this annual spectacle of nature.  However, the blooms last a very short time.  Any given tree may be in full bloom for only about a week.  And it has now been more than a week since the blossoms peaked.  During the intervening time the remaining blossoms continued to fall off the trees.  And then almost all of those that were left succumbed to the rain and wind over the past weekend.

But just because we will have to wait until next year for the cherry blossoms to return, visiting the trees near the Tidal Basin is still worthwhile.  The twisted and gnarled trunks of the 3,750 cherry trees are ornamental in and of themselves.   And like their blossoms, flowering cherry trees themselves are fairly ephemeral too, at least as trees go. Most cultivars live only 30 to 40 years.  But quite a few of the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin were originally planted more than 100 years ago, and their age only contributes to their beauty.

There are other trees mixed in with the more famous cherry trees that are worth seeing too.  Flowering trees include dogwood, holly, magnolia, and crabapple trees. Other trees include American Elms, Red Maples, River Birches and pines.   But perhaps the most interesting of the other trees is an Amur cork tree on the south side of the Tidal Basin (MAP), between the water and The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  Having been planted over 80 years ago, these trees are old enough to have witnessed the construction of the nearby The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and its dedication back in 1943.

The Amur cork tree, or the Phellodendron amurense, is a species of deciduous tree in the family Rutaceae named for its thick corky bark.  Native to eastern Asia; northern China, northeast China, Korea, Ussuri, Amur, and Japan.  The tree is a major source of huáng bò, one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

What I find most interesting about the Amur cork tree, however, besides its unusual appearance, is that it is considered invasive and even an ecological threat in North America.  The National Park Service, who overseas the area around the Tidal Basin, originally introduced it to the environment.  However, the Park Service’s own guidelines state, “The best way to control Amur corktree is not to plant it in the first place.”  It’s a contradiction that seems typical for the Federal government.

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

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The Devil’s Chair Footbridge

During this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding on the Rock Creek Park Trail near the southern end of the park, I rode over Rock Creek on a bridge usually referred to as the Devil’s Chair Footbridge.  Located near Waterside Drive at a point approximately one-fifth of a mile northwest of where Q Street passes over the trail (MAP), with its eastern abutment just 30 feet from the southbound lanes of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, the bridge’s name intrigued me.  So later after I got back from my ride I researched it to find out more.

Also called the Lyon’s Mill Footbridge, Devils Chair is the most notable of a series of eight footbridges built in Rock Creek Park as Public Works Administration projects during the Great Depression. It was completed in 1934, with the concrete, rustic-style bridge constructed in the style advocated by Albert H. Good, an architectural consultant to the National Park Service, in his sourcebook Park Structures and Facilities which was published the following year. The bridge lies in the shadow of Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery on its western side, with its eastern abutment built on a remnant of the original Lyon’s Mill which had been located on the eastern bank of the creek.

The term devil’s chair usually refers to a memorial sculpture common in this country during the nineteenth century, when cemeteries sometimes included carved chairs for the comfort of visitors. In this function, the object was known as a mourning chair. Some carved chairs, however, were not intended for use as anything but monuments.  Anyway, once the original purpose of these chairs fell out of fashion, superstitions developed in association with the act of sitting in them. In a typical example, local young people dare one another to visit the cemetery, most often after dark, or on a certain night, such as Halloween. Variously, the stories suggest the person brave enough to sit in the chair at such a time may be punished for not showing due respect or rewarded for their courage.

So I assume the name Devil’s Chair is connected in some way to nearby Oak Hill Cemetery. But I have been unable to find one in the section of the cemetery near the footbridge. The rocky and hilly cemetery is both gothic and beautiful, but I have not found a devil’s chair anywhere in the cemetery. And despite researching it, I have been unable to find an explanation for the name. So the origins of the Devil’s Chair Footbridge’s name continues to be shrouded in mystery, at least for now.  So if anyone knows of the story behind the name, please contact me.  Otherwise, I may just have to go back there on Halloween next week, at midnight, and see if I can figure it out firsthand.

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