Friday, January 29, 2016

Park Service evades questions about mitigation, commits to nothing

We at the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway knew something was wrong when officials at National Capital Parks-East (NACE), the park's  federal overseer, wouldn't tell us anything about the mitigation funds they would be receiving in compensation for the loss to eight acres of the park to a road  leading to the adjacent U.S. Department of Homeland Security campus.  

It took a Freedom of Information Act request for us to ascertain the amount: $431,000. This is a lot compared to what is spent on Shepherd Parkway in a normal year, but a relative pittance when one considers the millions the land is worth.   

On January 20, members of the Committee meet with Deputy Superintendent Ann Honious and Acting Director of Maintenance Dana Bramble at NACE headquarters in Anacostia Park to discuss the use of these funds. 

We presented them with the same wish list we've been pushing for since we launched the Shepherd Parkway Call to Action in July 2014:
  • The development and execution of a comprehensive signage plan to identify Shepherd Parkway and its boundaries and deter dumping

  • Replacement of the kiosk in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues
  • A summer youth work crew to assist with trash and invasive species removal and community education

  • A series of free ranger-led programs in the park, including urban wildlife, Civil War history, National Night Out, and concerts
  • Initial research for a possible hiking trail 

To our astonishment, they rebuffed each these ideas and continued to cite lack of funds and bureaucratic obstacles as excuses for inaction.  

In past meetings with the Committee, Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail, Deputy Superintendent Elisa Kunz and Ms. Honious had each in turn expressed conditional support for these projects and promised to at least look into them.   

Those were the good old days. Instead of moving forward, they are now backsliding, saying that they cannot commit to doing anything specific at Shepherd Parkway. 

Ms. Honious stated that a decision had been made -without consulting the Committee- to spend the mitigation funds on improvements to the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues. 

When asked for details on what kinds of improvements were being considered, she became evasive, saying only "Something to make people feel safe." She alluded discussions with of "other stakeholders" but refused to elaborate or explain why the Committee should be kept in the dark.

We do not necessarily object to spending the funds on that area which, unlike the vast wooded areas of park, is heavily used by residents. But we emphasized that the decision-making process must be transparent and include community and Committee input.  We also argued that any effort to enhance the space should include a new kiosk and public programs. The NACE response amounted to "maybe," which almost always means "no." 

We are deeply disappointed that, despite our sustained a large-scale volunteer mobilization to clean-up Shepherd Parkway over the past four years, those whose job it is to protect the park and serve the public seem to have other priorities. 

They show little interest in remedying the gross disparity between Shepherd Parkway and parks in more affluent parts of DC when it comes to accessibility, interpretation, and recreational opportunities. They have recently conducted themselves in a secretive and unaccountable manner all too familiar to Ward 8 residents.

To break the current impasse and advance environmental justice east of the river, we need to educate and organize residents to generate enough political pressure that the Park Service can longer ignore us. 

If you have not already, please sign the Call to Action. Doing so will generate emails to key decision makers. We are reaching out to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and member of the DC Council who share our vision of Shepherd Parkway as a special place where residents can learn, exercise, and experience nature. 

We are in this for the long haul. As Fredrick Douglas famously said, power concedes nothing without demand.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Year in Review and GoFundMe Appeal

Dear Friends,

As 2015 draws to a close, the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway reflects with pride on a year of steady progress.

We held 20 volunteer events, with 422 volunteers logging 815 hours of work. We hosted groups from John Hopkins University, Catholic University, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Energy, Sandy Spring Friends School, and others.

After four years of sustained effort, we have removed more than 90% of the trash that had built up over decades in the area north of Malcolm X Avenue. When we started, you couldn't see the ground in some places; now, almost no trash is visible from the street.

We hope to remove the last remaining deposits in the north section by the middle of 2016 and then shift our trash removal efforts south to the area between Malcolm X Avenue and South Capitol Street, where we focused during 2013 but still have a ways to go.

On the invasive species front, we made significant headway against the massive infestation of English ivy that threatens hundreds of trees in central part of the park. With the continued help of our volunteers, we aim cut the vines from the remaining trees by the end of 2016.

In an unfortunate but long-expected development, Shepherd Parkway shrank from 205 acres to 197 when eight acres were transferred to the General Services Administration for construction of a roadway and bike path leading to the Homeland Security campus.

We recently learned of the silver lining: the National Park Service has received $431,000 in mitigation funds which will be spent to improve Shepherd Parkway. We are thrilled that the park will finally be receiving the resources it deserves, and are in dialogue with our colleagues at the Park Service on how to make the best strategic use of the funds.

The Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway is a labor of love for us, but we also need money to sustain and build on our efforts.

Please consider making a year end gift to the Committee. 

Your gift will help us provide small perks like coffee and donuts to our volunteers, tools and equipment to keep them working, and handbills and lawn signs to spread the word.

NPS rules prevent them from paying for these things, and we value our independence. We are a grassroots, shoestring operation. Making a little bit go a long way is what we do.

Please click here to give $5, $10, or whatever you can afford through 

The residents, volunteers, plants, animals, and river thank you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Nathan Harrington
Chair, Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

High hopes for roadway mitigation

Shepherd Parkway has some interesting neighbors. To the west, the traffic of I-295 and Joint Base Anacostia Bolling. To the eat, the residential streets of Congress Heights and Bellevue. To the south, DC Village and two other parks, Oxon Cove and Oxon Run.

To the north is the former St. Elizabeths Hospital, a federal institution for the mentally ill established in 1855. The West Campus's 176 acres and 61 buildings are a National Historic Landmark. When construction is complete they will house offices for more than 14,000 employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2013 the U.S. Coast Guard became the first DHS agency to move in.

To prevent all those commuters from wrecking havoc on Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues, the General Services Administration (GSA) concluded that a new access road going through Shepherd Parkway from I-295 onto the campus was necessary. 

After years of wrangling between the National Park Service (which fought unsuccessfully to to preserve the park land) eight acres of Shepherd Parkway have been transferred to the GSA to make way for the road ans a parallel bike path. For more info, see the April 2015 post "Road and bike path construction to begin soon." Six months later, for reasons unknown, construction has yet to begin. We are not complaining.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "mitigation" must be undertaken to compensate for federal projects that have a significant impact on the environment. In this case, the mitigation involves GSA transferring funds to the Park Service. This is a tremendous opportunity to invest in the remaining 197 acres of Shepherd Parkway the resources they have been denied for too long. 

The process has been opaque, and our inquiries about the status of the funds went unanswered until today. According to National Capital Parks-East (NACE) Deputy Superintendent Ann Honious:

"The NPS did receive mitigation funds for the transfer of Shepherd Parkway acreage to the GSA.  These funds are currently in a reimbursable account and need to be obligated by the end of this fiscal year.  The funds will be used to improve Shepherd Parkway, not another national park, and we are working to develop the specific projects. We are evaluating the use some of the funds to rent large equipment to assist in cleaning up decades old dumping as well as other suggested projects. All proposed project ideas are being prioritized based on the ability to obligate the funds this year.  Obligating funds is contingent upon being able to complete planning, design and required compliance." 

In the category of "other suggested projects," the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway advocates:

-The development and execution of a comprehensive signage plan to identify Shepherd Parkway and its boundaries

-A series of free ranger-led programs in the park, including urban wildlife, Civil War history, National Night Out, and concerts

-Summer youth work crews to assist with trash and invasive species removal
-Replacement of the kiosk in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues

-Initial research for a possible hiking trail

We still don't know the amount of the mitigation funds or how much time and effort NACE will put into the aforementioned planning, design and compliance necessary to move these projects, given limited staffing and demands of managing many other parks. 

The requirement that funds be "obligated" by the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) may present a problem, since the Park Service is notoriously low moving.
Stay tuned for updates on our ongoing discussions with NACE.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saturday, October 17 was a spectacular day in a month full of them. 

Students from Sandy Spring Friends School , led by my former tennis coach and family friend Bim Shauffler, joined Congress Heights residents Erick Whitaker, Tristan Dewar, Jonathan Taylor, and Ellen Williams on the hillside below Lebaum Street, where we removed 40 bags of trash.   

Mark your calendars now for the second Saturday or every month in 2016. We need all hands on deck from 11 am to 1 pm on

Saturday, January 9
Saturday, February 13
Saturday, March 12
Saturday, April 9
Saturday, May 14
Saturday, June 11
Saturday, July 9
Saturday, August 13
Saturday, September 10
Saturday, October 15
Saturday, November 12
Saturday, December 10

We are still meeting at the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE. For your GPS, you can use the address 555 Newcomb Street SE.

We will be working on rugged, uneven terrain in the woods. All volunteers should wear boots, full-length pants, and clothes that can get dirty.

Monday, October 5, 2015

How many of these native animals have you seen?

After years of displaying limited and out-of-date information, National Capital Parks-East has finally begun to update its official Shepherd Parkway website. Although some of the links lead to blank pages, there are two exciting new features: a 1,700 word historical narrative and an excellent 29-page wildlife guide

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing selections of this new content.

The following is a list of the species featured in the wildlife guide. How many of them have you seen?

Eastern Worm Snake
Northern Copperhead Snake
Northern Scarlet Snake (rare)
Northern Black Racer

Eastern Rattlesnake
Red Corn Snake
Eastern Garter Snake
Rough Green Snake
Five-Lined Skinky
Eastern Box Turtle

Northern Red Salamander
Three-Lined Salamander

Virginia Opossum
White Footed Mouse
White-Tailed Deer
Eastern Gray Fox

Wild Turkey
Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Wood Thrush
Bald Eagle

Friday, September 18, 2015

Serving with Francis, Heeding his Words

Pope Francis is coming to DC in a few days, and its kind of big deal.  The new pontiff's inclusive, nonjudgmental tone  has energized  American Catholics after a decade of child sex abuse scandals and declining church attendance.  

As the 2016 election season heats up, Liberals are eager for Francis to speak boldly on immigration, income inequality, and the environment. Conservatives, though increasingly uneasy with what they see as his leftward bent, are still counting on Francis to stick with them in opposing abortion, birth control and same sex marriage. 

Francis caused a stir in June with the long awaited publication of his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, in which he write, "The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish." 

In anticipation of the Pope's visit, the Archdioceses of Washington launched Walk with Francis to encourage 
Washingtonians to  welcome the Pope by following his examples of prayer and service. 

On Sunday, September 13, 50 students from Catholic University of America heeded the words of  Laudato Si quite literally, removing over a thousands pounds of"filth"and "rubbish" from the " beautiful landscape" of Shepherd Parkway. 

The hillside along Lebaum Street has long been one of the most polluted areas of Shepherd Parkway, and we've focused more time there than anywhere else over the past four years. It is also one of the steepest, most treacherous areas to work, but the CUA students scaled the incline fearlessly. 

At the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, being "protectors of God's creation" is what we are all about. We pray that the Pope's historic visit to the United States will inspire many others to take up the call.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

There's a New Time for Everything

Most of those who come to our community clean-ups work 40 hours a week or more, and Saturday is often the only they get to sleep in. Ten in the morning is perfect for some, but a challenge for the Friday night partiers and those trying to catch up on sleep.  

I've also noticed that, given the physical demands of working in the park, three hours is a long time to expect people to keep at it. I've noticed a lot of people coming late and leaving early. 

So we've decided that for the rest of 2015, our community clean-ups will run from 11 am to 1 pm instead of 10 am to 1 pm. We hope that this change will enhance both our numbers and the experience of those who attend.   

If you have questions or comments about the change, feel free to email me at nbharrington at

We hope to see you next Saturday, September 12 at 11 am!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August and Everything After

It's been a beautiful summer at Shepherd Parkway. A dozen shades of green give the lush foliage a sub-tropical feel to match the hot, humid weather.  Abundant rains in June and July have caused groundcover, vines, and bushes to grow larger and denser than in recent years.

Thanks for our efforts, there is less trash in these woods than there has been in many years. In most areas, Mother Nature reigns supreme, the occasional tire or rusting piece of metal scarcely notable. A few steeply sloping areas, mostly north of Malcolm X Avenue, are still partially covered with decades of trash, and volunteers continue to chip away at these problem areas.    

On June 13, 60 volunteers, many of them from the Fund for American Studies, worked for an hour and a half removing trash from the woods alongside the 300 block of Newbcomb Street. The haul included 53 bags and 15 tires.

The very next day, we welcomed for the InterVarsityChristian Fellowship’s DC Urban Program for the third year in a row. Program Director Kate Denson brings together a diverse group of college students from around the country for a seven week experience exploring “the intersections of poverty, wealth, power and disenfranchisement.” This year they cut ivy from more than 50 trees in the heavily infested areas between 295, South Capitol Street, and Xenia Street, at the north end of Bellevue.

As is typical, our July and August volunteers made up in grit and productivity what they lacked in numbers.  On August 15 just three people- Ellen, Tristan and Nathan- were able to rescue 50 trees from the clutches of English ivy.

If you are reading this, please plan on attending our remaining upcoming Community Clean-Up days for 2015:

Saturday, September 12
Saturday, October 17
Saturday, November 14
Saturday, December 12

Please note the change in start time: all of the above events will from 11 am to 1 pm.
We continue to meet at the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues in southeast DC. 

Gloves, bags, tools, and water are provided. Come prepared to work in the woods; that means boots, full-length pants, and clothes you don’t mind getting filthy dirty.

No reservations are not necessary unless you’re are bringing a group larger than ten.

For questions, contact Nathan Harrington at nbharrington at or 301-758-5892. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

All Out at Atlas Manufacturing

Atlas Manufacturing Inc, one of the DC area's leading structural steel fabricators, occupies an unassuming property at 3707 Martin Luther King Avenue SE, just north of the earthwork remains of Fort Carroll. It shares a commercial strip with the Unity of Love Praise Temple, the Fort Carroll Deli, and the Opportunities Industrialization Center.  

While Atlas proprietor Calvin L. Reid has worked to clean-up the woods behind his building, the rest of the block has one of the largest concentrations of man-made debris in all of Shepherd Parkway.

After three years of focusing our trash removal efforts further north, this area remained untouched, in part because it is difficult to access from the street.

When I asked Mr. Reid to open up his property to assist in getting the junk out of the woods, knew he would be supportive, but I was not expecting him bring six workers and his granddaughter, nor was I expecting him to offer us the use of his flatbed truck.

On Saturday, May 2, the whole Atlas team worked alongside ten alumni from John's Hopkins University to carry debris through a back gate into the Atlas facility, where it was loaded onto the truck. After an hour and a half the truck was full, but a continuous flow of tires, mattresses, car parts, construction materials and trash bags full of clothing and beer bottles continued through the gate. Soon the mountain of trash next to the truck was larger than the truck.

We estimate the weight of trash removed at three tons, or 6,000 pounds. It was the second largest single-day haul in the history of the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, surpassed only by the  heroics of the April 2012 of the We Love You Foundation, which number over 200. On a per person basis, it was by far our most productive clean-up ever.

Reid has vowed to continue cleaning the area until only soil, rocks, plants, and animal remain.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Is Shepherd Parkway a road? Yes and no.

The DC area has three well-known and heavily used parkways that are managed by the National Park Service: the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and Suitland Parkway. Although lined with lovely protected forests, all three are notorious for their rush hours traffic. Few think of them as parks at all.

The Shepherd Parkway is a different kind of place. When it was acquired by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1927, the intention was to create a park- and roadway- that would encircle the city and preserve the remains of the Civil War fortifications. The plan was eventually abandoned due to rapid residential development and political squabbling, but the thousands of acres already acquired remain as parklands under NPS control.

Fort Davis Drive SE in Ward 7, which runs from Pennsylvania Avenue and 38th Street north to Ridge Road, is a window into what the Fort Circle Drive/Parkway would have been like had it been completed.

The Shepherd “Parkway” that we are working to restore is 205-acres of woods and fields which borders I-295 to the west the streets of Congress Heights and Bellvue to the east. It contains no roadway within its boundaries.

There is, however, a road in Ward 8 called Shepherd Parkway SW. It’s half a mile from the southern end of the park, and connects I-295 and the entrance to the Naval Research Lab with the car impoundment lot and MetroBus depot at DC Village.  

A Congress Heights resident recently asked me how on earth we planned to restore this desolate stretch of concrete; I explained to here that the big park nearby is called by the same name.

Until one or the other is renamed, the possibility of confusion will continue. 

Celebrating Our National Bird at Shepherd Parkway

On Friday, April 24, a delegation of officials from Tanzania, Malawi and Gabon joined DC's own Earth Conservation Corps, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, and staff from the American Eagle Foundation at the D.C. Police Academy at DC Village to celebrate the reintroduction of Bald Eagles to the Nation's Capital more than 20 years ago.

Bald Eagles, which are unique to North America, are estimated to have numbered more than half a million before the arrival of Europeans on the Continent. When the Second Continental Congress adopted the Bald Eagle as the national symbol in 1782, the number had declined to about 100,000.

By the 1960s, hunting (shooting Bald Eagles became a federal crime in 1940) loss of habitat to development, DDT poisoning, and decline in fish populations had pushed the national bird to the brink of extinction, with fewer than 500 nesting pairs remaining in the lower 48 states.

The last eagle nests in the Nation’s Capital were abandoned in the 1940s when the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers became too polluted to support the fish life that makes of 80 percent of the Bald Eagle diet.

Two pivotal developments in 1973 set the Bald Eagle on the path to recovery: the national ban on DDT and the enactment of the Endangered Species Act, which led to the protection of key eagle habitat.

Since its founding in 1985 by East Tennessee-native Al Cercere, the American Eagle Foundation has released 129 captive-hatched eagles into the Great Smoky Mountains area, and has supported the release of 100s of eagles in other parts of the country, including DC.

In 1993, it was the Earth Conservation Corps, under the visionary leadership of Robert Dixon, which reintroduced the national bird to District of Columbia, first at the National Arboretum in NE and later to two locations in Shepherd Parkway: near the corner of 4th and Mellon Streets SE, and opposite the Wingate Apartments at Martin Luther King Avenue and Blue Plains Drive SW.

Every bald Eagle that has been released in DC has been named after an Earth Conservation Corps member who has lost their lives to violence on the streets of DC.

The DC Police Academy hosted the event because the later nest is clearly visible from their parking lot. Chief Cathy Lanier remarked that training in the presence the symbol of our country is a source of inspiration for police recruits.  

The African delegates, leaders in the struggle to stop the poaching of elephants and other endangered wildlife in their countries, came to Washington with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, which works to coordinate international support for their efforts.

The life of the party was Challenger, a trained, free-flying Bald Eagle who has flown with Al Cecere at more than 350 major events since 1996, including President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the World Series, NFL Pro-Bowl, and the  NCAA Final Four.  

The Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway looks forward to continuing to work with the Earth Conservation Corps and the American Eagle Foundation to restore the land, the tress and the rivers that these majestic birds rely on.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Road and Bike Path Construction to Begin Soon

When the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway was created in 2011, plans for the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) campus at St. Elizabeths already included an access road to be built through the northern park of Shepherd Parkway alongside 295.

When residents were asked for input several years earlier, most community leaders supported the road as a way of reducing DHS commuter traffic on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Avenues. Given the poor condition and lack of amenities at Shepherd Parkway, it is not surprising that government planners and residents alike were willing to sacrifice eight acres of woods.

The road plan won approval despite opposition from the National Park Service (NPS). Funding was held up for several years by deficit hawks in Congress before being approved in 2014.    

The Committee, seeing the road as a done deal, has argued that the General Service Administration (GSA) (the agency responsible for building the DHS headquarters) should compensate NPS and Ward 8 residents for the loss of parkland by funding major improvements to the remaining 198 acres of Shepherd Parkway. 

On March 23, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton issued a press release stating that construction is set to begin this summer and calling on NPS to grant the GSA access to the eight acres by April 15.

For us, the big revelation in Norton’s press release was the following:

“In addition to the access road, GSA will also build a protected trail and bike path, the first improvements to Shepherd Parkway in memory.” 

A subsequent meeting between Norton staffers and members of the Committee clarified that there will be one trail, not two. It will be paved and will run parallel to the road on the eight acres that is being transferred to GSA.

We are delighted that there will be a bike path and are thankful for the Congresswoman’s leadership. Her letter to NPS director Jonathan B. Jarvis calls out NPS’s neglect while praising the Committee’s efforts:

NPS, up until now, has seriously neglected Shepherd Parkway and has effectively turned it into a dump.  I appreciate that NPS participated in my town hall in October on the NPS parks east of the Anacostia River, where residents informed me that Shepherd Parkway was used for dumping old tires, trash, and other items.  Even more alarming, GSA recently sent surveyors to the site, who found human remains.  Residents have done their own clean-up of the site, and they have scheduled cleanups throughout the spring.” 

But let’s be clear: while GSA’s current plans are a positive step, they do little to make improve the rest of Shepherd Parkway.

Until it is possible to take a trail through the forested interior of Shepherd Parkway the way one hikes in Rock Creek Park or Fort Dupont, it will remain a no man’s land, separate from life in the neighborhoods it borders.

We look forward to continuing our collaboration with NPS, GSA, and Congresswoman Norton to make Shepherd Parkway into the park Ward 8 residents deserve.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Springing into Action

Although snow continues to fall as I write this, experience has given me faith that spring will in fact come.

Our December, January and February Community Clean-Up events each attracted a small but dedicated posse as we continued our assault on the severe English ivy infestation that threatens hundreds of trees in the area between South Capitol Street and Xenia Street SW.

We aim to have the whole thing under control by end of 2015 while also removing thousands of pounds of trash from areas to the north.

If the level of interested in recent weeks in any indication, it's going to be a good year for Shepherd Parkway.

On Wednesday, March 11, we will host a group of high school students from Florida who are traveling to DC with Grand Classroom.

At our Saturday, March 21 Community Clean-Up from 10 am 1 pm, we'll be joined by 12 teenaged social entrepreneurs with Learn-Serve.

Saturday, April 18 will be another Community Clean-Up, followed on  Saturday, April 25 by the Tau Beta Pi engineering honors society at the University of Maryland, and military services members on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22.

You don't have to be part of group of join us on these days. The more the merrier! For more information on volunteering, email Nathan at nbharrington at

Thursday, February 12, 2015

DC Area Military Service Members to Converge on Shepherd Parkway for Earth Day

Shepard Parkway Cleanup
1200-1600 on April 22nd

You are invited to attend a park cleanup at Shepherd Parkway. The park is part of the Civil War Defenses of DC and you can still see the earthwork remains of Fort Greble and Fort Carroll.

Meet at 1200 at the P6 garage entrance (by LL5) to be picked up by GV. If driving or walking (1.1mi) to the site, meet at the intersection of Parkland Place and MLK Drive SE. Uniform for the event is ODUs for Active Duty and long pants/work boots for civilians.  Gloves and water will be provided. A GV will be arranged to arrive back at HQ before 1600 for those needing to make a carpool.

Please RSVP to LT Keith Blevins to ensure there will be enough seats in the GVs.  -  202-372-2324

National Park Service - Shepard Parkway Website