Thursday, April 3, 2014

Harsh Winter Finally Yields to Spring

After a winter of near-record snow and cold, seasonable early spring whether has finally arrived in Washington. The Saturday, March 22 Community Clean-up drew more than 20 volunteers, most of them first-timers.

We worked once again in the woods behind Brothers Place SE, removing thousands of glass and plastic bottles, dozens of tires, and many large pieces of scrap metal.

The Shepherd Parkway Committee has an enthusiastic new member in Faheemah Davillier, who live on Oakwood Street, two blocks from the park. She explained her decision to get involved like this:

"I am an avid outdoors person and it saddens me that there is so much potential in Ward 8's backward that the community can enjoy, but has been misused and abused. I have been living in Congress Heights  for three years and to enjoy the outdoors I usually travel to VA, MD or other parts of DC. If I could enjoy the outdoors in my own backyard would be life changing," 

Also joining the clean-up and the committee is Lt. Comm. Jonathan Schafler, head of community outreach for the new U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters at the West Campus of St. Elizabeths, which borders Shepherd Parkway to the north. A veteran of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Schafler brings valuable expertise and connections in park management. He has pledged to bring Coast Guard personnel to the park in the coming months.

 Mark your calendar for the upcoming Community Clean-Ups from 10 am to 1 pm on

Saturday, April 26
Saturday, May 17
Saturday, June 14

Our meeting location is still at the picnic tables near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE. Gloves, bags and refreshments will be provided. Be sure to wear boots and clothes that can get dirty. High school students should bring the appropriate forms to earn community service hours.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shepherd Parkway Featured in East of the River Magazine

This month's issue of East of the River, published by Capital Community News, features an article about our campaign by Charnice Milton, who interviewed Nathan Harrington and John Gloster and attended our January 18 Clean-Up.

Although slightly misquoted as always, we appreciate pick well-earned media attention. Pick up a copy at one of many locations in Ward 7 and 8, or read it online here.

In another positive development, Shepherd Parkway recently took a place of honor alongside Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park, Marvin Gaye Park, Walter Pierce Park and the North Columbia Heights Green. That's right, we've got our very own section of the Washington Parks and People website! See for yourself:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Messiah College Students Are the Park's Latest Savior

On Saturday, February 1, 16 students from Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania took yet another bite out of the mountains of trash that despoil Shepherd Parkway. Despite lingering snow on the ground, they enjoyed the warmest day in weeks, with highs near 50.

The group, like so many others teams of motivated volunteers, found their way to Shepherd Parkway through the Steinbruck Center for Urban Studies at Luther Place Memorial Church in downtown Washington.

With park committee-chair and usual clean-up leader Nathan Harrington taking a break to visit family and friends in New York City, RonDell Pooler of Washington Parks and People stepped up to supervise the group as they removed dozens of tires and assorted junk from a gully and adjoining flat area near the quiet corner of Brothers Place and the aptly-named Highview Place SE.

Before skipping town, Harrington took advantage of gorgeous snow-days on February 21 and 22 to wield a pair of sharpened pruners against the English ivy which remained alive on about 20 trees in the area north of Malcolm X Avenue and another 25 in the area just south of said avenue. By spring, the vines will be dead from lack of water and unable to the produce the seed that allow them to colonize new areas. The majestic native oaks, beeches and poplars will be grow free and unencumbered once again, and the surrounding woods will be protected from Ivy League invasion.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mark your calendars for the Winter and Spring Community Clean-Up Series:

Saturday, February 15
Saturday, March 22
Saturday, April 26
Saturday, May 17

Each of these events will run from 10 am to 1 pm. We meet at the picnic tables in the park near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE. 

In addition, all are welcome to join one of the college groups that are being sent to us by the fabulous Steinbruck Center for Urban Studies. on the following dates:

Saturday, February 1
Sunday, February 23
Sunday, March 9
Tuesday, March 11
Sunday, March 16

The hours and meeting locations on these dates will vary but will all be either at the Congress Heights Metro station or at park locations within walking distance. Please RVSP to if you'd like to participate.

Starting 2014 with a Winter Blast

The 2014 phase of the epic Shepherd Parkway restoration campaign started with a bang today.

Three years, hundreds of volunteers, and millions of pounds of trash after we set out to clean-up the most neglected and polluted park in DC, I'm torn between awe at how much we've accomplished and humility about the amount of work that lays ahead. Many of those who have worked with us in those areas of the park that resembles landfills has felt, at least for a moment, that our task, however noble, is quixotic, futile.  Today was not one of those days.  

We were joined by more 20 volunteers from a church youth groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, 15 students from Sandy Spring Friends School, several AmeriCorps members and alumni, and Charnice Milton of East of the River magazine. Look for her story about us in the February issue. 

Between of the hours of 10:30 am and 1 pm, we filled a five ton trash compactor truck, and left enough to  half-fill another one that's coming on Tuesday. This does not include over 200 tires, which are loaded onto pick-up trucks later in the week for recycling. Our best estimate of the total weigh of trash we removed from the park today17,000 pounds

We were also joined by Albert Arevalo of the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiate at the Alice Furgusen Foundation, which promises to be productive new partner.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Tis the Season to Clean-Up the Park

Most people think that winter is a time to curl up inside with books, football, movies, video games. Those who insist on staying active can be found at the gym.

But at the Shepherd Parkway Committee, we've found that the cold months hold definite advantages when it comes to our work. Without think ground-cover, the trash is easier to find. The lack of leaves on the trees reveals dramatic views across the city and makes it easier to find your way in the woods. Tics are less of a threat, and mosquitos, flies and bees
are non-existent. Most of us find it more comfortable to do manual labor at a cool 40 degrees than sticky 90-degrees.  

If you're convinced, be sure to join us for our next two clean-ups: Saturday, December 14 and Saturday, January 18.

Both days we'll be meeting at the picnic tables near the intersection of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE, six blocks east of the Congress Heights Metro Station.

Be sure to wear boots and warm clothes that can get dirty. Gloves, bags, water, and light refreshments will be provided.

On a sad note, a friend and I came across this injured buck during a recent hike through the park. We found him about 50 yards downhill from 2nd Street near the corner of Oakwood. Both of his hind legs were broken, most likely from being hit by a car, and he could not walk. He tried desperately to get away from us, but to no avail. Worried that he would take several weeks to starve to death if left there, we called the Park Police, who decided that the most humane things to do would be to shoot him so he could die quickly.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

With or Without the Park Service, the Clean-Up Continues

Like many parks in and around DC, Shepherd Parkway is officially closed, being under the jurisdiction of the shuttered National Park Service.   The chaos and paralysis on Capitol Hill a few miles to our north has furloughed our friends at National Capitol Parks-East who ordinarily provide bags, gloves, tools, and curb-side trash pickup for our clean-up events.

But that hasn't stopped many of our city's most downtrodden residents from taking refuse in the grassy area near the intersection of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE. It hasn't stopped the littering and dumping that have long plagued that park, and it hasn't stopped the English ivy from growing and smothering our precious trees. Congress has ceased to function, but life in the (Congress) Heights above goes on.

After careful consideration, we decided to go forward with our long-planned clean-up on Saturday, October 11. Eight dedicated volunteers braved drizzly weather and rain-soaked ground to converge on the steep, narrow strip of woods between Malcolm X Avenue and Parkland Place, which has been repeatedly cleaned over the past years, only to slowly fill up again with trash. Among our finds this time: a huge cache of 1800 tequila bottles, a bunch of rugs, bundles of newspapers, and a four foot tall teddy bear.

Studies have shown that  people are more likely to litter where they see litter already. We hope throughout faithfulness and  persistence to change the perception of Shepherd Parkway as "just some woods."

Please plan on preemptively burning those Thanksgiving calories by joining us on Saturday, November 16 from 10 to 1 pm. Our meeting location will once again be the picnic tables near the intersection of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Saving Our Trees from the Alien Invaders

English Ivy (Hedera helix) is flowering plant in the family Araliaceae, native to most of Europe and Middle East.

In the United States, it’s been prized for over two hundred years as an ornamental evergreen. The nation’s oldest and most prestigious universities, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton are called the Ivy League in reference to their stately ivy-covered buildings.   

But what looks nice in a garden or college campus can wreak havoc when it spreads to the woods. English ivy is now found in 32 states, and is one of the greatest threats to forests in DC.  Its sale and import is outlawed in the state of Oregon.  

Why is it so bad? According to our friends at the Rock Creek Conservancy:

      • English ivy holds onto green leaves year-round, and it's heavy. It causes branches to break, and it even uproots whole trees when the wind blows or heavy snow accumulates.                                                                               
  • English ivy attaches to the bark of the tree, which keeps the bark wet underneath. This rots the bark and attracts fungus and insects that cause tree decay.                                                   
  • English ivy starves trees by taking nutrients and water from the soil that the trees need. When the vines grow out onto branches, the leaves block sunlight from reaching tree leaves on lower branches.                                                           
  • English ivy is a "reservoir" for Bacterial Leaf Scorch (Xylella fastidiosa), a plant pathogen that is harmful to elms, oaks, maples and other native plants.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • English ivy only flowers and makes berries once it grows up a tree or wall, and some birds, especially the non-native English sparrow will eat these berries, which are a bit toxic, and they spread the seeds all over parks and neighborhoods.                                                                                                                                     
  • Invasive plants, such as English ivy, replace the native plants, eliminating food and habitat for the wildlife of the park.                                                                                                                                        
  • Wildlife has adapted over millions of years to the delicate and specific ecosystem of the park that is now being radically and suddenly altered by these plant invaders.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
While our efforts to restore Shepherd Parkway have so far focused primarily on removing trash and debris, saving out trees from English ivy is equally urgent.

Fortunately, the vines get their water and nutrition from the soil, so cutting them off at the ground causes all of the upper branches to wither and die.  

In 2012 volunteers removed ivy from nearly 100 trees in the park north of Malcolm X Avenue, and in recent months we’ve been tackling the massive infestation just south of where South Capitol Street crosses the park.

Thousands of trees face illness and death if we don’t get to them in the next few years! Help us slay the alien invaders, just like in the movies.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Drum Roll Please...

Mark your calendars now! Our monthly community clean-up are set to return from their summer hiatus. You've been asking about the dates, so here they are:

 Saturday,  September 21
 Saturday, October 12
 Saturday, November 16
 Saturday, December 14
 Saturday, January 18

Each event will run from 10 am  to 1 pm. We will meet at the picnic tables in the park near the intersection of Martin Luther Kings and Malcolm X Avenues SE. Street parking is easy on Malcolm X Avenue and Parkland Place. The site is six blocks west of the Congress Heights Metro Station on the Green Line.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Crosslake Lutheran Church Kicks Off Wave of Summer Groups

On June 19, 22 youth and three adult leaders from Crosslake Lutheran Church in rural Crosslake, Minnesota  arrived at Shepherd Parkway, the first of six groups who will come through between now and end of July.

The summer weather so far has been cooler than in recently years, moist, rainy, and humid. The section of hillside below LeBaum Street where we worked is one of the worse, trash buried on top of trash.

Wednesday, July 10, the park will get TLC from a group of 50 from Washington Parks and People. The very next day, another Lutheran youth group will descend , 15 strong.

If you are interested in joining on either of these days, email Nathan at

Check back soon for fall and winter community clean-up dates.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Bloggin' About It

In 2011, when we began working intensively to restore Shepherd Parkway, the park was invisible on online. A web search for Shepherd Parkway turned up almost nothing.

In celebration of our growing web presence, we thought we’d share a few of the website and blogs that are helping spread the word.

Julie Kutruff, the dedicated and dynamic site supervisor for national parks in Wards 7 and 8, spearheaded the creation of an official NPS website for Shepherd Parkway, complete with a wildlife guide and historical photographs.

The Restore Shepherd Parkway Facebook Group has been replaced by a much more user-friendly “Like Page.” Click here to Like it now!

In the last two years, hundreds of volunteers have worked in the park, and many of them have shared their experience on the net. Here are three of my favorites:

Perhaps most enlightening of all is the Shepherd Parkway Study Area Landscape Assessment Plan commissioned by the General Service Administration as part of the project to turn the West Campus of the old St. Elizabeths Hospital into the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

June is shaping up to be the best month Shepherd Parkway has seen in decades.

On Wednesday, June 19, 25 students from Crosslake Lutheran Church in Crosslake, Minnesota will be coming to us through the Steinbrook Center for Urban Studies. Anyone who is interested in joining should email Nathan at

Saturday, June 22, will be our final Community Clean-Up of the spring season. As always, we will be meeting at 4th and Newcomb Street SE at 10 AM.

The United Planning Organization, whose Petey Greene Center is two blocks from Shepherd Parkway and hosts monthly meetings of the Congress Heights Community Association, has signed on a partner in our campaign. They'll be helping with direct outreach to Ward 8 residents to expand our base of support and awareness of Shepherd Parkway as a community asset.  

Finally, throughout the week of June 24-28 church youth groups from Texas will be hauling from the woods what trash and invasive are still left.

We'll be taking off July and August off before roaring back into action with monthly clean-ups from in September through December 2013.

All told, it is not unrealistic to imagine that the 40 acre area north of Malcolm X Avenue could be virtually free of trash by the end of 2013.  What began as the most polluted wooded area in DC is about to be pristine again.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

One Tire at a Time

Saturday, March 23 marked the third Shepherd Parkway community clean-up in as many months.

Participants included a boisterous group from the Wild Bunch Sports Bike Club of Maryland,  and American University's Zeta Psi fraternity.

During the February clean-up, a huge pile of tires and trash bags was left at the bottom of the escarpment below LeBaum Street because it was too slippery to haul up. Fifteen volunteers formed a chain to move it all up to the street, while others pulled dozens of bags full of trash off the slope just to the north.  In total, we removed an estimated 200 tires and 300 bags of trash from the forest.

A small but enthusiastic group from University of Maryland rescued trees south of Malcolm X Avenue from invasive English Ivy. 

Spring has sprung, and Shepherd Parkway is growing healthier and more beautiful with every clean-up event. 

Mark your calendars now for our next best chance on Saturday, April 20 from 10 am to 1 pm. 

The job is immense but every little bit counts. We need you, and your friends.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Who Says DC Can’t Handle Snow?

We knew we were taking a risk when we decided to have community clean-ups in January and February, but the week leading up to January 26 was remarkable, with the longest run of freezing temperatures in DC in five years. The afternoon before the event saw the winter's first snow fall. The half an inch that accumulated was enough to closed area schools two hours early, but the ten volunteers who appeared at our new meeting location at the corner of 4th and Newcomb Streets SE were undeterred. Temperatures rose to near 40, the began to melt, and the forest smiled on us.

An intrepid group from University of Maryland saved more than thirty trees along the south side of Malcolm X Avenue from an infestation of English ivy, while three strapping young men hauled 30 tires up the hill.

On Saturday, February 23, we hope for even better weather and an even better turn out from our amazing volunteers.