Thursday, November 20, 2014

And Now the Really Bad News: Park Service master plan calls for trails everywhere except Shepherd Parkway

By Nathan Harrington

Since 2011, we’ve shared the vision of a trail with site manager Julie Kutruff, who has expressed support for the idea while cautioning that it will take many years to come to fruition.  

This past July, we launched the Shepherd Parkway Call to Action, which says, in part, “We support for the construction of a network of hiking trails to make the natural beauty of Shepherd Parkway safely accessible residents and visitors.”

Every time someone signs onto the Call, it generates an email to National Capital Parks-East (NCPE) Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, among others.  Eighty emails were plenty to get their attention.

In late August, members of the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway met with the Congresswoman’s staff and shared our vision for Shepherd Parkway, and a week later we met for the first time with the Superintendent and many of his deputies. They were open to the idea of a trail, but reiterated that a long and complex bureaucratic process would have to play out first.   

When we asked whether any master plan existed for Shepherd Parkway, we were given a copy the Fort Circle Parks Management Plan that was completed in 2004. The plan includes a wealth of information about the Fort Circle Parks generally, but were little specific to Shepherd Parkway. 
The “Management Actions” section of the plan states that

"A new trail will be developed to link most of the fort sites and to connect the green corridor of the Fort Circle Parks system… In the Shepherd Parkway area, the trail will go primarily along city sidewalks to avert the impacts of a new trail in narrow wooded corridors and to avoid important wildlife habitat."

Say what? First off, a “hiking trail” that follows a city sidewalk it not a hiking trail; it’s a sidewalk. We have enough of those already.

Interestingly, the map on the following page shows a dotted line going through the center of the Parkway, with a legend that reads “Self-guided walking tour (Rehabilitate trail where necessary- route shown is conceptual).”

Shepherd Parkway is the only area singled out for exclusion from the trail system, and no evidence is offered to support the claims made.

Shepherd Parkway is wider than several other “narrow wooded corridors” that currently have hiking trails.  Of course it has “important wildlife habitat,” but so do many of the other parks with trails. Even designated wilderness areas within major national parks have trails through them, but Shepherd Parkway is too fragile?  

The notion that public must be kept out of the park in order to protect the natural ecosystem is antithetical to the mission of the Park Service, which is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” What enjoyment, education, and inspiration can this generation get from Shepherd Parkway if it is closed off and inaccessible?

Without signage, programing, or access to wooded areas, residents have had no reason to see the park anything other than a dumping ground. As a result of this abandonment, trash and invasive species have already degraded the ecosystem there.

It is ironic:  now that a group of citizens is working tirelessly to restore the park, the same agency that has neglected the park for decades stands in the way of our vision of reconnecting Ward 8 residents with the land.  

Many questions remain: Who is behind that decision ten years ago to build trails everywhere except Shepherd Parkway? What institutional biases are at work? What will it take to overcome this opposition and blaze a trail forward?

Stay tuned for more as the plot thickens...

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Case for a Hiking Trail Through Shepherd Parkway

From the beginning, the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway has been clear about why we are restoring Shepherd Parkway: so that it can become amenity and resource for residents of and visitors to Ward 8.
Plants and animals are valuable and worthy of protection in their own right, but urban parks like Shepherd Parkway are most vital when they are part of the daily lives of residents.
Our work has been inspired by our partner organization Washington Parks and People, whose name says it all: parks exist for the benefit of people. A revitalized Shepherd Parkway has the potential to improve physical and mental health, increase environmental awareness and education, and promote economic development in a Ward that has lagged behind the rest of the city in these areas for too long. 
Shepherd Parkway is among the only wooded units of the National Park Service in the District of Columbia to have no trail access. Rock Creek Park and its associated lands (Glover-Archibald, Battery Kimble, Soapstone, Melvin Hazen, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Pinehurst, etc.) run in bands across the affluent, predominantly white western part of DC. All have hiking trails that were built many years ago and are faithfully maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  
East of the Anacostia River, the Fort Circle Parks (including Forts Mahan, Chaplin, Dupont, Davis, Stanton and Rickets) are connected in 7.5 mile Hiker-Biker Trail spanning much of Ward 7. (The far southern end is in Ward 8.)
Similar trails are severely lacking in Ward 8. The only way to see the Civil War remains, massive trees, and dramatic topography of Shepherd Parkway is to “bushwhack;” that is, go into the woods without benefit of a trail, fighting one’s way over steep terrain, though brambles and fallen trees. This is an option only for the truly adventurous. For everyone else, the park remains closed and impenetrable.
Since 2011, the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway has promoted the long-term goal of constructing a network of hiking trails running the full length Shepherd Parkway. The main trail would run for roughly three miles, from LeBaum Street in the North to Bald Eagle Hill in the south, where it would connect with trails inside Oxon Run and Oxon Cove Parks.  In addition to street crossings at Malcolm X Avenue, South Capitol Street, Chesapeake Street, and Blue Plains Drive, side trails would provide access to the other streets along the way.  
The trail could be used to get from home to work or school (there are three schools and two recreation centers with two blocks of the park), but its primary function would be recreational.  It would be a safe and beautiful place to exercise and experience both nature and history. 
What will it take to make this vision a reality? Stay tuned for my next blog post, which will explain where we are in the process.