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...

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