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. 

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