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.