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.

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