WHAT IS IT? 1,200 acres of shoreline which clings both sides of the Anacostia River for nearly 11 miles.
The Aquatic Gardens are located within Anacostia Park's borders. They are an interconnected 12-acre rectangular-shaped series of shallow, stagnant pools where, in the summer months, lotus flowers and tropical water-lilies blossom. The Park is also home to one of Washington, D.C.'s last remaining dense marshy swamps.
BEAUTY (2/10) Trust us. The pictures make the Gardens look a lot more attractive than they actually are.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (1/10) Was Washington D.C. built on a swamp? Yes and no. Native Americans did not know the land as marshy; eastern woodland forests had dominated the terrain. But then colonial farmers came. Trees went down, rain came, and sediments, now unimpeded by trees, ran downhill. Can you say drainage problems? The Kenilworth Marsh is evidence of Washington D.C.'s notorious ecological past.
Does evidence prove Jefferson's famous (and maybe apocryphal) complaint about the day-long trip through the marsh from the National Mall to the Capitol? Yes. The White House would have been the poorest drained area in the city. That route would have looked like Kenilworth Marsh: Standing brown water, unending muck, and scores of discarded garbage. Sometimes history isn't a nice thing to revisit.
CROWDS (1/10) We approached the Aquatic Gardens with an open mind. In the distance, near the “The Ponds,” we saw a troop of unsupervised kids skulking and running amidst the waters. OK, no big thing. They're just playing hide and seek. Right? Wrong. Splashing waters, honking geese, maleficent giggles and sling-shot arm motions proved otherwise.
The kids were stalking and hurling rocks at the Canada geese.
Which is an apt metaphor for the Anacostia Park surroundings. This entire Park feels like it is under attack from outside sources. Whether it is the cesspool-level trash pollution of the Kenilworth Marsh, the noise pollution of the Park Police's hovering helicopters or the widespread industrial pollution of the Anacostia River. The Park offers a constant reminder of mankind's disdain for the environment.
Interestingly, the geese remain and multiple species of ducks swim amidst the muck. Hawks soar above picking out the vermin below and migratory birds find the barren and polluted land welcoming. Is there that little green space left in America's northeast?
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) Kenilworth Gardens must be approached from Kenilworth Avenue (D.C. Route 295), a multi-laned, multiple types of exit road that must only be familiar to locals. Luckily, for those with quick eyes, there are signs. Between 295 and the Gardens (located to the west) is a narrow neighborhood. The Gardens' entrance is at Anacostia Avenue and Ponds Street.
This is all very confusing to write (and we have a map). It was easier just using the road signs. From the Gardens' parking lot you must walk through a barbed wire fence and into the Site. The Ponds are connected via muddy land bridges. The route through the Marsh is thankfully a boardwalk.
Most of the remainder of Anacostia Park is also located just west of 295. Use a map to figure out where you would want to go. And then e-mail us where that place is because we couldn't find any desirable destination.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) The Gardens' tightly-packed, perpetually-locked bookstore room carries some nice flowery things. We even got a magnet. Anacostia Park proper had no apparent bookstore and its Headquarters building was closed. More on that disappointment later.
COSTS (2/5) The Parks are free but they are so not worth it.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) Pity the poor Kenilworth Gardens Ranger. She sat resigned and alert outside her climate-controlled Visitor Center armed only with a non-intimidating voice. “Stop throwing rocks you meddlesome kiddies.” OK, we admit, she didn't really say “meddlesome kiddies.” But then again the kids didn't listen. And the honkers honked and the throwers threw.
Our defeated Ranger admonished and threatened and went through the motions because she felt she had to. But she knew it was not going to stop anything. Is that what it feels like to deal with Fortune 500 mining and petroleum companies? We were just glad to talk to her about the history of the Gardens. It took all of our minds off the violence.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) The Garden's Visitor Center had a few nice watershed and marsh life-themed exhibits. Sadly, its Historic Aquatic Greenhouse was locked shut. We enjoyed our talk with the Ranger.
There was no visitor facilities throughout the remainder of Anacostia Park.
FUN (1/10) A number of years ago we found that the best place to enjoy Anacostia Park is alongside the river's western banks adjacent to RFK Stadium's parking lots. We attended a D.C. United Major League Soccer game, tailgated with friends and even got to meet one of their star players.
D.C. United has proposed construction on a 27,000 seat stadium located within Anacostia Park boundaries adjacent to the current National Capital Parks-East headquarters. At present, these plans can at best be regarded as a pipe dream but a multi-purpose soccer stadium would be a much more useful apportionment of public space and might lessen Anacostia Park's overwhelming aura of urban and ecological blight.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (1/10) Not on your life. We would not recommend a trip to either of these Parks.
The only reason to visit is to experience the National Parks Passport Stamp bounty at the National Capital Parks-East Headquarters. Allegedly the office contains 15 rubber-bottomed beauties making it the Park Service's second most bountiful stamp cache. (The Surrey Lodge Ranger Station south of the Washington Memorial is number one).
Alas, we arrived on the Friday before Veterans Day, a federal holiday. The Headquarters is an administrative entity and not tourist friendly. Unlike most Park site Visitor Centers it is closed on the weekends. Plan accordingly stamp-gathering hordes.
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