Monday, December 3, 2007

Introducing Washington: Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is a large natural area which serves as a beautiful backyard for Washington. The park starts along the Potomac near the Lincoln Memorial and runs up the Rock Creek Valley to the District Line. There it continues north along Rock Creek far into Montgomery County, Maryland. It is host to a limited access parkway which funnels motorists through DC's natural beauty. Especially scenic is the stretch of Beach Drive and the Rock Creek Parkway south of Calvert Street. This section of the park is accented by the large arching bridges and the steep valley walls.

The park in Georgetown

The park inside the District, along with the Parkway, is owned and maintained by the National Park Service. It was created the same year as Yosemite National Park, 1890. The park proper is 1,754 acres--more than twice the size of Central Park in New York. Another 1,800 acres is included in the Rock Creek Regional Park, maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Townhouses along the park in Georgetown

The park is particularly popular amongst bicyclists, rollerbladers, and joggers. A multi-use bike/ped path extends from Lake Needwood in Rockville to the District Line. Within the district, bicyclists can use Beach Drive (closed to auto traffic on weekends) between the Maryland Line and Broad Branch Road. The pathway resumes south of Broad Branch. A trip by bicycle along the pathway from Rockville to Georgetown, which I have done, is about 20 miles.

A church steeple from under
P Street, near Dupont Circle

Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive form the main roadway network within the park. Beach Drive is a two-lane (one in each direction) parkway without interchanges. It makes a scenic journey from Bethesda to the spectacular Connecticut Avenue Bridge. There, it has a surface intersection with Cathedral Avenue and the northern end of the Rock Creek Parkway. Officially, the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, it was the creation of this road which extended the park south to Georgetown. The parkway itself is four lanes total, and is reversed during peak travel times. All four lanes of the parkway are southbound in the morning and northbound in the afternoon.

The bike/ped path goes under Q Street

A note about parkways: As an urban planning student who is much in favor of park corridors like Rock Creek's, I did not like the idea of a roadway within a park until I encountered Rock Creek Park. While the park's roadways could use some improvement, like better lighting and improved bike/ped crossings, the idea of a multi-modal corridor traveling through a park is an excellent investment. The parkway is a parkway in the original sense of the name. No businesses or residences front along the roadway, which is completely surrounded by parkland. It is also a low-profile roadway, with low speeds and un-ostentatious signage.

The graceful arch of Mass. Ave
over the parkway and Rock Creek

Rock Creek Park is definitely a must-see for visitors and locals alike. It provides needed greenspace in Washington, and helps to link neighborhoods and other parks in a unique manner. While the park was not part of L'Enfant's plan, it is definitely a great asset for this great city.

The path heads toward the Conn. Ave Bridge

Trees surround Beach Drive as it approaches
Conn. Ave, picture from Calvert Road Bridge


shog said...

Matt: These are wonderful photos. Any way I could get copies of the enlarged size?
Thanks! Steve Hoglund, historian.

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