by Marlene Berlin
The National Park Service is seeking input on renovation options for the Rock Creek Park Nature Center Complex, including the nearby Horse Center and maintenance yard. Two of the options would make the complex a focal point of Rock Creek Park and elevate its presence in this city. They would also expand the footprint and, critics say, potentially impact the bird life that draws visitors many to the Nature Center to begin with.
Driven by the inefficiencies of the physical locations of staff and equipment, and rundown state of the buildings, a group of Park Service division chiefs started working on a renovation plan more than a year ago. They called in a NPS planning team from Denver to help them and came up with three different concepts for improvements, and another that simply maintains what’s already there.
The Northwest Current covered the most recent public meeting on the plans on January 25th.
Park Service staffers said at the meeting that the current site configuration leaves insufficient space for employees to work and meet, compromising their ability to manage the park. Offices of park staffers are split among various buildings and areas of the park because no single space has room for all of them, and the only conference room is in the maintenance yard area.
“We’re busting at the seams,” said Frank Young, acting superintendent of Rock Creek Park. (Read the article – PDF download)
The article includes comments from birders and Horse Center advocates on potential issues with the expansion options. The horse center improvements, one critic says, cater more to people than horses.
Also, two letters to the editor address the potential ecological impact of expanding the Nature Center. Forest Hills Connection nature writer Marge Rachlin, an ardent birder writes:
Why is this small area so crucial? In spring and fall, thousands of birds are migrating up/down the East Coast. Ridge tops are well-known migratory paths. The ridge in Rock Creek is a narrow green corridor that provides a safe and quiet habitat in the urban sprawl. Every morning, in spring and fall, exhausted migrants drop down in this oasis, feeding frantically in the trees, then sheltering before continuing that night.
Concepts 3 and 4 threaten a significant piece of this prime habitat.
Cathy Wiss, a former ANC 3F commissioner and water quality specialist for the Audubon Society, writes:
More than five acres of trees and wildlife habitat could be destroyed for offices; parking lots; facilities for food trucks, exhibitions, public meetings and weddings; pedestrian plazas; greenhouses; demonstration gardens; and a nursery. In one plan, the large outdoor riding ring would be converted to a parking lot. A new ring to replace it would require filling in an entire wooded ravine. (Read the letters on pg. 7 of The Northwest Current’s Feb. 1 issue)
Wiss also gave a presentation at the January 17th meeting of ANC 3F. View it here (she begins at 13:18).
And a February 2 ANC 3F letter to Rock Creek Park Acting Superintendent Frank Young expressed concerns that options 3 and 4 may conflict with the park’s mission to “[preserve] from injury or spoliation of all timber, animals and curiosities within the Park and the their retention in their natural condition, as nearly as possible.”
The public comment period on the four concepts closes on Wednesday, February 8th. Comments are accepted online (click here) or can be mailed to the park superintendent:
Attention: Rock Creek Park DCP
3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW
Washington, DC 20008
This will not be the public’s last opportunity to weigh in. Here is the project schedule:
1) Public engagement – October 31, 2016 through February 8, 2017
2) Write the plan and environmental assessment – Fall 2017
3) Public review of the plan and environmental assessment – Winter 2017
4) Decision document and implementation begins – 2018