The National Park Service has been working for three years to come up with a plan to renovate and improve the Nature Center complex in Rock Creek Park. This plan provides recommendations for changes at the Nature Center, the Horse Center and the maintenance yard (where equipment is kept), as well as wooded areas nearby.
This plan is important because it would guide Rock Creek Park thinking in the future, and we currently have the opportunity to guide Park Service thinking. A public meeting at the Nature Center (5200 Glover Road NW) on April 3 will present the third version of these plans, based on the environmental impact statement. And NPS is accepting public comment through April 18. (More on that below.)
I look at this plan as an avid birdwatcher. I am one of the local birdwatchers who has fought for years to protect the prime birding habitat around the Nature Center, the stables and the maintenance yards. This area is a major feeding and resting spot for migrants in the spring and fall migrations – one that is known throughout the country. We feel it should be protected under the Environmental Protection Act, and the park should make it a priority not to chip away at it by development. It is discouraging that the Park Service’s preferred plan does not recognize how important this area is.
The current plans
The Park Service plan (linked at the bottom of this page on the NPS project website) offers three choices, or alternatives. Alternative 1 is no action at all. Alternative 2 would upgrade the existing facilities and expand the maintenance yard to the southeast. Alternative 3, which the Park Service prefers (and I oppose) would make the largest changes. It would also mean cutting some trees and destroying woodland habitat,
Birding habitat destroyed
Alternative 3 proposes to extend the paved and fenced maintenance yard into the wild natural area to the southeast. It is not clear how much, but the map looks like it is paving 30 to 35 feet into the natural area, along the fence width of 200 feet. Alternative 3 says that 22,000 square feet of paved permeable roadway will be added to the yard. The wild area is great birding habitat and should be left as is (as in Alternative 2.)
In Alternatives 2 and 3, there is a proposal for ten new horse pens in the stables area, which I oppose. These ten pens would be used to exercise the horses (58 of them). Each would be 10 by 50 feet, double-fenced and “shaded” (roofed?). I am particularly wary of the five pens which would be located right next to the stables, on the east side, destroying bird habitat. This area is now sunny and open, attractive to birds and a community spot for visitors and horse people.
Some renovations are vital
The best thing about the plan is that both the Nature Center and the stables would be remodeled and brought up to date. The Nature Center has a bad problem with flooding in the basement rooms when there is a good rain. This is a disgrace. The plan would repair this situation. The Nature Center would also get needed remodeling throughout, add an elevator, and would build a room at the south end for staff.
The stables where the horses are kept are in deplorable shape. They remind me of a 1930s movie set. They should be torn down and replaced, but this is unrealistic. The new plan simply calls for a thorough updating, including the restrooms, and this is badly needed.
There are many other details that will interest hikers and families who visit the park. For example, there will be a restroom over by the Dog Run. Again, you can find detailed descriptions of the plans in the PDF documents linked at the bottom of this NPS project website.
Public meeting details
The meeting on April 3 (6:30 to 8 p.m.) will start in the basement of the Nature Center with a slide presentation of the three alternatives, followed by a period for questions and brief comments from the public. I don’t know how seriously the Park Service takes these comments, because they do not write them down or tape them. However, top Rock Creek staff will be there.
Written comments are imperative
To make your thinking count with the Park Service you must submit written comments by letter or on an electronic form by April 18. Letters may be addressed to:
Rock Creek Park
Attn: Rock Creek Park DCP
3545 Williamsburg Lane NW
Washington, DC 20008
Many of us love Rock Creek Park. We are lucky to have such a wonderful place close at hand. We must watch over it.