by Mary Beth Ray
ANC 3F03 Commissioner
Even before we moved to Forest Hills, my children and I fell in love with Rock Creek Park through visits to the Nature Center and the stables. We moved to 29th Street in 2002, and our daughter learned to ride and jump horses in Rock Creek. Both our children were intrigued about having a planetarium right up the road. (Read more about the Nature Center and the only planetarium in the National Park system.) Our Girl Scouts troop participated in several programs there, and our son Alex was always fascinated by the animal displays.
But if you’ve visited the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Horse Center (5200 Glover Road, NW) in recent years, you’ve seen their decline. Exhibits are old and tattered, the interior spaces are poorly lit, inflexible and out of date. Flooding and deferred maintenance have made the spaces both unattractive and unsafe.
To address these issues, the National Park Service is planning a renovation, and you can learn more about the project from NPS’s Frank Young during our ANC 3F meeting this Tuesday, December 20th, 7:30 p.m., at Forest Hills of DC (4901 Connecticut Avenue). You read up on the project and leave your comments at the NPS website: parkplanning.nps.gov/rocrdcp.
Several options are being considered, and the public is encouraged to get involved and weigh in. The public comment period has been extended to January 31, 2017.
NPS is currently preparing an environmental assessment to determine the impact of the various proposed options. NPS held two public meetings in November, and an agency scoping meeting, which I attended, on December 9th. Here, they presented on four concepts. These are just a few highlights, and the website contains important details and distinctions:
- No action – No new construction, just routine maintenance and repairs.
- Fix It – Building footprints remain the same except for accessibility improvements; Nature Center space to be reconfigured to include information counter area, larger sales area; new outdoor interpretive deck for exhibits and expansive views; new 24/7 restroom.
- Escape from the City – Focuses on Rock Creek Park as a quiet refuge from bustling DC. Nature Center expanded, new planetarium, new multipurpose room, covered outdoor classroom area, and a bus drop-off area in the parking lot; Horse Center would get new classroom for educational and summer camp programs, public viewing area at new riding ring; new pasture and gardens, a mobile food service plaza and patio dining area; and maintenance would include new multipurpose room, updated kitchen, visitor access around perimeter to support and enhance bird watching in area through observation platforms; shop building, storage, wash pad and greenhouse for native plants.
- Green Campus – A comprehensive concept to create a sustainable campus for operations, resources and visitor learning to showcase latest technology for least impact on the environment; new building would evoke a national park lodge with stone fireplaces, for example; new opportunities for guided tours, ranger talks, urban campfires, classes at new planetarium, and stewardship projects associated with greenhouse and nursery; community gathering and presentation space, classrooms for children and young adults.
At the Agency Scoping meeting, I asked Frank Young about birders’ concerns with larger footprint options, and he said he is well aware of those concerns and is planning a meeting with the birders to discuss further. Others have raised concerns about lost trees and stormwater management. Funding is unclear, and public-private partnerships with the concessionaires that operate the facilities are being explored.
Young said NPS is considering planning a January site visit to walk through the options, which would be an excellent opportunity for anyone with interest or concerns. I won’t be an ANC commissioner any more, but I certainly plan to be there. What a wonderful way to ensure thoughtful protection and enhancement of this unique urban parkland, our many species of plants and animals, and a legacy for future generations of children growing up in the nation’s capital!