by David Jonas Bardin
I have written here that expanding DC’s extraordinary tree canopy requires many, sustained efforts by federal, DC, and non-governmental bodies. Federal properties contribute immensely to our urban forest.
The federal government places a high value on the environmental benefits, recreational use, and scenic beauty provided by monumental, natural, and cultural landscapes, and has amassed a significant inventory of natural and historic parks to complement the more formal open-space settings for monuments and memorials…. The 6,776 acres owned by the [National Park Service] represents the majority of parks and open space in the District of Columbia, and is 17 percent of the District’s total land area.
National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC),
Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital – Federal Elements (2004), page 99
Parks and other tree-rich venues vary. The largest National Park Service (NPS) property in DC, 1,925-acre Rock Creek Park, has 90 percent tree canopy, mostly natural forest, but also roads under that canopy and golf course, tennis courts, horse stables, amphitheatre, Nature Center with planetarium, parking areas, and meadow. Some parks are entirely or mostly natural areas.
Natural parks include Soapstone Valley Park (Fig. 1) and Melvin Hazen Park (Fig. 2) which have no paved roads or buildings – just forest.
So, too, Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River (within DC) is almost entirely wooded – accessed by foot via the Roosevelt Bridge or by boat (Fig. 3).
Fort Totten Park (Fig. 4) is overwhelmingly forested.
Parks may provide active and passive recreation with paved roads and pathways, specimen trees and groves, lawns and meadows. Think of 407-acre National Mall.
Fort Dupont Park (Fig. 5), mainly wooded, is home to a unique ice-skating rink.
The C&O Canal is an historic park extending far beyond DC, preserving an old transportation facility. It is used by bicyclists, joggers, hikers, and strollers. It also provides a natural, forested wilderness between its partly shaded towpath and the Potomac River (Fig. 6).
Some federal park areas, however, provide for recreation with almost no trees or other shade nearby. See, for example, Section D of Anacostia Park (Fig. 7) with a swimming pool, tennis courts, and fields.
In contrast, federal venues not designed as parks can offer a great deal of tree canopy.
The National Arboretum (Fig. 8) is a research facility and museum, with roads, buildings, and support facilities, yet it offers extensive tree canopy – both forested and specimen trees. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo (Fig. 9) has many buildings, roads, parking areas, and support facilities and a very impressive tree cover.
The State Department maintains an International Chancery Center (Fig. 10), filled with office buildings, roads, and sidewalks and four public parks of varying sizes and an extensive tree canopy – combining trees and gardens with urban setting.
Figure 11 does not look like the others, but future aerial photos may someday look much greener. The National Capital Planning Commission’s Southwest Ecodistrict project would transform 15 blocks, which includes 12 federal buildings, into a “showcase of sustainable urban development.” A Vision Plan issued January 2013 advocates “tree-friendly construction details that increase soil permeability and root growth in streetscapes.” NCPC wishes to expand this area’s tree canopy to 40 percent, from less than nine percent now. Stay tuned.
Addressing vegetation aspects of land resources policies, NCPC declares:
Federal actions in the region should conform to the following policies:
- Preserve existing vegetation, especially large stands of trees.
- Incorporate new trees and vegetation to moderate temperatures, minimize energy consumption, and mitigate stormwater runoff.
- Enhance the environmental quality of the national capital by replacing street trees where they have died or where they have been removed due to development.
- Maintain and preserve woodlands and vegetated areas on steep slopes and adjacent to waterways, especially to aid in the control of erosion and sediment.
- Encourage the use of native plant species, where appropriate.
NCPC, Comprehensive Plan (2004), page 145.
Acknowledgements: I am grateful for help of NCPC, NPS, Friends of the National Arboretum, and Friends of the National Zoo. Images provided courtesy of the NCPC are based on aerial photos taken April 2 and 3, 2010. Other images reflect different years and seasons. Figures are not to same scale, so captions give total acreage of each venue.