July 2003: Rock Creek Park


Washington D.C.

Although technically a national park, Rock Creek Park is more like a city park administered by the National Park Service. How many other national parks boast of ballfields and 30 picnic sites? It was the Army Corps of Engineers that first proposed the creation of Rock Creek Park when they considered moving the White House out of the mosquito-infested lowlands of downtown Washington after the Civil War. In 1890 Congress carved 1,754 acres from the Rock Creek Valley to establish the park.

Two main parallel hiking trails, run the length of the park from north to south on either side of Rock Creek. The wiser choice for canine hikers is the Valley Trail (blue blazes) on the east side. In contrast with its twin, the Western Ridge Trail (green blazes),there are fewer picnic areas and less competition for the trail. Both are a rooty and rocky frolic up and down the slopes of Rock Creek, a superb canine swimming hole. Numerous spur trails and bridle paths connect the two major arteries that connect at the north and south to create a loop about ten miles long.

The nation's capital was protected with a ring of 68 forts during the Civil War and Rock Creek Park administers several military sites. Your dog can visit the ermants of Fort De Russy, an earthworks fortification returned to its natural state just east of the Western Ridge Trail on a bridle path at Oregon Avenue and Military Road. Also near Military Road, three blocks east of the main park on 13th Street, is Fort Stevens. It was here the only fighting of the Civil War took place within the limits of Washington D.C. Union defenders repulsed a Confederate attack from General Jubal Early on July 11-12, 1864. Abraham Lincoln rode up from the White House and stood on a parapet watching the battle - the only time in United States history that an American president was under fire by enemy guns while in office. A dramatized plaque marks the spot today in the partially reconstructed fort. Your dog will probably be more interested in playing fetch on the grassy grounds however. 

In the northwestern section of the nation's capital, Rock Creek Park abuts the western edge of 16th Street, Route 29, running north to south. The main road through the park, Beach Drive, can be picked up from the north on the East West Highway, Route 410.