Vision of the Future For Rock Creek Park

A car makes its way along Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. A two-mile stretch of the road will remain open to weekday traffic despite the opposition of some activists.
A car makes its way along Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. A two-mile stretch of the road will remain open to weekday traffic despite the opposition of some activists. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trees would be planted, hiking trails rerouted and traffic allowed to continue rolling along one of Rock Creek Park's busiest weekday stretches under a broad proposal introduced yesterday by the National Park Service.

The plan for Rock Creek Park includes recommendations that are likely to win wide support, including the renovation of the Nature Center and Planetarium and removing stream blockages to ensure that herring and shad can migrate north to a Maryland lake to spawn.

But one proposal that prompted immediate criticism would keep open to weekday traffic a two-mile stretch of Beach Drive, between Joyce and Broad Branch roads, that is popular among bicyclists, skaters and pedestrians. That section would continue to close on weekends.

Adrienne A. Coleman, Rock Creek's superintendent, said the Park Service had determined that most of the general public, as well as a host of civic and elected officials, favored keeping the road open during the week.

However, the Park Service proposes that the speed limit along that stretch of Beach Drive be reduced from 25 to 20 mph and that traffic bumps be added to make drivers slow down. "The point is designing a plan that takes in consideration all the different interests," Coleman said after presenting the plan at a news conference at the Nature Center.

Peter Harnik, a founder of the Peoples Alliance for Rock Creek Park and who attended the news conference, said he did not believe that the measures would improve safety along a stretch that draws 18,000 vehicles daily during rush hour. "We wanted to hear that the National Park Service would treat this as more of a parkland than as a commuter thoroughfare," Harnik said.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), whose ward includes neighborhoods adjoining the park, countered that surrounding areas would be inundated with traffic if the park was closed to motorists. "This is a win-win," he said. "The overwhelming majority thought it should stay open."

The federal plan is the first to present a long-term vision for the 115-year-old federal park, a preserve of woods and creeks, winding roadways and trails that comprises more than 3,000 acres and stretches from the District's midsection to the Maryland border. The proposal, part of a federal effort to draft management plans for national parks across the country, is the culmination of nine years of air and water quality studies, traffic analyses and a review of more than 6,000 comments submitted by the public.

The plan, Coleman said, would cost at least $14.8 million, and that figure is largely for renovations to existing buildings, such as the Peirce Mill complex and the Peirce-Klingle Mansion. She said the Park Service has not initiated cost analyses for completing other recommendations.

Reducing the speed limit along Beach Drive could happen shortly after Feb. 15, the deadline for the public to submit reaction to the plan. But most aspects of the proposal, Coleman said, could take years to accomplish and would occur as funding became available.

"All of it will eventually happen," she said, referring to the proposals. "The way this seems to go, even though we may not get the funding in the year we ask for it, eventually we do get it."

The plan recommends that the Lodge House, now a U.S. Park Police substation on Beach Drive, be converted to a visitor center. The police would move to an office outside the park or to a new substation that would be built inside it.

Parts of the plan are general, such as the recommendation to restore un-vegetated areas so that trees can be planted. It also suggests that hiking, biking and horse trails be relocated from steeply sloping areas to prevent erosion.

Coleman said she was unable to cite specific trails at this time.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the plan is necessary to preserve "one of the great neglected wonders of our country."

"We have trivialized this park, residents make too little use of it, and tourists don't know where it is," Norton said. "Neither the city or the federal government has bothered to make maximum use of it. The problem is that it had no plan and it's in a state of great deterioration."

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