Stumbling on a hook-up space behind a D.C. school

By Katie Manning
Sunday, September 26, 2010

Last fall, I cheerfully laced up my Nikes for my first jog through Rock Creek Park. The trail, behind Francis Stevens Junior High School in West End, is blocks from where I live. But as I jogged along a path, just a few hundred feet behind the school, my eyes widened at the sight before me. Dozens of condom wrappers littered the trail. Used condoms hung from shrubs and scattered branches. I quickened my pace to get out of the park.

Rock Creek Park, one of the District's top attractions, hosted about 14 million visitors last year. The park was founded in 1890 with the hope of offering city dwellers a glimpse of the area's habitat in its "natural condition, as nearly as possible." Nowadays, the P Street Beach area falls something short of this goal.

Visitors on the trail by 25th and N streets will run across condoms, as I did, or potentially even people engaged in sexual activity. Clearly, the D.C. government and law enforcement authorities need to exercise greater oversight of the park.

The head of the Parent Teacher Association at Francis Stevens, Desiree McCoy, 33, explains that the situation is so dodgy that teachers make sure students avoid the area. "We have an invisible boundary, for lack of a better term," she said, "and our staff kind of monitors them, so they don't go back there."

Debbie Schreiber, 57, a board member of the Dupont Circle Citizens' Association, describes herself as "pretty urban." The tall, confident woman has lived in the Dupont Circle area for 10 years. She visits Rock Creek Park every day, but she doesn't wander the trail behind Francis Stevens. Schreiber observes, "There's a lot of hanging out in there, and that's probably a bad thing for illicit behaviors."

This isn't a new phenomenon. In 2004, the Washington Blade published an article about public sex behind the school. Mitch Woods, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance (GLAA), says, "For many years, easily going back to the late '70s, P Street Beach has been very cruisey." In 1999, the GLAA testified against the park police's "harassment and entrapment of men having sex with men in the vicinity of P Street Beach," Woods adds.

When I called the Park Police to ask them about the trail at P Street Beach -- part of their jurisdiction -- officers were initially unsure whether the area is their responsibility or that of the D.C. police. Park Police Sgt. David Schlosser says this jurisdictional issue causes problems for patrolling the area.

The P Street Beach area is "where city property abuts national park property," says Schlosser. He says he is unaware of condom wrappers on the trail. Former Ward 7 D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous says border areas generally "end up being paralyzed into virtual inaction." McCoy says that "something will probably have to happen before it will come back on the radar." The trail behind the school has been "this way for a long time, and it doesn't show signs of getting better," according to McCoy., a Web site that points people to "gay Washington cruising areas," describes the area of Rock Creek between P and M street awkwardly, writing: "It's like a hiking trail, well it is a hiking trail during the day."

The P Street Beach area hosts a school, full of preteens. Considering its apparent status as a meet-up spot for sex, police should patrol the area sooner rather than later. Until then, my Nikes will stick to the cement trail of my neighborhood sidewalks.

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