Some keep the Sabbath going to church; I keep it staying at home With a bobolink for a chorister And an orchard for a dome. -- Emily Dickenson
An alarm rings through the pre-dawn at 1611 Kennedy Place NW. In the darkness, Hewitt Kenyon rises as he has every Sunday for 10 years. Leaving his wife in bed, he walks down the hall past his children's bedrooms out to the garage, where he hitches a small trailer loaded with rakes, clippers and brooms to his bike, then mounts up and pedals into the early light of Rock Creek Park.
Kenyon is one of 197 active participants in the Volunteers in the Park (VIP) program, a Rock Creek Park program that celebrated its 12th anniversary last Friday. VIP participants help park service employes maintain the horse, bike and foot trails, work in park administrative offices, identify flowers and wildlife and help coordinate special events for the park, among other tasks.
Kenyon has been the reigning "outstanding volunteer" for the past two years, according to Berne Teeple, the U.S. Park Service special programs coordinator for Rock Creek Park, who said Kenyon may win the title again this year.
"Hewitt's incredible. Last year he actually logged over 1,000 hours of volunteer work on the trail," Teeple said.
Bob Ford, resource manager for Rock Creek Park, said Kenyon "consistently helps with a variety of projects, from bike and foot trail upkeep to membership on the park's environmental concerns committee. If we computed his overall contribution to the park it would certainly amount to many thousands of dollars each year."
Along the trail, Kenyon smiles and waves back as he is acknowledged by the few joggers who are out this early. He travels swiftly down the bike path, his dark green vest with its "National Park Service Volunteer" patch flapping in the breeze and his trailer swinging back and forth behind him.
He skids to a halt and quickly dismounts at a spot where the rain-swollen creek has washed sand onto the bike path. Untying an elaborate set of merit badge-worthy knots, he pulls a stiff-bristled broom from the trailer, then rapidly sweeps the path before pedaling on.
About a quarter mile farther down the path some branches have grown low over the route. Kenyon and his clippers make short work of them.
By mid-morning many more cyclists, joggers and walkers are on the trail. Most recognize the tall, smiling man and wave their encouragement or appreciation.
In his 10 years of Sundays on the trail, Kenyon said, he has never heard a complaint, though he has answered many curious inquiries.
Teeple said a number of people have called him to report "some crazy man ripping out vines from along the bike path."
"I'm glad that people care enough about the park to phone in. I assure them that Kenyon knows what he is doing, and has a permit from the National Park Service to do it," Teeple said.
But is he crazy? Kenyon smiles, takes off his red baseball cap, wipes the sweat off his forehead and takes a drink from his water jug before answering. "Well, a lot of people might think so, but you know I'm really quite lucky to be in a business where eccentricity is expected."
Kenyon is a professor of mathematics at George Washington University, where he has taught since 1961. He first noticed the need for maintenance along the trail while bicycling back and forth to work. He made note of these areas and returned on a Sunday to repair them.
"You know, I think the first things I did were probably illegal, but no one ever turned me in," Kenyon said. When the Park Service officially began its volunteer program, Kenyon told them of his trespasses. He was forgiven and asked to continue as a fully franchised United States Park Service Volunteer, in a program established by an act of Congress.
The trail is long. It takes Kenyon from dawn until late afternoon to complete his tasks, but except for the occasional snowy or exceedingly cold winter Sunday he faithfully tends his territory.
Kenyon's daily round-trip ride to work and his Sunday regimen keep him looking far younger than his 61 years. He is the father of six children, 7 to 19 years old, all of whom have joined him on Sundays in the park at one time or another.
"They enjoy it when I have fliers to distribute, things like that, but when it comes to the actual physical work, well, by the time they've grown big enough to be truly helpful they're not really interested in spending their Sundays cleaning a bike path with their father."
Kenyon said his wife, Linda, who has worked in a community garden plot for five years, "feels the same way I do about the park."
Asked if his wife minds his spending every Sunday riding the trail, Kenyon replied, "Well, I go on Sunday because Linda doesn't have much of a comeback; she's an elder at the Sixth Presbyterian Church, teaches Sunday school and sings in the choir. She goes to church every Sunday, so I kind of feel that if she can indulge in her religion, I can indulge in mine."