A great blue heron is walking less than 25 feet from me and two National Park Service employees. We watch in silence as the bird saunters along a pond. I've never been this close to one of these birds before. Can you guess where this is happening?
Maybe another scene at the same park will give you a hint. From a boardwalk, I'm looking at red-winged blackbirds fly over a marsh. The croaking of frogs punctuates the quiet. Do you know where we are now?
Well, here's the answer: Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, along the banks of the Anacostia River in Northeast. If you've never visited, you're missing a natural oasis in the midst of the city.
As the park's name suggests, water gardens dominate the grounds. During spring and summer, the water lily and lotus reign as monarchs of this scenic kingdom. Dragonflies, butterflies and bees pay homage. Yellow-centered water lilies of white, magenta or purple sprout from lily pad-carpeted ponds. Even adults may find themselves eye-level with pink lotus blossoms. Words could never do justice to any of these aquatic floral beauties. (A picture may truly be worth more than the 750 or so words of this article.)
Water flowers may be the park's reason for being, but they aren't its whole story.
Wildlife roams freely here. Some of the animals you can see are rabbits, turtles, snakes, and the seemingly omnipresent Canada geese. During a recent visit, I spotted a bluegill swimming in a water garden. A park employee who overheard me and a friend talking about the fish said that the grounds flooded during Hurricane Isabel last year and that anything that lives in the Potomac could be here.
The park has something to offer many types of outdoor enthusiasts. Hikers and bikers can enjoy walking and riding throughout the park, but of particular interest to them should be the level 0.7-mile River Trail that runs along Kenilworth Marsh and the Anacostia River and the boardwalk along another side of the marsh. Bird watchers can observe their feathered friends. Picnickers can watch from the park's tables. But if you plan to visit in winter, leave your ice skates at home. Though the ponds may be frozen, "No Ice Skating" signs warn off skaters.
For an amateur nature photographer like me, the park is an abundant source of subjects. Under the shade of a lotus leaf, a frog sits in a shallow pond. A bent stem and its reflection frame him. Nature has provided a photo-op.
I quickly position myself and my camera for the shot. Got it. I want to shoot more photos using different settings on my old manual camera, but the frog hops out of its picture-perfect position.
Ordinarily I don't share in the experiences of other park guests, or vice versa. However, this day is the exception. While I'm taking the frog's picture, three fellow visitors gather around me. One asks what I'm photographing. I point to the frog. Another says she hasn't seen a frog in 30 years!
What makes this episode unusual is that I tend to be among fewer than a dozen people visiting during weekends and holidays. When I ask people why, I discover a general unawareness that this park even exists. Tourists and car-less residents say the park is difficult to reach because it is not accessible by Metrobus or Metrorail.
It's unfortunate that more people do not avail themselves ofthe beauty and tranquility of this park. In addition to a location inaccessible to Metro, the park also appears to suffer from underfunding and understaffing, suggested by a bookstore that's open sporadically and an infrastructure that's begun to deteriorate.
Despite those faults, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is worthy of your visit. Hope to see you there soon.
Angela Preston is a lifelong D.C. resident. She works at a local hospital.