Hidden in the heart of the capital area is an impressive memorial to a fine president that many tourists and locals have never even seen -- the Theodore Roosevelt Monument. This monument is on an island in the Potomac River that is not accessible by car, and it is hidden by thick woods. I've lived less than a mile from Theodore Roosevelt Island for many years, and although I've circled it by kayak several times, only recently did I succumb to curiosity about the mystery monument and cross the footbridge to the island's interior.
Coming upon the monument to our 26th president is probably as close as I'll ever come to knowing how it feels to stumble upon a long-lost, overgrown Mayan temple in the jungles of Guatemala. I was impressed by its size and blocky substance -- perhaps the Mayans would have approved. I also was impressed by how little else there is to attract people to the island.
Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist, placing 230 million acres under public protection while in office. But does that justify leaving his monument concealed in a thicket? Why not do more to attract people to the 91 precious waterfront acres on which his monument is located?
More life could be brought to the island and the river that surrounds it by turning part of the site into a music park. A good model would be Ravinia, the superb outdoor facility that hosts an annual summer music festival near Lake Michigan in north suburban Chicago. After all, the island has served other purposes before.
A couple of centuries back, for example, the family of George Mason lived on the island and operated a ferry. Later, Union soldiers camped and trained there while defending the capital.
Roosevelt probably would be delighted to know that the island also is the southern terminus of the National Park Service's Potomac Heritage Trail, which provides spectacular scenery as it runs along the Virginia side of the remarkably wild Potomac Gorge all the way to the American Legion Bridge.
So why not bring the monument to the people and the people to the monument? Cutting the brush and culling the woods on the northern third of the island (the southern tip is traversed by Interstate 66) would create a more accessible park-like setting and leave the monument more visible from afar. The land north and east of the monument, if groomed into a grassy meadow, would be a fine place to relax, picnic and enjoy musical entertainment while taking in the marvelous views of Key Bridge, the Georgetown waterfront and the Kennedy Center across the Georgetown Channel.
True, air traffic to Reagan National would be a negative factor, and the Park Service already has the Wolf Trap music park in Vienna. But time is precious, the roads are congested and Wolf Trap isn't on the water or that close to Washington.
In the spirit of George Mason, concertgoers from the D.C. side of the river might be ferried from the Georgetown waterfront and perhaps even from the reconfigured Kennedy Center, creating a lively river scene absent since the days of TR himself. For Virginians, the Rosslyn Metro station is less than half a mile from the island.
Imagine relaxing on a lush lawn sheltered by oaks, maples and sycamores, as a cool river breeze sidles through the island, as though fanned by the oars of a passing rowing crew. That experience would be a fitting tribute to a president whose legacy is as expansive as the outdoors he loved.
-- Randall Kogel