The Upshur Park wasteland (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

So I was rather distressed to hear about the new playground at Upshur Park in 16th Street Heights, which opened earlier this year surrounded by new grass and trees. Unfortunately, the vegetation wasn’t well tended, and after the summer’s epic heat snaps, the grass ended up so dry it caught on fire last month.

I snapped some pics of the damage last week, about a week-and-a-half after the fire. Things are still tinder-dry, though the Department of Parks and Recreation has pledged to regularly water through the rest of the summer.

I don’t want to hate on DPR too much about this. It did a yeoman’s job this summer keeping pools and rec centers open late for hot residents, and indeed, keeping grass green during heat waves as brutal as we’ve had this summer is difficult. And let’s recognize that the easiest thing for DPR to do would have been to forget the trees, forget the grass, and just surround the playground with concrete — which is what probably would have happened in prior decades. The city didn’t do that, thankfully, but it also didn’t pay the close attention necessary for new plantings.

Maria Barry, who heads a group that volunteers at two parks in the neighborhood, contrasts what happened at Upshur with some trees her group planted at Hamilton Park nearby. The plantings, funded by Casey Trees, couldn’t happen there, she said, until the volunteers put in writing that they would water and otherwise take care of them until they took root. In Upshur’s case, expectations for the city and for volunteers were apparently less well established.

Barry says the trees were under warranty, so she’s optimistic the dead ones can be replaced.


This hillside is barren. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)