Energetic kayakers, rowers and paddleboarders populate the Potomac River between Chain Bridge and Gravelly Point, launching from several points in D.C. and Maryland into its cool and sometimes dangerous waters.
Kayaks do not carry license plates, so it is impossible to know who is from where. But Virginians, and particularly Arlingtonians, have for decades pressed the National Park Service to allow river access from their side of the river as well — specifically the booming urban suburb just across the water from the nation’s capital.
The federal agency took an important step in that direction last week, announcing its preferred site for a nonmotorized boat access point, just south of the Key Bridge and slightly north of Theodore Roosevelt Island.
“It will be a way to introduce more people to the river,” said a happy Paul Holland, vice president of the Arlington Boathouse Foundation, which has been active in that effort. “We have eight miles of shoreline in Arlington, and it’s hard to get to . . . we’re really convinced it’s an opportunity to host outdoor science and recreation events there too.”
The NPS report, in the form of a draft environmental assessment, suggests a floating dock, a small rigging area and a 14,000-square foot boat storage building along the channel between the mainland and Roosevelt Island. A support building and service-vehicle parking would be located on the west side of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
The Park Service hopes to conclude the planning process by fall and is holding an open house July 12 at Washington-Lee High School, from 6 to 8 p.m., for people to examine its report. Comments will be accepted until July 30.
The Washington area in the past few years has rediscovered its two-river waterfront, with the development of the Wharf in the District, along the Washington Channel of the Potomac; new parks and the baseball stadium on the Anacostia River; and the National Harbor resort and MGM casino in Prince George’s County. Tour boats and water taxis ply the waters between Mount Vernon and the memorials in D.C.
But sanctioned places to put one’s own watercraft into the rivers still are few and far between.
Arlington’s three high school crew teams have used sites in the District to launch their practices, and at one point went as far as the Occoquan, south of Lorton in Fairfax County.
Lisa Grandle, Arlington County’s park development division chief, called the long-awaited Park Service report “an extremely positive forward movement,” noting the river is calmer at the Rosslyn site than other downstream sites that were considered, and there is less motorized boat traffic.
Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, called the prospective boat dock a “fantastic amenity” that has excited many of the 14,000 residents and 23,000 employees who work in the commercial heart of the county.
“From our perspective, the location is a natural,” Burick said. “We have one of the busiest transit hubs in the nation, we have pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle access nearby . . . Property owners and business owners are very in favor of this.”
Employees want recreation near their workplaces, business people have told Burick, and company wellness policies emphasize exercise as well.
Even if the Park Service approves the site, it may be years before there is river access, officials warned. Design can be slow, and construction costs could also delay progress. But the latest step has cheered those who would like to see a boat-launching site built.
“It’s been many, many years that we’ve been waiting for this,” Grandle said.