Rock Creek Park

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Rock Creek Park
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Rock Creek Park NPS sign.jpg
Maryland border entrance
LocationDistrict of Columbia, United States
Nearest cityWashington, D.C.
AreaOver 2000 acres (3 mi2)[1]
EstablishedSeptember 27, 1890
Visitors2,115,516 (in 2004)
Governing bodyNational Park Service
Rock Creek Park Historic District
Rock Creek Park is located in District of Columbia
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park
LocationRoughly, Rock Creek Park from Klingle Road to Montgomery County line, Washington, District of Columbia
Coordinates38°57′27″N 77°2′42″W / 38.95750°N 77.04500°W / 38.95750; -77.04500Coordinates: 38°57′27″N 77°2′42″W / 38.95750°N 77.04500°W / 38.95750; -77.04500
Area1754 acres (2.74 mi2)[1]
Built1820s (Peirce Mill); 1897–1912 (Park facilities)[3]
ArchitectFrederick Law Olmsted, Jr., John Charles Olmsted
Architectural styleLate Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Revivals, Early Republic, and NPS Rustic
NRHP reference #91001524[2]
Added to NRHPOctober 23, 1991

Rock Creek Park is a large urban park that bisects the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. The park was created by an Act of Congress in 1890 and today is administered by the National Park Service. In addition to the park proper, the Rock Creek administrative unit of the National Park Service administers various other federally owned properties in the District of Columbia located to the north and west of the National Mall, including Meridian Hill Park on 16th Street, N.W., the Old Stone House in Georgetown, and certain of the Fort Circle Parks, a series of batteries and forts encircling the District of Columbia for its defense during the U.S. Civil War.


Rock Creek Park was established by an act of Congress signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison on September 27, 1890, following active advocacy by Charles C. Glover and other civic leaders and in the wake of the creation of the National Zoo the preceding year.

It was only the third national park established by the U.S., following Yellowstone in 1872 and Mackinac National Park in 1875. Sequoia was created at the same time, and Yosemite shortly thereafter. In 1933, Rock Creek Park became part of the newly formed National Capital Parks unit of the National Park Service.

The Rock Creek Park Act authorized the purchase of no more than 2,000 acres of land, extending north from Klingle Ford Bridge in the District of Columbia (approximately the northern limit of the National Zoo), to be "perpetually dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States".[4] The Act also called for regulations to "provide for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, animals, or curiosities within said park, and their retention in their natural condition, as nearly as possible".[5] Rock Creek Park is the oldest natural urban park in the National Park System.[6] Park construction began in 1897.[3]

In 1913, Congress authorized creation of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and extended the park along a narrow corridor from the zoo to the mouth of Rock Creek at the Potomac River.[7] The parkway is a major traffic thoroughfare, especially along the portion south of the zoo. The park is patrolled by the United States Park Police.


Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.
Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium
Beach Drive in the autumn

The main section of the park comprises 1754 acres (2.74 mi2, 7.10 km2), along the Rock Creek Valley. Including the other green areas the park administers (Glover Archbold Park, Montrose Park, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Meridian Hill Park, Battery Kemble Park, Palisades Park, Whitehaven Park, etc.), it encompasses more than 2000 acres (3 mi2, 8 km2).

The parklands follow the course of Rock Creek across the D.C.-Maryland border to connect with Rock Creek Stream Valley Park and Rock Creek Regional Park in Montgomery County. The Maryland parks are operated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The Rock Creek Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 23, 1991.[8]

Recreation facilities include a golf course; equestrian trails; sport venues, including a tennis stadium which hosts major professional events; a nature center and planetarium; the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, an outdoor concert venue; and picnic and playground facilities. Rock Creek Park also maintains cultural exhibits, including the Peirce Mill. Rock Creek is a popular venue for jogging, cycling, and inline skating, especially on the long, winding Beach Drive, portions of which are closed to vehicles on weekends.[1]

A number of the city's outstanding bridges, such as the Lauzun's Legion, Dumbarton, Taft and the Duke Ellington bridges, span the creek and ravine.

Among the park's few monuments is a pink granite bench on Beach Drive south of the Peirce Mill, dedicated on November 7, 1936 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in memory of former French ambassador Jean Jules Jusserand.[9] In 2014, it was named "best obscure memorial" by Washington City Paper.[10]

Horse Center[edit]

Rock Creek Park Horse Center, founded in 1972, is located in the middle of the park near the Nature Center. The barn, run by Guest Services Inc, has 57 stalls, two outdoor rings, one indoor ring, and three bluestone turnout paddocks. The stable provides trail rides, pony rides, and lessons for the public, along with boarding for private horses. The stable primarily teaches English riding, with an emphasis on lower-level jumping and dressage.[11]

The barn is also home to Rock Creek Riders, a therapeutic riding program for adults and children with special needs in the DC area. Past participants in the program include brain-injured veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and people with autism, cerebral palsy, or attention deficit disorder. The program is volunteer-run and relies on donations and contributions for funding. Previously, Rock Creek Riders has worked with the United States Mounted Police, National Park Service, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Programs to provide these therapeutic riding services.[12]

The horse center's summer camps are popular with DC residents. The stable offers summer camp from 9–3 for children over eight, and a two-hour afternoon camp for children between five and eight years old. The stable also recently implemented a summer CIT training program for teenagers.

Peirce Mill[edit]

Peirce Mill

Peirce Mill is a water-powered grist mill in Rock Creek Park. There were at least eight mills along Rock Creek within what is now Washington, D.C., and many more farther upstream in Montgomery County, Maryland. Of those eight, only Peirce Mill is still standing.

It was built in the 1820s by Isaac Peirce, along with a house, barn, and other buildings. It was later owned by a son, Joshua Peirce, and a nephew Peirce Shoemaker. It became part of Rock Creek Park in 1892.[13]

The mill was listed on the National Register in 1969 as Peirce Mill.[2] It was repaired and re-opened October 15, 2011.

The Peirce Carriage Barn, adjacent to the mill, usually is open every day. The barn is the National Park Service point of contact. The barn was part of the Peirce estate built in 1810 and used as a tack room and carriage barn. The barn is now a mini-museum containing information on the milling process, the Peirce family estate and other mills along the Rock Creek Valley.

Rock Creek Multi-Use Trails[edit]

A set of hiker/biker trails in the park serve both commuters and recreational users. The mainline trail extends for several miles from the southern end of the park to Broad Branch Road. The northern trails, farther north, consists of a loop along Bingham, Oregon, Beach and Military Roads with spurs along Oregon to the Nature Center and Wise Road.

The Park Service began to experiment with trails in August of 1963 when mile-long Ross Drive was closed to cars from 6 am to noon on Sundays, [14] but planning for a separate trail system didn't begin until 1965, when the federal "Trails for America" report identified a trail along Rock Creek as one of many trails for the DC area. That same year, the “Fort Park System, A Re-evaluation Study of Fort Drive, Washington, D.C.” report suggested running the Circle Fort Trail through the park.[15][16]

Planning for trails led to action in January of 1967. At that time NPS announced weekend road closures in April over a 5-mile loop in the center of the park, made up of Beach, Ross, Ridge and Joyce. At the same time they announced the 1967 closure, they announced a plan to build a trail from Military Road to the District boundary.[17] That trail, the first hiker-biker trail in the park, was built in the summer of 1967.[18] The crushed bluestone trail was constructed from the Nature Center, past Wise Road to a turnaround loop just southwest of Beach Drive and the DC boundary.[19]

Over the next few months, NPS announced plans to add additional unpaved trails along Military Road from Oregon to Beach, along Wise to Fenwick Branch, beside Fenwick Branch to the District boundary and through Pinehurst Parkway Park (most of which were never constructed).[20] In 1968 they built a second trail along Beach from Joyce to Bingham.[21] By 1969, the two existing northern trails were connected with a trail along Bingham from Oregon to Beach.[22] Later that year, NPS built the final section of the loop along Military between Oregon and Beach. By 1972, NPS had paved all of these trails except the section north of Wise to the DC Boundary.[23] The section along Military Road was originally intended to serve as part of the Fort Circle Trail, passing by Fort DeRussy, but work on the Fort Circle Trail ended in the 1970's with only three parts, the one in Rock Creek, a section of the C&O Canal towpath and another from Fort Stanton to Fort Mahon, completed.[24][20] Over time, the Rock Creek section ceased to be viewed as part of the Fort Circle Trail system.

Farther south, the Shoreline Trail was extended into the park in 1972. The "Shoreline Trail" was built prior to 1967 along the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, but stopped at Virginia Avenue. In 1971 the Park Service set aside a lane of the Parkway north of Virginia Avenue for a week to promote commuting by bicycle. The experiment was a success, but caused traffic jams, so in September of that year, the Park Service paved over bridle paths dating back to the founding of the park to create the multi-use trail. The paved trail, called the "Valley Trail" at times by the National Park Service, stretched from Virginia to Calvert and opened on September 23, 1971.[25][26] By November of 1971, NPS had announced plans to extend the trail by 2 miles into the Park to Bluff Bridge, which they did by the end of 1972.[27] These first sections of trail were 4 to 8 feet wide with rough pavement, steep slopes, poor visibility and sharp curves. The southern portion crossed the creek twice on "breakaway" bridges. By 1977, the trail was extended to Broad Branch Road.[28] Between 1979 and 1981, the unpaved trail and turnaround loop north of Wise was abandoned.[29][30]

A proposal to complete the bicycle trail system was made in 1973, but progress was slow.[31] In 1980, NPS prepared an assessment of alternatives for a Bicycle Trail Study of the park that analyzed nine alternatives for completing the trail system, including construction of a new bike trail and alteration of the existing road network. After a period of public comment, NPS proposed expanding the weekend closure between Military and Broad Branch Road and from Tilden to Piney Branch Road from just Sundays to all weekend and holidays; to construct an additional 3.5 miles of trail and to designate Beach Drive north of Bingham as a bike route with a future study to determine the suitability of a trail in that section.[32][33]

By 1990, biking on foot trails or bridle paths was no longer allowed.[34]

Sections of park roads have been subject to weekly closures to motor vehicles since the 1960's, though the times and locations changed. By 1970, NPS was closing 2 miles of Beach, and part of Morrow, every Sunday from 9am to 6pm. In the 1970's they experimented with Saturday closures in the summer to support a new bicycle concession near Carter Barron, which generated no negative response.[33] By 1979 they were closing Beach between Broad Branch and Joyce from 8am to 6pm.[33] By 1980 they added the section from Tilden to Piney Branch Road and expanded the hours to 7am to 7pm. In 1982 they experimented with also closing Beach from Picnic Grove 10 to Wise, and between West Beach and the DC boundary, before adopting those parameters permanently. By 1984, they'd expanded the closure to Saturday, closing three sections of Beach, but not the Tilden to Piney Branch section, from 7am to 7pm on both Saturday and Sunday. In 1991, the hours were increased from 7am Saturday to 7pm Sunday.[35] Finally, by 1998 the closures had expanded to include not just the three sections of Beach but also the entirety of Bingham and Sherril Drives within the park, which is how things stand today.[36]


As originally authorized by Congress, the park was governed by the Rock Creek Park Commission, comprising the Chief of Engineers of the Army, the engineer commissioner of the District of Columbia, and three presidential appointees. In 1933, the park, along with other National Capital Parks, was transferred to the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.[37]

Rock Creek Park is also an administrative unit of the National Park Service responsible for administration of 99 properties in the District of Columbia north and west of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. The properties include various parks, parkways, buildings, circles, triangles, memorials, and statues and include:[4][38][39]

Demographic significance[edit]

Although D.C.'s primary geographic metonyms for racial and class divisions are the city's quadrants (i.e., Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast), Rock Creek Park also separates prominent neighborhoods such as Georgetown, Cathedral Heights and Spring Valley from the rest of the city; hence, the designations WOTP (West of the Park) and EOTP (East of the Park) also serve this role.[40]

Legislative history[edit]

Congressional authorizations:

  • Rock Creek Park – September 27, 1890
  • Meridian Hill Park – June 25, 1910
  • Montrose Park – March 2, 1911
  • Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway – March 4, 1913
  • Dumbarton Oaks Park – December 2, 1940[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia. "Frequently Asked Questions." National Park Service, U. S. Dept. of the Interior. Last updated 2014-08-15. Accessed 2014-08-23.
  2. ^ a b National Park Service (March 13, 2009). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. ^ a b Construction of initial roads, bridle paths and foot paths took place during 1897–1912. Mackintosh, Barry (1985). "Under Military Rule". Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History (Report). Washington, DC: National Park Service (NPS).
  4. ^ a b NPS (March 2010). "Rock Creek Park Long Range Interpretive Plan."
  5. ^ NPS (1985). "Success." An Administrative History, Rock Creek Park.
  6. ^ "Our Wild Heart – A Tribute to Rock Creek Park", Washington Post, July 11, 2014
  7. ^ NPS (2004). "Parkway and Other Additions." Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History.
  8. ^ Record display, National Register of Historic Places
  9. ^ * NPS. "Rock Creek Park: Monuments, Statues and Memorials." 2013-01-05.
  10. ^ Michael E. Grass (2014). "Best Obscure Memorial: Jules Jusserand Memorial". Washington City Paper.
  11. ^ "Rock Creek Park Horse Center". Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  12. ^ "Equine Therapeutic Activities in Rock Creek Park". Rock Creek Riders. January 27, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  13. ^ NPS (2004). "Under Military Rule: Peirce Mill." Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History.
  14. ^ "Park Bike Trail Will Open Here". The Washington Post. June 27, 1963.
  15. ^ Tuemmler, Fred W. (1965). Fort Park System, A Re-evaluation Study of Fort Drive, Washington, D.C.
  16. ^ Trails for America (PDF). December 1966.
  17. ^ Hornig, Roberta (January 24, 1967). "Rock Creek Bike Trail Due". The Evening Star.
  18. ^ Balchen, Bess (July 12, 1967). "Even The Wheels Are on Wheels These Days: He's Blazing Bicycle Trail". The Washington Post.
  19. ^ "Rock Creek Bike Trail is Now Open". The Evening Star. May 4, 1968.
  20. ^ a b Clopton, Jr., Williard (March 2, 1968). "Hike-And-Bike Trails Shape Up, Will Give City a New 'Beltway'". The Washington Post.
  21. ^ House, Toni (May 12, 1968). "Wheels Go Round and Round". The Evening Star.
  22. ^ "1969 Rock Creek Park Map". Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  23. ^ "Bike guide, Washington area national parks". National Park Service. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  24. ^ "Morton Dedicates Hiking, Bike Trails". The Evening Star. June 2, 1971.
  25. ^ "Bike Way Test to End, Another Route to Open". The Evening Star. September 16, 1971.
  26. ^ Sagnier, Thierry J. (October 31, 1971). "Newly Paved Path for a Freer Ride". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ Hodge, Paul (November 11, 1971). "Bike Path to Extend South of Alexandria: Before Christmas". The Washington Post.
  28. ^ "1977 Rock Creek Park Map". Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  29. ^ "1979 Rock Creek Park Map". Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  30. ^ "1981 Rock Creek Park Map". Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  31. ^ Rock Creek Park, National Capital Park, Bicycle Trail Study and Environmental Assessment (EA). United States. National Park Service. November 1980.
  32. ^ McNamara, James (September 12, 1980). "Pedal Power: Many Paths To Pleasure". The Washington Post.
  33. ^ a b c "Rock Creek Park, National Capital Park, Bicycle Trail Study and Environmental Assessment (EA) B1; Record of Decision, Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI): Environmental Impact Statement". United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  34. ^ "1990 Rock Creek Park map". Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  35. ^ "1991 Rock Creek Park map". Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  36. ^ "1998 Rock Creek Park map". Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  37. ^ NPS (2004). "Under the Park Service: The Changing of the Guard." Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History.
  38. ^ Mullin, Beth (2015). "Revitalizing Rock Creek Park:The Next 125 Years" (PDF). Rock Creek Conservancy. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  39. ^ "Reservation List: The Parks of the National Park System, Washington, DC" (PDF). National Park Service; Land Resources Program Center; National Capital Region. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  40. ^ Peterson, Britt (September 2015). "East of the Park vs. West of the Park: Which One Are You?". Washingtonian. Retrieved August 31, 2015.; for an example of this in political discussion, see Archer, Ken (November 16, 2012). "DC Drifting towards Separate School Systems. Are they Equal?". Greater Greater Washington. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
  41. ^ NPS (2004). "Appendix A—Legislation." Rock Creek Park: An Administrative History.

External links[edit]