Back in 1926, Congress passed an act authorizing parks to preserve forests and natural scenery. Today, Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is one of those parks that show visitors the history of the country's rivers and wetlands. It's part of the original marsh in Washington D.C., adjacent to the Anacostia River, the capital's second river (after the Potomac). What is known as Kenilworth Marsh now surrounds Kenilworth Gardens on three sides, offering a protected habitat for wild flowers and wildlife, such as the beaver.
The Water Gardens here were started by a homesick Civil War veteran, Walter Shaw, in the late 19th century as a hobby. With just a few water lilies (sent from his home state of Maine) in a small pond, Shaw's project eventually became a commercial garden with 28 ponds, which the government purchased from Shaw's daughter, Helen Fowler, in 1938 to become the only national park to display cultivated aquatic plants. The combined park and gardens now cover about 700 acres.
The Anacostia River, long neglected and abused, was silted in by the early 1990s, which required dredging and rebuilding the original wetlands.
Highlights of Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
In summer, there are garden tours on weekends at 9am and 11am, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Walk down the River Trail at any time of the year for a respite from the noise and strife of the nation's capital.
You can see Monarch butterflies here in some years, the caterpillars going into the chrysalis stage and then emerging in late summer and fall to begin their migration, usually to Mexico.
Among the birds here are nesting, aquatic and woodland varieties, including the great blue heron, a year-round resident.
As part of a 10-year study that ended in 2009, the park listened carefully to frog calls and discovered that there are five kinds here, as well as two types of toads, four kinds of turtles, three types of non-poisonous snakes, and two kinds of skinks (lizards).
Plants include the nuphar (a species that is probably the ancestor of the lotus flower and water lily), those two descendants, plus wildflowers, such as violets and asters. In the marsh, you can see turtlehead and its autumn blooms, as well as wild rice.
The best time to view flowers is in the morning, as many fold up when the temperature rises too high (above 89 or 90, that is). From the cattail, by the way, early Native Americans obtained food, medicine, and the raw materials for household goods and summer shelter.
You may occasionally notice locals doing yoga and tai chi exercises here, and there is an athletic field in the park that is quite popular on weekends.
How to Get There
Entrance to the park is at 1550 Anacostia Avenue NE in Washington, D.C., south of the Route 50 Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Kenilworth Avenue intersection. The park and garden are near each other. You can reach the gardens best on the Orange Line of the capital's subway system, getting off at the Deanwood Metro Station. For the park, take the Orange Line and get off at the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station.
Admission Fees & Hours
There is no admission fee to this park and garden. Opening hours for the garden are from 7am-4pm. These hours put you in the garden in between the dawn and dusk feeding times of mosquitoes, so chances are, you won't encounter any during your visit. Hours for the park (athletic fields and meadow) are from 8am to dusk.
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is part of the National Capital Parks East division, consisting of several locations in the eastern part of the capital. There were 1,272,212 visitors to the entire division in 2009.
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens (tel. 202/426-6905; www.nps.gov/keaq).
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