The National Park Service is in the early stages of planning a long-term rehabilitation and development project at the Rock Creek Nature Center and Horse Center complex.

The agency is looking at the area around the Rock
Creek Nature Center and Horse Center complex. Photo: Brian Kapur/Current file photo

The project also includes the center’s planetarium, along with picnic areas and a maintenance area on the site, located on Glover Road NW just south of Military Road. More than $8 million in capital needs are forecasted for the site, in addition to a $4 million maintenance backlog, according to a Park Service planning document.

Plans list several concept options for renovation, with improvements to accessibility and aesthetics on the site consistent among all options. An option called “Fix It” calls for repairing existing features, while another one called “Escape from the City” proposes transforming the site into “a bustling refuge from the bustling District of Columbia.” A third option, “Green Campus,” focuses on sustainability and education efforts, with features including an amphitheater for community gatherings and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification for the buildings, some of which would need to be reconstructed.

No matter which combination of proposals wins out, the Park Service is convinced the site needs an upgrade, despite a fourth no-action option that would keep the site the way it is.

“The current configuration of the Nature Center, a contributing resource to the historic district, does not make optimal use of its existing square footage and limits its use for community gatherings and potential revenue generation,” the document reads, adding that the Horse Center doesn’t have enough space for horses and visitors, and that the site in general has fallen into disrepair.

Overall goals for the project include expanding cultural resources, streamlining park operations, protecting natural resources and enhancing environmental sustainability, according to the document. The process would proceed in phases over the next two decades, according to Park Service spokesperson Emily Linroth.

The Rock Creek Conservancy, an organization dedicated to improving the park, plans to submit comments before the deadline and looks forward to engaging in further iterations of the plans, according to spokesperson Anne Baker. The conservancy generally supports the concept plans aside from the noaction option, Baker said.

The biggest priority for the conservancy at this point is making the park accessible for all, according to Baker.

“We want to ensure that people in this area are able to access the nature center and all that it has to offer,” she said. The conservancy also hopes to help visitors understand available park resources more easily and clearly.

Several city agencies are engaging with the Park Service on the plans, including the Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office, Department of Transportation and Department of Energy & Environment, as well as the federal Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission review boards. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F (Forest Hills, North Cleveland Park, Van Ness) will also advise on the plans. ANC 3F member Mary Beth Ray told The Current that she has been encouraged by the wide range of agencies involved in the process. “

It sounded like things were still very much up in the air as far as which of the designs they’re going to push for,” said Ray, who attended a recent stakeholder meeting where plans were discussed. “Even the proposed designs sound like they’re not finalized yet.”

The public can comment on the proposed changes at the Park Service website via tinyurl.com/naturecenterfeedback until Jan. 31. After that, the Park Service will expand on its preliminary concepts and develop alternatives to consider in an environmental assessment, according to Linroth.