Public responds to Rock Creek Nature Center complex modernization plan

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Image courtesy: Rock Creek Park Feasibility Development Concept Plan

by Matthew Rabinowitz

A modest crowd of about 30 people turned up at an open house at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center on April 3rd, which provided new insight on the complex’s future renovations by reviewing its Environmental Assessment (EA) and holding a forum for community members.

Three alternate plans were shown: one option taking no action, the second proposing renovations, and the third comprising of renovations that took community opinions into consideration.

The primary goals of the latter two plans would be to renovate the Nature Center itself to increase its accessibility and modernization, update the Horse Center, pave and expand the Maintenance Area, remove the Capitol Stones, move the historic Miller Cabin from a floodplain and improve picnic areas 13 and 14. 

The third plan takes a step further, however, proposing more sweeping changes to the Nature Center and the construction of a new, two-story office building in the Maintenance Yard to consolidate staff.

Along with other community members, Ari Eisenstadt, the Audubon Naturalist Society’s DC Conservation Advocate, expressed concern about uncontrolled stormwater runoff.

“It has a lot of potential in the renovations to contribute to undesirable stormwater runoff, which is a major issue that we focus on and is something that’s being discussed in the Department of Energy and the Environment in D.C., and some of the regulations may change soon,” Eisenstadt said.

In addition to stormwater runoff concerns, many birders believed that a prime birding spot within the park could be upset by modifications to the Maintenance Yard. In the third plan, the Yard’s fence would be extended and part of the birding trail would be disturbed.

This concern was mostly alleviated, however, when Park Rangers testified that the fence would be expanded to encompass what is currently a dump for gravel and worn out rubber treads.

After a period of tumult, both birders and community members who utilize the Horse Center agreed that outward-sloped horse turnouts would be detrimental both for the horses and for the environment during heavy rain.

Community members looked toward positive aspects of the proposals, however.

“I’m also really excited about the accessibility increases–particularly the idea of paths down to the bus stop–because it’s not the easiest place to get to in the city,” Rock Creek Conservancy Executive Director Jeanne Braha said. “Many other parts of the park are very metro accessible, but this one doesn’t happen to be, so this connection to the bus stop sends the message that the park wants to welcome people, which I think is great.”

Although some groups may have disagreed on certain issues, Superintendent Julia Washburn hopes to find compromises for the final designs, slated to be released in the late spring or early summer.

“We listen carefully to the comments from all the various stakeholders and we try to balance the decisions we make based on all of that input and try to find compromises. We certainly don’t favor one group over another; we’re looking for a compromise that is going to meet everybody’s needs, but, most importantly, protects the park’s resources,” Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn said.

This was the fourth in a serious of five open houses; the final one is scheduled to occur once the designs have been released.