Discover Recreation and Natural Treasures at Rock Creek Park
As one of the nation’s finest and largest city parks,
Rock Creek Park was the first urban natural area set aside by Congress
as “a pleasuring place for the enjoyment of the people of the United
States.” Named after the Potomac River tributary that snakes through
Northwest Washington, DC from the Kennedy Center into suburban Maryland,
2,800-acre Rock Creek Park offers areas for biking, hiking, riding
horses, as well as playing golf at the Rock Creek Park Golf Course, and
lush green spaces ideal for picnics and enjoy live performances at the
Carter Barron Amphitheatre.
Rich in history, Rock Creek Park has served as a quiet refuge for many of Washington, DC’s leading citizens. After a grueling morning of politics, John Quincy Adams delighted in retreating to “this romantic glen, listening to the singing of a thousand birds…” Nature-loving Teddy Roosevelt would often bird watch and hike the vast terrain, while Ronald Reagan frequently rode horses at its stables. The park is such a presidential favorite that after the Civil War, a commission formed to find a “healthier situation” for the Executive Mansion seriously considered relocating the presidential residence to Rock Creek Park.
Rock Creek Park’s history reflects the early settlement and development of Washington, DC and the surrounding area. The parklands were originally inhabited by the Algonquin Indians who hunted, fished and relied on the rocks they found in the banks of the creek to procure and process their food supplies. White settlers relied on Rock Creek’s running waters to power their gristmills and sawmills.
Pierce Mill, one of eight original mills built along Rock Creek in the 1820s, used waterpower generated from Rock Creek to grind corn and wheat into flour until it was closed in 1897. Over a hundred years after closing, Pierce Mill is once again a functioning flour mill. The antique millstones and hoppers offer a peak into the operations of a 19th century flour and cornmeal mill.
The creek itself tumbles through six miles of wooded forests, rolling hills and quiet wilderness in the heart of the busy Capital City before fading into the Maryland suburbs. From late winter to early autumn, wildflowers decorate the grassy parkland, deferring to splashy tree colors in October. The Creek is home to over 36 species of fish, while squirrels, mice, weasels, foxes, beavers and opossums are frequently spotted in the woodlands. Birdwatchers can readily spot sparrows, wood thrushes, woodpeckers, crows, cardinals and many other species.
The Art Barn sits next door to the Pierce Mill, originally built by the Pierce family in 1820 as a carriage house. Today the carriage house is home to the Rock Creek Gallery, featuring monthly exhibits by local artists. During the Cold War, the barn’s loft concealed American counterintelligence officials who attempted to intercept messages from the nearby Embassies of Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia.
Two miles north of Pierce Mill and the Art Barn, Rock Creek Park Nature Center provides an excellent orientation to the park and its special events and programs. Children will enjoy poking around the hands-on Discovery Room or visiting the Rock Creek Planetarium, the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service.
If visiting Washington DC be sure to visit Rock Creek Park for a relaxing stroll or enjoy one of the outdoor activities!
By Leroy Worley
To plan your visit to Rock Creek Park visit www.nps.gov/rocr or call (202) 282-1063.