DC's Wild, Wondrous Heart

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DC's Wild, Wondrous Heart

Ecological, Historical & Poetic Explorations of Rock Creek Park

When many people think of our nation's capital, they focus on its political life. Yet residents here know our city environment encompasses much more than federal politics. At its heart lies my favorite area, Rock Creek Park. Over double the size of Central Park, it includes forests, streams, hills, fields, recreational and historical sites. Here residents and tourists can escape from urban stress, slow down, engage in recreation, and commune with nature.

Did you know twelve DC public libraries are located within a mile of Rock Creek Park? Connect the world of words with the natural world. Check out the books below to learn more about the park's nature, history and poetry. Then meander over to Rock Creek Park and let these books enrich your experience as you explore its wonders.

A Year in Rock Creek Park: The Wild, Wooded Heart of Washington, DC by Melanie Choukas-Bradley, color photographs by Susan Austin Roth
Over the course of one year, naturalist Melanie Choukas-Bradley shares her observations and musings in a beloved area of Rock Creek Park. As she poetically describes flora and fauna and notes seasonal changes, she also reflects on her own life as a woman, mother, and citizen concerned about challenges such as climate change. Feelings of both grief and hope arise from her intimate relationship with nature. While Rock Creek Park may not have the same grandeur of national parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone, this lyrical memoir reminds us that it's not necessary to jet off to faraway places to re-connect with the natural world. Right here at our city's heart we can find beauty, solace and resolve to become better planetary stewards.

Rock Creek Park A to Z: An alphabetical account of the natural wonders and historical surprises in the wildest part of Washington, DC by David Swerdloff, designs by Lorraine Swerdloff
Full of interesting trivia and stories, this colorful book explores the nature, history, people, recreational activities, and preservation of Rock Creek Park. Short chapters focus on one or two notable features that begin with each letter, for example, "B is for Bridges," "F is for Fords," "H is for Horses," "M is for Mills," "T is for Trees," and "U is for US Presidents." Enhanced by both historical and recent photographs, maps, newspaper clippings and quotations, this alphabetical account is an enjoyable introduction to one of our nation's oldest national parks.

A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness & Washington, D.C. by Scott Einberger
Many people who enjoy Rock Creek Park know little about its history. This comprehensive history, written by a Park ranger and environmental historian, can remedy that ignorance and foster greater appreciation of the Park. First, Einberger shares evidence of Native American presence in the area over the past several thousand years. He then describes the extensive agricultural and mill activity during our nation's early years and discusses the Civil War's impact, area forts, and Battle of Fort Stevens. After outlining competing proposals leading up to Rock Creek Park's establishment in 1890, he explores how conflicts over preservation vs. use continue to this day. Along with entertaining stories of famous Park visitors, he provides details of many infrastructure changes over the past 125 years. Lastly, Einberger describes environmental problems that challenge the Park, some positive efforts to mitigate them, and current volunteer and recreational opportunities. Numerous photographs interweave the text.

Peirce Mill, Two Hundred Years in the Nation's Capitol by Steve Dryden
Of over twenty mills that relied on the water power of Rock Creek, only Peirce Mill stands today. Peirce Mill ground wheat, corn, rye, oats, and other grains into flour and meal. This well-illustrated book provides a comprehensive history of the mill from pre-Revolutionary War times through the present day, put within context of the larger history of our nation's capital. It explores the family history of the Peirces and their Shoemaker cousins, who owned and operated the mill and surrounding farm; the development of early mill technology; the agriculture, horticulture, timber production, and other commerce these families also engaged in; their dependence on slaves; the Civil War's impact on the plantation and Rock Creek area; and multiple restoration efforts in the years after the mill's commercial operation ceased in 1897. Most recently restored in 2011, Peirce Mill is open to visitors for tours and milling demonstrations. For visitor information about the mill, museum, special events, and volunteer opportunities, check out the National Park Service site and Friends of Peirce Mill.

A Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C. by Howard Youth, illustrated by Mark A. Klinger, photographs by Robert E. Mumford, Jr.
This field guide describes some animals, plants, mushrooms and geological formations commonly found in the District of Columbia. Species information includes etymology, place of origin, physical characteristics, common locations, ecological role and other notes of interest. A detailed color drawing of each species accompanies the text. This book also provides extensive information on parks in all four quadrants of DC, including their natural and human history, trails, visitor information, and maps. Whether you're interested in birds, insects, trees, or other wildlife, this guide aids in identification and appreciation of Rock Creek Park's biodiversity.

City of Trees: The Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Washington, D.C. by Melanie Choukas-Bradley, illustrated by Polly Alexander
This comprehensive guide helps tree enthusiasts locate, identify and learn about more than 300 native and exotic tree species of Washington, DC. Part One, a site guide, explores the fascinating arboreal history of our nation's capital, sharing stories about trees at sites and parks throughout the city. Part Two, a botanical guide, provides detailed information about DC's trees: their native habitat and range, foliage, flowers, fruit, bark and twigs, growth habit, similar species and locations. Drawings of leaves and fruit, close-up color photographs of some flowering trees, and an illustrated glossary accompany descriptions. As you explore Rock Creek Park, this guide can deepen your knowledge and appreciation of the trees surrounding you.

Whose Woods These Are: a journal of the Word Works residence at the Joaquin Miller Cabin, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., from 1976 to 1983 edited by Karren LaLonde Alenier
Eccentric poet, playwright, and essayist Joaquin Miller built a modest log cabin on Meridian Hill in the 1880s. Later moved to Rock Creek Park, near Beach Drive north of Military Road, the cabin was dedicated in 1912 as a tribute to Miller. In 1976, The Word Works began a residence here, hosting poetry workshops and readings up until 2011, when the poetry series moved to the Nature Center. Along with historical information on Miller, this collection contains poems, anecdotes, and photographs by 75 poets who participated in readings during its early years. In 2004, The Word Works published a second collection of poems read at the cabin: Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller's Cabin, 1984-2001.

Rock Creek Park by Gail Spilsbury
This beautiful tribute to one of our nation's largest urban parks shares the story of its establishment and preservation. It explores the original vision for the park as expressed in the 1902 McMillan Plan for Washington's beautification and the 1918 Rock Creek Park Report, the latter written by prominent landscape architect and DC planner Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Excerpts of key passages from the 1918 report illustrate how his landscape philosophy and values have guided decision-making concerning the Park over the past century. Along with historical details, this book includes information on park administration, flora, bridges, and recreational resources. Over 50 historical and contemporary photographs, maps, paintings, and drawings (some courtesy of DC Public Library's Washingtoniana Collection) complement the text.

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— Rachel W.