Unit #7 / 412 - Greenbelt Park
It rained for a record 15 consecutive days in Washington D.C. from April 27 - May 11. It rained so much that I would wake up and just assume the day would be gray and dreary. It rained so much that I wondered why my trip's launch had to start on April 29.
Which is why my sunny day spent at Greenbelt Park in suburban Washington D.C. was extra resplendent. When you've been cooped up inside, feeling wet and cold during the month of May, you really appreciate when the sun finally returns--and you wonder if this is how people in Seattle feel all the time.
Before I visited Greenbelt Park, I also wondered what would make this otherwise ordinary patch of green special.
But quickly after arriving to the park, I was walking to my hike and ran into Evita, who was stretching on the side of the road.
"I come running here every day," she said. "It's amazing cause you feel like you aren't in the city. I mean, it's on my way to work but I feel like I'm out in the middle of the country."
And indeed it did feel that way. As my "Human of National Parks" for this unit shared, apart from the spots where trails bring hikers close to Baltimore-Washington Parkway, it is a quiet country escape inside the famed "Beltway" encircling America's capital city.
Created as part of a planned community, when in the 1930s Greenbelt, Maryland, became the first planned community in the United States, this onetime federal experiment was designed to be part of a complete city with schools, businesses, and facilities for recreation.
But beyond its Central Park-esque escapism, this urban oasis reminded me of the larger power of parks.
"I work in D.C. Public Schools with kids who have special needs," Evita shared as her guest, a child with special needs, tossed dead pieces of bark amongst the trees. "When I bring the kids here, they don't have to conform; they can be themselves. They can make noise or throw stuff and it doesn't violate any social rules. I'm a lot more relaxed when I'm in the park, and I like sharing that with kids who have autism. Here they don't have to talk; they can communicate non-verbally. And there's not tons of stimulus--kids, people, noise--causing them to go back within themselves."
And Greenbelt Park, without any iconic canyons or vistas, serves as a great example of what parks can do for people, no matter where you live. Even though you might not be in western Wyoming, there is a space on your commute home that can serve the same purpose: providing that freeing feeling.
Especially Greenbelt Park. Only 12 miles from the U.S. Capitol, and under an hour's drive for any of the 9,000,000+ people living in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan Area, this park provides an escape from the crowds of the National Mall or the congested Beltway roadways. On my two hour, 5.3 mile hike around the Perimeter Trail, I only saw five people. And this was on a Monday from 5 - 7 pm, meaning many people were out of work, and it was also on a temperate (60s) sunny day after a record 15 days of consecutive rain!
I did see this deer on the trail, but am glad it was here instead of the "sleeping deer" I saw on the side of the Beltway on both my drive to/from the park.
So if you're looking for a park for a private trail run, a romantic stroll, or to inconspicuously "get rid of" a frenemy, look no further than Greenbelt Park! Baltimore-Washington's "Urban Oasis."
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5 Greenbelt Park Highlights (You Can Do)
1. Hike One of Four Trails
With four trails ranging from 1 mile to 5.3 miles, and all mostly flat and easy to walk/run, it's perfect for pre- or post- work exercise, especially if on your commute! The sparse amount of visitors makes it perfect for a more intimate experience over some of the more crowded trails in the DC area.
Easy E perched for a moment's break from flying - See more #EasyE photos on Instagram
So close to the city, and open year-round, the 1,100 acres of this park provide a quick and easy way to feel like you're really camping in the woods. With facilities that accommodate tents, RVs, and trailers up to 36-feet, it'd be perfect for a Cub Scouts outing or a long-term base to explore the D.C.-area. With restrooms, showers, picnic tables, water and grills provided, it can meet almost all your needs (note: there are no utility connections, but a disposal station is available).
Campsites are first-come, first-served, limited to 14-day stays, and have accompanying fees. Reservations are available Memorial Day through Labor Day at http://reservations.nps.gov
3. Make It a Day Trip
Can't escape for a whole weekend? Need to work on Sundays? Want to take a mid-week break?
Given its proximity to the city, it's perfect for a quick respite and recharge.
4. Have a Picnic
You don't need a National Park Pass to enter the park, and there's no fee if you aren't camping, so grab a few friends, pack a bottle of wine and some cheese and leave the Netflix at home. There's no risk of the view here having to buffer, and you never know what you'll find on the nearby trails!
5. Get Your Bike On
Greenbelt Park includes a paved bike trail interweaving with a paved road circling the park's interior (it's local-access-only too, meaning you won't have to battle many cars). A saw a few hardcore cyclists clicked-in at the entrance, and even one skateboarder taking advantage of the sparsely used roads.
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Click here to read about each of the other 400+ parks.
10 Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations please! What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
(Plus a Bonus 5 -- these are the remaining units in DC proper)
-Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site
-Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
-Korean War Veterans Memorial
-Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
-Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site
-Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
-Rock Creek Park
-Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial
-Vietnam Veterans Memorial
-The White House
-National Capital Parks
-World War 1 Memorial in Pershing Park
-Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument