Way back in September of 2003, GM and his roommate were living in a cramped and drab “garden level” apartment in Courthouse. Unhappy with their accommodations, they decided to break their lease and look for something better. GM stumbled on a listing in the back pages of the City Paper, and it sounded too good to be true: a spacious two bedroom apartment looking out over Montrose Park for only $1,500 a month.
It wasn’t until after GM submitted the application and was sweating-out the credit check that he stumbled on the beauty that is Dumbarton Oaks Park. Here right in the heart of the city was a valley of brooks and bridges, dells and dogwoods. It was unlike any city park GM had ever seen before. And GM was certain that there was no way in Hell he’d be lucky enough to live so close to such a treasure. But wouldn’t you know it, he was.
So GM has a particular bond with Dumbarton Oaks Park. And when an overnight snowfall hit in 2004, GM knew a great shot was waiting:
While still stunning, the park certainly is not in great shape. The original designs of the great Beatrix Farrand have faded away as structures collapsed and invasive plants marauded the landscape. Unlike its sister Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, which is maintained by the deep pockets of Harvard, Dumbarton Oaks Park is maintained on a shoestring budget by the National Park Service. Into this gap last year entered the new Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.
Led by Rebecca Trafton, this organization seeks to restore Dumbarton Oaks Park to the state it was in the 1920s, when Farrand was hired by Robert and Mildred Woods Bliss to design the estate’s gardens and woodlands. They have their work cut out for them.
Last night the organization celebrated its one year anniversary at the Italian Embassy. Invited to speak to the standing room only crowd was Betsy Rogers, the former administrator of the Central Park Conservancy in New York. This hugely successful conservancy is the model of the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy (and really any park conservancy).
Rogers spoke of the importance of place for a park and the therapeutic aspect of successful of natural surroundings. Most of all she emphasized the critical role the the public-private partnership played in restoring Central Park. This is the point of the conservancy and the point of bringing in a bunch of swells to a pretty embassy and feeding them wine: money!
The Conservancy has already done a lot to improve the state of the park. They’ve held several weeding sessions, which address the most pressing problem of pernicious vines choking off everything in sight. And the Executive Director of the conservancy, Ann Aldrich, spoke of the organization’s plans to start the heavy lifting of true restoration by targeting two acres immediately within the park’s gates. She promised that in five years, much of the original fabric of the park could be restored.
Following the presentation, GM quickly slipped away from the embassy and hopped back on his bike. Riding through the Rock Creek trail to Lovers Lane, he decided to take a detour through the park he had just heard so much about.
Riding over the bridge and entering the valley, GM was struck again at how special this park is. He passed dogwalkers and a small family of deer as he chugged his heavy Schwinn up the rocky paths. The cool air floated down from the woods as twilight started to fall.
There are plenty of beautiful spots in Georgetown, whether on the veranda of a $10 million estate, the benches of Book Hill or the banks of the Potomac. But for GM, the meadows of Dumbarton Oaks Park top them all. Turning back to Lovers Lane, GM couldn’t help but think back to that first walk through the park almost nine years ago. He couldn’t believe then that he would be so lucky to live so close to this park. Nine years later and he still can’t believe it.