The common joke about D.C. is that immediately after introducing yourself at a party, people will ask what you do for a living. While the joke isn’t a great caricature of the people who live in D.C., there is a small ounce of truth in it for the people who’ve moved here from far away. Washington, D.C. has a remarkably high transient population. Because of the constant change of elected officials, and the staff positions that change with them, the District is always in flux. Tack on four major universities, three major medical schools, a burgeoning food scene, a stack of law firms, an even larger stack of government contractors, and thousands of permanent federal positions, it’s no wonder D.C. comes up as one of the most transient cities in the United States.
What sets D.C. apart from other transient towns, though, is that people come here for work. It’s not like Portland, Seattle, or Austin, where people will move for five years, because they “heard it was cool.” People move into the District for jobs, or the promise of a job, or a school that will inevitably open the door to a job, or for an internship. This town is work-obsessed. While you might want to roll your eyes every time you hear someone in an Express suit and Zara tie ask “So, what do you do?” bear in mind, that guy is asking because he moved here for a job, too.
Luckily for the buttoned-down, work-obsessed, coffee-chugging, memo-reading, Blackberry-tapping office crowd, this city has a handful of gorgeous parks to relax, and escape the bleak, fluorescent-lit world of work. Here are five that are less-frequently visited:
#UnitedOutside content has been done in collaboration with our friends at REI
There used to be a church here. Actually, there technically is a church here, but it’s been moved from the remains of the sanctuary to the Parish rectory, just down the street. The Gothic revival church stood proudly at the intersection of 18th and P for 70 years before it was struck with arson. The parish consolidated their efforts into mission work, activism, and fellowship, rather than re-building the church itself. They went on to be one of the first churches in the area to sign onto IntegrityUSA, an initiative to invite gays and lesbians, who felt shunned by their own parishes, into the Episcopalian Church. They were also one of the first churches in the country to have an openly gay rector, and also developed the first liturgies for same-sex unions. What’s left of the burned-out church, however, is an open-air sanctuary, in the middle of the Dupont neighborhood. It’s a peaceful park, with a built-in labyrinth, perfect for contemplation and reflection.
When I first started writing Hidden in Plain Sight stories a couple years ago, Cullen Gilchrist (Blind Dogs, Union Kitchen) told me to go check out Crispus Attucks Park, on the Eastern end of LeDroit Park. While free open to the public, this park is one of two parks on this list not affiliated with the National Park Service. What was once a burned-out building and a series of lots was turned into a community park, over the course of almost fifty years. It’s home to an outdoor movie series, and a sizable garden, all maintained by the Crispus Attucks Development Corporation, which is a community-based non-profit. This is a great park to escape the sensory overload so commonly associated with the U st. scene.
This one requires a bit of a hike to access. On the Northern neck of Chain Bridge Road, the winding avenue that connects Nebraska Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard, sits the remains of a military fortification, formerly used by the Union Army during the American Civil War. 150 years ago, the site would have been dominated by the 100-pound Parrott rifles set up to defend the District, should she face an attack from the Confederate Army. The Confederates never attacked, though, and the site quickly stopped becoming a fort after the War. Since its relatively not-so-violent past, it’s become a space for the surrounding neighborhood residents to go ambling about in when it’s sunny, and go sledding when it snows. The wide, spacious, rolling slopes are wonderful for picnics.
Bordered by a decommissioned PEPCO plant to the north, a military base to the west, and the Anacostia River to the south and east, Buzzard Point is a tiny park next to one of the most unassuming marinas in the District. Half the boats at the dock haven’t left the marina in years, and the people in front of the shack beside the marina’s parking lot don’t seem to care. People often go on and on about amazing experiences in parks, and having deeply moving encounters with nature. This park offers no such thing. It’s just a little gravel parking lot, surrounded by a few dead trees and patches of grass, and happens to be the perfect place to sit on the water, and outright ignore the world around you.
If religious iconography, or Catholic imagery bother you, this park may not be for you. Otherwise, feel free to step into a bona fide Franciscan Monastery, and enjoy the grounds. The monastery was built to closely resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, for those who couldn’t afford the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While the monastery is free and open to the public, donations are highly encouraged.