The largest wooded area in Ward at 197 acres, Shepherd Parkway is a long, narrow greenway covering the steep hillsides that separate the neighborhoods of Congress Heights and Bellevue from I-295 and Joint Base Anacostia Bolling. It is property of National-Capital Parks-East, an administrative unit covering the many National Park Service properties in the eastern half of DC and in Prince George’s County.
Shepherd Parkway’s rugged topography and hardwood forests hide the remains of two Civil fortifications, a bald eagle’s nest, numerous streambeds and a small wetland. Biologists have identified rare plant and aquatic microorganisms within the park, parts of which has been largely undisturbed since the Civil War.
Several areas are noteworthy for their profusion of beech trees, while others are dominated by oaks, maples, and sweet gums. Walnut, hickory and holly, and are also found.
In winter and early spring when the trees are bare, the hilltops along 2nd Street SE, 2nd Street SW and Martin Luther King Avenue SW give panoramic views across the Potomac River.
Like most the ward 8’s woods, Shepherd Parkway lacks trail access or even signs to identify it as federal parkland. In many areas where the land slopes downward from residential streets, trash and debris have been tossed for decades. The invasive plants English ivy, bittersweet and Asian wisteria have choked out the native ecosystem in many areas, leaving them ugly and impassible.
Since 2011, the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, initiated by Philip Pannell and lead by Nathan Harrington, has mobilized over 1,000 volunteers to remove over 100,000 pounds of trash from Shepherd Parkway and cut invasive vines from hundreds of trees.
In 2015, eight acres of Shepherd Parkway were transferred (against the protests of the NPS) to the General Service Administration to make way for a new roadway and interchange to carrying traffic two and from the adjacent U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters. Funds were paid to NPS to mitigate the loss through improvement of the remaining park land, but results of this funding have yet to be seen.
At Malcolm X Avenue, a narrow strip of Shepherd Parkway juts eastward as far as Martin Luther King Avenue, where a landscaped area of tables and benches serves as a kind of village green for Congress Heights neighborhood. This heavily used park has unfortunately been a frequent focus of residents’ complaints about public drinking, drugs, littering, and sometimes violence. In response, churches have come to offer food, clothing, and fellowship. A local community leader pays several park users to pick up trash, and events such as Art all Night and National Night Out have sought to make the park more welcoming.
Although Shepherd Parkway has received more attention in recent years than other woodland in Ward 8, much work remains to remove “legacy trash” from years of dumping, crack down on those who continue to dump, halt the explosive growth of invasive plants, and make the park safe and welcome for all.
Our long-term vision includes a network of hiking trails, new interpretive signage, replanting of native trees and shrubs, and maybe even a scenic overlook.
Volunteers clean-ups of Shepherd Parkway have been held every second Saturday of the month since 2011, a tradition we intend to carry on proudly for years to come.
We always meet at the benches across Malcolm X Avenue from the house at 555 Newcomb Street SE.
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Join us from 10:30 am to 1 pm on the following days in 2019:
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