It’s a myth that Washington, D.C., was built on a swamp. Most of the nation’s capital was actually built upon farm and pastureland.
But the tidal flats along the Anacostia River are a wetland habitat. When Walter Shaw settled here in the late 19th century, he recognized the familiar ecology. He placed water lilies from his home town in Maine in one of the ponds. They thrived.
Over the next two decades, Shaw dug new ponds and planted more water-loving flowers. When he died, his daughter opened the marsh to paying visitors. Political leaders wandered the paths of Shaw Gardens and hosted picnics for visiting dignitaries.
The gardens’ proximity to Capitol Hill came in handy when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted to backfill the marsh as part of a river dredging project. In response, Congress purchased the land and made it part of Anacostia Park, safe from the threatening backhoes.
Today Shaw Gardens has become Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, a peaceful oasis just a stone’s throw from the city center. Families come here to picnic, painters to capture the brilliant colors, and birdwatchers to see orioles, catbirds, and terns. On summer mornings, hundreds of water lilies and lotus flowers fan their petals to greet the day.
The short trails in the park are lined with benches, where you can tune out the sounds of the city and remember Washington as it once was.
If You Go:
Not a big fan of bugs? Relax. The marsh ponds ebb and flow with the tides, and mosquitoes don’t breed in moving water. The park also closes at 4 p.m., long before most biting bugs start their search for supper.