Don’t laugh, but it could be that Nirvana is something like sitting in West Potomac Park on a beautiful day in spring. This past Sunday was one of those near-perfect days in DC: Bright warm sun, low humidity, slight breeze. I sat facing the river, the encouraging cheers of softball players and clink of the metal bat finding contact with the ball perforating the silence. A little girl wandered around to my right, collecting pieces of grass in an over-stuffed plastic bag. A father led another little girl, no more than 2 years old, by the hand through the weeping branches of the river-side trees. People all around the park were having picnics, pushing strollers, jogging, biking, barbecuing.
West Potomac Park stretches from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and down to include the FDR Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and–of course–some 3,000 Cherry Blossom trees. The Tidal Basin, the oblong pool south of the Washington Monument and north of the Jefferson, is an artificial inlet that culls water from the Potomac and the Washington Channel. Old-school romancers may be seen paddling around the basin in those paddleboat contraptions.
On the other side of the reflecting pool is Constitution Gardens, a 50-acre park on its own merit. While it is now a bit removed from what we think of as the riverside, the gardens were in fact once submerged beneath the Potomac. Prior to the land being dedicated as a national park, it was home to the Navy and Munitions building. It was President Nixon, in fact, himself a former navy officer, who had the building demolished and re-appropriated the land as a national park for the national Bicentennial in 1976. Today, the gardens boast the Vietnam Memorial and Declaration of Independence memorial, and also host the annual naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens.
The river itself may not look like much at times, but the Potomac is in fact the 4th largest on the Atlantic Coast and the 21st largest in the country. (Bonus points if you know approximately how many American rivers there are total. Anyone? Over 250,000!) The Potomac River extends 383 miles from the Fairfax Stone in West Virginia to Point Lookout, Maryland and weaves in and out of four states. The name “Potomac” is an Algonquin tribal name. Besides its ecological importance to the area and its flora and fauna, it has a large amount of historical value as well.