Nestled in Northeast, you’ll find a time capsule from the past, where the remnants of Washington’s natural history of wetlands and rivers flourish. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is the hidden gem of the DC area National Park System and a excellent spot for DCers to escape to for a serene and educational respite.
In the late 1800s, Walter Shaw bought a piece of land along the marshland flats of the Anacostia River. Shaw, a Maine native, planted a few wild water lilies in a pond of this strip of land. The lilies took on like gangbusters and Shaw planted other lilies and varieties of flowers. When Shaw died in 1921, his daughter, Helen Shaw Fowler, expanded the gardens and made the location where U.S. presidents, their families, and neighbors would take day trips to.
In 1938, with the tireless support of Helen Fowler Shaw, Congress authorized payment of $15,000 to buy the 8 acres of land with aquatic gardens, and the grounds were annexed to the Anacostia Park and the larger National Capital Parks-East. By way of saving this land, Congress created a park that filters the Anacostia River, reduces flood damage, and preserves the biological and cultural resources for present and future generations.
What makes Kenilworth is the symbiosis between the aquatic garden and the marshlands. The flow between the sculpture ponds filled with water lilies and lotuses, and the wild grasses and reeds of the river is indistinguishable. Like the dragonflies that fly from one area to the other, the garden is one giant wetland oasis.
For photographers, and I’m an amateur, Kenilworth offers a rich palette. Wildlife abounds with birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and beavers. The flora is diverse, colorful and vibrant. And the wetland and ebbing rivers provides shimmery and reflective surfaces.
If you’re thinking Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is a trek, you’re wrong. It’s as easy to get to as RFK Stadium or Nationals Park. You can drive (they have parking,) or Metro (Deanwood Station) or canoe (FYI: check the tides) to get there.