Welcome to another edition of DC Mythbusting! One of the greatest things about living in the District is the access to parks: the National Mall, several triangle and square parks, the fort system of parks, and the enormous Rock Creek Park. But even with these parks, it seems like DC can’t compete with the scale of other urban parks like Central Park in New York City, right? But would you believe that Rock Creek Park is larger than Central Park? How does DC compare to other comparable cities in terms of parkland? These questions and more are answered in this week’s Mythbusting!
Rock Creek Park is a great urban park, with miles of trails for both hikers and cyclists, a nature center, tennis courts, an amphitheater, and lots of picnicking sites. But as great as it is, it’s nothing like New York’s Central Park, right? Central Park is just so much bigger, with so much more to offer.
Wrong! Rock Creek Park, with its 1,700 acres, is more than twice the size of Central Park (at 843 acres). Central Park has great amenities including a zoo, amphitheater, horseback riding facilities, and a boathouse. Rock Creek Park also has a zoo, amphitheater, horseback riding facilities, and a boathouse. Where Central Park wins out here is in access– it is close to lots of subway stops, almost always filled with people, and it’s so centrally located that you can’t help but stop by. On the other hand, Rock Creek Park is not easily accessible by transit, can sometimes feel abandoned and creepy, and is separated from the city by pretty significant topography changes. It’s safe to say that Central Park is the more successful urban park (since it’s the most successful urban park, ever), but Rock Creek Park is often overlooked because it’s a little harder to get to and much more spread out than Central Park. Still though, if size is all that matters, we win!
So how does DC compare to other cities in terms of area of parkland? As expected, with all the National Park Service land throughout the city, we’re right at the top. According to the Trust for Public Lands, Washington (which is 19.4% parkland) comes in second only to New York City (which is 19.6% parkland) in a comparison of high-density cities. We beat out our peer cities San Francisco (18% parkland), Boston (16.3% parkland), and Portland (15.7% parkland). All those triangles, circles and squares add up, especially when you add in the major resources like Rock Creek Park and the National Mall.
The great news is that tourists only seem to know about the Mall, so the rest of the parks in the city aren’t typically crowded. Rock Creek Park has plenty of space for everyone (even though the closed-to-cars Beach Drive can get congested with cyclists, runners, walkers, and kids on weekends), and there are a number of large parks that even we Washingtonians forget about:
- The National Arboretum is a 446-acre park with lots of gardens and botanical collections. Check out the bonsai museum or the amazing azalea garden, and make a point to see some great cherry blossoms here next spring instead of the participating in the fiasco at the Tidal Basin. Here’s how to get there.
- Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is a 700-acre site that features ponds filled with water lilies and frogs. This area is home to many different birds and animals, and there are tons of wildflowers– it’s hard to believe you’re still in the city. Here’s how to get there.
- Fort Dupont Park is a 376-acre park that was part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington. There is so much to do in this park! Says the National Park Service: “Picnics, nature walks, a hiker/biker trail, scenic drives, a Civil War earthworks fort, Civil War programs, gardening, summer concerts, ice skating, sports, environmental education, and youth programs are among the varied seasonal activities at this spacious area east of the Anacostia River.” Here’s how to get there.
These parks are growing in popularity; in fact, three District parks are on the list of the most-visited parks in the country. The National Mall, as the 11th most-visited park in the United States, has 10 million annual visitors; Rock Creek Park, at number 32, has 2 million annual visitors; and Meridian Hill Park at number 54 clocks in with 500,000 visitors a year.
So next time your New York City friends get uppity about how amazing their parks are and how Central Park is the biggest and best park ever, bring them back down to earth. DC has two parks that beat Central Park in size (Rock Creek Park and Anacostia Park), and there are so many neighborhood parks that you’re never far from green space. We’ve got nearly the same percentage of land that is parkland as New York, and we’ve got several huge parks spread out around the District. Plus, New York City has never experienced a party like the one we hold on our most famous park every 4 to 8 years!