Along with the native plants and animals, our children also thrive in the Park's wild and wooded setting.
Look at Rock Creek Park through young eyes.
You see a wilderness inviting you to clamber over boulders, balance on fallen tree trunks, search for fish darting through sunlit patches of water and drop twigs into the creek so you can watch them race downstream.
Each twist in the valley offers a fresh discovery. Every visit provides a different perspective. New encounters offer opportunities to try on new roles.
Science, History, Sports
Budding scientists observe the creatures living in the woods and the lichen growing on the trees. They watch the stars at outdoor programs and inside at the only planetarium in the National Park system. They catalog the birds that migrate with the seasons and the others living in the Park year-round.
In Rock Creek and its associated parks, young historians can watch a 19th century mill grind grain, walk Civil War fortifications that saved the Nation’s Capital, live like colonial Georgetowners at the Old Stone House and identify the statues on Meridian Hill.
And any boy or girl can be a sports hero, thanks to a major league list of activities on ball fields, tennis courts, a golf course, bicycle paths, horse trails and on the water at the Thompson Boat Center.
Where to Begin?
Parents can rely on Park programs and exhibits to help advance the natural curiosity of their youngsters.
Families often start at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center. That’s Nature Center, not Visitors Center. Even though visitors can get all the maps, brochures and information they need, the name emphasizes that here is a place where children from a very young age can begin a lifelong appreciation of nature.
Inside they encounter live animals and exhibits portraying local species. The Discovery Room offers books, puppets, games and other educational activities with an environmental theme for kids as young as pre-K.
Two short self-guided tours begin just outside on the Woodland and Edge of the Woods Trails. From there, kids can stretch their legs and imaginations along many more leafy paths up and down the valley. The other parks under the Rock Creek banner offer their own outdoor experiences — from Potomac River views in Georgetown Waterfront Park to the hedge maze in Montrose Park. Rock Creek’s neighbor, the National Zoo, lets youngsters appreciate and help conserve the world’s endangered species.
Rangers — Junior and Senior
Park rangers and other staff provide greater depth by leading classes, talks and walks — and by organizing summer camps for students of all ages around such themes as Astronomy and Art in the Park. The TRACK Trail north of Porter Street turns a short hike into an educational treasure hunt. Specialized curricula help educators use park resources to teach key concepts about ecology, science and history.
Volunteer opportunities give youngsters a chance at hands-on experience preserving the environment. And children can aspire to become Junior Rangers, with special activity booklets for ages 6 to 12.
Tent Poles and Swimming Holes
Kids had some other ways to enjoy Rock Creek Park during its early history. For three decades beginning in 1904, Camp Goodwill gave low-income children and their mothers two-week outings scheduled throughout the summer — first at a site where the Rock Creek Golf Course is today and later at a tent city north of Fort DeRussy. Reflecting the shameful segregation of the times, Camp Goodwill was only open to white campers. African American children attended Camp Pleasant in Deanwood Heights.
All park areas today are closed to swimming and wading by both people and pets. But kids used to flock to Rock Creek’s swimming holes until pollution concerns led to the posting of “No Bathing” signs in the 1920s and 30s. Popular swimming spots were found just north of Broad Branch, around the Joaquin Miller Cabin, near Kalmia Road and at “Big Rock” not far from Adams Mill. That last location was the favorite of Evening Star columnist John Clagett Proctor, who remembered:
When Big Rock, in Rock Creek, was our bathing beach,
And how we ‘played hookey’ its waters to reach.
An even older account dates way back to the 1850s, when a boy named Charles would go up the creek with his friends, “wading in it where we could not walk along the bank.” As Charles recalled, they would “walk all over the Rock Creek country.... I became attached to almost every foot of it.”
That boy grew up to become businessman Charles Glover, the prime mover behind the creation of Rock Creek Park in 1890. As today's boys and girls wander through the same valley, where might a love of the Rock Creek wilderness take them?