Rock Creek Park has inspired natives and newcomers, poets and politicians to praise its scenery as "wild and rugged" and "blushing with beauty."
As one of Washington's most cherished spaces, Rock Creek Park has frequently attracted presidential attention. Woodrow Wilson wrote, "That park is the most beautiful thing in the United States." Theodore Roosevelt recalled that "each Sunday afternoon the whole family spent in Rock Creek Park, which was then very real country indeed." John Quincy Adams sought relaxation from his official duties in "this romantic glen, listening to the singing of a thousand birds."
On the other hand, the creek has also been called "foul-smelling [and] mud-laden." And, when the DC-based Blackbyrds put a song called "Rock Creek Park" on the charts in 1976 (peaking at #37 R&B), they disregarded the ubiquitous "Closed at Dusk" signs to praise "doing it in the park, doing it after dark, oh yeah, Rock Creek Park."
Here are some notable quotations about our urban oasis:
Whoever heard of the falls of Rock creek? At the distance of about four miles from the city and within the limits of the District lie these beautiful, wild and romantic falls, unknown and unfrequented in a deep glen, surrounded by lofty hills on either side.... Here, Nature as though expressly for the accommodation of picnic parties, has constructed tables from her everlasting rocks and surrounded them with ottomans that would well adorn the portico or even the parlor of a prince.
Joshua Peirce, owner of "Linnaean Hill," 1835
This wild and romantic tract of country ... with its charming drives and walks, its hills and dales, its pleasant valleys and deep ravines, its primeval forests and cultivated fields, its running waters, its rocks clothed with rich fern and mosses, its repose and tranquility, its light and shade, its ever-varying shrubbery, its beautiful and extensive views ... there you can find nature diversified in almost every hue and form.
Major Nathaniel Michler, early advocate for Rock Creek Park, in a letter to Missouri Senator B. Gratz Brown, 1867
It has running water; it has rugged hills; it has picturesque scenery; it has abundance of varied forest timber; it has a native undergrowth blushing with beauty; it has the tangled vine and the clustering wildflower, and the quiet mosses gray with age, and indeed a thousand imprints of native adornment that no hand of art could ever equal in its most imitative mood.
Senator Brown, Chairman of the Public Buildings and Grounds Committee, 1867
Rock Creek has an abundance of all the elements that make up not only pleasing but wild and rugged scenery. There is perhaps, not another city in the Union that has on its very threshold so much natural beauty and grandeur, such as men seek for in remote forests and mountains.
American naturalist John Burroughs, 1868
Surely, in all our land, no lovelier stream
Glides than our own Rock creek, and none more fit
For a great city's park could be than it,
Whose "banks and braes" with charms unnumbered teem.
No woodman's axe should e'er disturb the dream
Of its "patrician trees," nor should a bit
Of its sequestered scenery e'er be smit
By blight of false, utilitarian scheme.
W. L. Shoemaker (uncle of Pierce Shoemaker) from "Park Sonnets," 1892
To Rock Creek there is nothing comparable in any capital city in Europe. What city in the world is there where a man ... can within ... a quarter of an hour on his own feet get into a beautiful rocky glen, such as you would find in the woods of Maine or Scotland ... with a broad stream foaming over its stony bed and wild, leafy woods looking down on each side?
British Ambassador to the United States, Lord James Bryce, 1913
No matter how perfect the scenery of the Park may be or may become, no matter how high its potential value, that value remains potential except insofar as it is enjoyed by large and ever larger numbers of people, poor and rich alike.
Olmsted Brothers, 1918
A wonder of the simple time of old
When machines were of the rarest mark.
So we of these enlightened times
See once again as our forefathers saw
And hear old Pierce's mill at work again
Interior Department employee Walter Hough, on the first restoration of Peirce Mill, 1935
It is hard to believe that the foul-smelling, mud-laden, debris-choked watercourse which winds its sickly way from Montgomery County, Maryland through the nation's capital can be the same stream which Major Michler described ... some 90 years ago."
Bernard Frank, US Forest Service, 1954
Rock Creek, like the city of Washington, belongs to all the people of America. We must ask ourselves how can we expect to clean up any river in the nation, if we cannot clean up Rock Creek Park?
US Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, 1967
Have you all read the sign on the creek: fish from these waters contain PCBs ... swimming is prohibited due to high levels of bacteria. To those who say we have nothing more to do to clean up America's waterways, I urge them to come here to Peirce Mill and read the sign. We still have a lot of work to do on this, the most simple necessity of our lives, water.
President Bill Clinton, 1995
Oak, tulip poplar, beech & laurel
holly, dogwood on the hills,
sycamore, red maple, wet,
tolerant, all along the floodplain
through steep ravines, gentle
sloping hills, grassy meadows
and the stretch of rapids
south of Military Road,
the Secession War captured in a street sign
now as frenzied commuter route
where 20,000 years ago
nomads sharpened fluted points
for caribou, elk, moose,
black bear, mastodon & mammoth
Poet and English professor Joshua Weiner, from "Rock Creek (II)," 2013