At 197 acres, Ward 8’s largest wooded area, Shepherd Parkway is not a road but a long, narrow greenway, covering steep hillsides that separate, on one side, the neighborhoods of Congress Heights and Bellevue, and on the other, I-295 and Joint Base Anacostia Bolling. It is overseen by National Capital Parks-East, the National Park Service (NPS) branch responsible for properties in Prince George’s County and the eastern half of DC.
Shepherd Parkway’s rugged topography and hardwood forests hide numerous stream beds, a small wetland, and a bald eagle’s nest . Biologists have identified rare plant and aquatic microorganisms within the park, parts of which have been largely undisturbed since the Civil War.
Shepherd Parkway includes the earthwork remains Fort Carroll and Fort Greble, part of a ring of hilltop forts built hastily by the Union army in 1861 to defend the Nation’s Capital from Confederation invasion. The forts east of the Anacostia were used to train soldiers headed for the front and may have served as a deterrent, but never saw battle. African Americans escaping slavery in Maryland came to the forts, seeking protection and employment from the Union army, and permanent communities formed near by. The forts were abandoned at war’s end in 1865 most of the land returned to woodlands and private ownership.
The land came under the National Park system protection in 1930, one of the last parcels acquired as part of the grant “Fort Circle Drive” proposed in the 1902 McMillan Plan but never completed.
Several areas of Shepherd Parkway are noteworthy for their profusion of beech trees, while others are dominated by tulip poplars, oaks, maples, and sweetgums. Black walnut, hickory and holly are also found in abundance.
In winter and early spring when the trees are bare, hilltops abutting the park along 2nd Street SE, 2nd Street SW and Martin Luther King Avenue SW afford panoramic views across the Potomac River.
Like most of Ward 8’s woods, Shepherd Parkway lacks trail access or even signs to identify it as federal parkland. In areas where the land slopes downward from residential streets, trash and debris have piled up from decades of illegal dumping. And invasive plants like English ivy, bittersweet, Asian wisteria and multiflora rose have choked out the native ecosystem in many areas, leaving them ugly and impassible.
Shepherd Parkway also accommodates the Congress Heights neighborhood’s unofficial “village green” – a landscaped area of tables and benches on a narrow strip jutting eastward from Malcolm X Avenue as far as Martin Luther King Avenue. This heavily used park is known by many names, but National Capital Parks-East calls it Parkland. The area has unfortunately been a frequent focus of residents’ complaints about public drinking, drugs, littering, and violence.
In response, churches began congregating there to offer food, clothing, and fellowship. A local community leader pays park users to pick up trash, and events such as Art all Night and National Night Out have sought to make the park more welcoming.
Shepherd Parkway has also been a focus for community-led environmental efforts. From 2011 to 2018, the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway mobilized more than 1,000 volunteers to remove over 100,000 pounds of trash from Shepherd Parkway and cut invasive vines from hundreds of trees.
Although Shepherd Parkway has received more attention in recent years than other woodlands in Ward 8, much work remains to remove “legacy trash” from years of dumping, crack down on those who continue to dump, halt the explosive growth of invasive plants, and make the park safe and welcoming for all.
In 2015, eight acres of Shepherd Parkway were transferred -against the protests of the NPS- to the General Services Administration to make way for the Malcolm X Avenue Interchange Project, which will carry traffic to and from the adjacent U.S. Department of Homeland Security headquarters.
In 2019 these acres were stripped of thousands of trees, a significant loss of tree cover in an urban center. It’s hard to imagine such a thing happening in Rock Creek Park or the C&O Canal, bordered as they are by wealthy and predominantly white neighborhoods. The wholesale destruction of forested parkland in the working class Black community of Ward 8 is a sadly typical case of environmental racism.
To mitigate the loss, NPS received funds to improve the remaining park land, but the amount and intended use of those funds has not been disclosed.
In October 2020, following a series of public meetings and a comment period, a Shepherd Parkway Development Concept Plan The plan includes many elements of our vision, but does not commit NPS to action. Costs and timelines for implementation remain unclear.
Join our monthly Shepherd Parkway Volunteer Days
Every second Saturday of the month, 10:30 am to 1:00 pm
Volunteers clean-ups of Shepherd Parkway have been held every month since 2011, a tradition we intend to carry on proudly for years to come.
Gloves, bags, and water are provided. Volunteers should dress for the weather with clothes they won’t mind getting dirty and shoes with strong traction. Boots are preferred.
Documentation of community service hours provided upon request
For more information contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2021 Ward 8 Woods Conservancy. All Rights Reserved.