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Urban Trails, Neighborhood Partnerships: DC’s Metropolitan Branch Trail

Abandoned rail lines running through city neighborhoods can be the perfect solution for creating a park in a high density city with little other available real estate. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has nearly a 30 year history of providing leadership in the creation of more than 20,000 miles of new trail across the country. Today, it finds itself increasingly working in cities to forge the last connection to a regional trail system. This means tackling the shorter rail lines where their proximity to where people live, work and play make them a good choice for getting people walking and cycling.

But these urban trails require a lot more attention to get people to use them for recreation and transportation, and RTC finds itself increasingly involved in programming trails as well as building them.

“RTC used to say ‘build it and they will come,’” says Kelly Pack, RTC’s Director of Trail Development. “Now we say ‘build it, maintain it, program it and they will come.’ In urban areas people have a lot more choices. Being more engaged on the programming side really helps to build awareness and get people hooked on their own neighborhood trails – and then hopefully onto regional trail systems.”  Continue reading

January’s Frontline Park

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Canal Park

Canal Park

In 1815, the Washington City Canal opened and connected the Anacostia and Potomac rivers via the National Mall.  In the early 1900s, the canal was paved over to create Canal Street and has served many different purposes over the years, including as a holding area for idling buses.  The site’s newest function as a park began back in 2000, when a developer formed the nonprofit Canal Park Development Association, which secured the site and was tasked with overseeing development of the park.  Funding came from many different sources, including some not traditionally associated with funding for local parks; the District and Federal governments, the DC Housing Authority, and private developers contributed funds in addition to neighborhood stakeholders.  The design competition opened in 2004, and in 2010, the project finally broke ground.  The park is owned by the District of Columbia, but Canal Park Development Association and the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District will be responsible for programming and management.

Canal Park isn’t a typical neighborhood park, and not just because of its history and public-private partnership management structure.  The park serves as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) and is a candidate for LEED Gold certification, thanks to some innovative features:

  • Underground cisterns collect water from the park and neighboring city blocks.
  • Water is treated and reused, satisfying the park’s water needs for fountains, irrigation, toilets, and the ice skating path.  It is estimated that the system will generate 1.5 million gallons of reused water annually.
  • Heating and cooling for park amenities will be generated by 28 geothermal wells, reducing the park’s energy consumption by 40%.
Skating in DC

Skating in DC

Canal Park was designed to be the leader in urban environmental strategies: stormwater management, energy efficiency in its programming and structures, and soil remediation, but was imagined to be a great space in a city full of iconic spaces that would give an individual identity to a newly revitalized community.

To learn more about Canal Park, click here: www.canalparkdc.org

The “Frontline Parks” program is made possible with generous support from DuMor, Inc. and PlayCore.


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