Posted by Gregory Maassen on March 7, 2021 - Latest revision March 10, 2021  Reading time: minutes remaining

Book Review – A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness & Washington D.C.

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Cover of a history of rock creek park by Scott Einberger - E-bike Lovers

Twice the size of New York's Central Park, Washington DC's largest park is home to horse stables, a golf course, a nature center, a large tennis center, rolling hills, streams, waterfalls, migrating herrings, red foxes, deer, and the largest density of raccoons in U.S. forests.

Part of the Rock Creek Park Map

The National Park Service's map of Rock Creek Park. Click here to download the PDF version.

Today's Rock Creek Park is a magnet for e-bikers, analog cyclists, joggers, unicyclists, elliptical bikers, hikers, and horseback riders to enjoy the park's wilderness and roads, some of which are free of motorized traffic.

Controversies and Debate

With its rich and turbulent history and many uses, the park has seen its share of controversies, debates, and conflicts, including a proposal to inundate Rock Creek Park with a reservoir to supply Washington DC with fresh water.

Joaquin Miller's cabin in Rock Creek Park near Beach Drive

Joaquin Miller's cabin in Rock Creek Park near Beach Drive. Miller was an eccentric poet who built and lived in the cabin on Meridian Hill. The cabin was moved to its current location in 1911. See Einberger, 2014: 37-44. 

Scott Einberger's book excels in shedding light on the park's intriguing and complex history. Ranging from early human occupation dating back thirteen thousand years to a recent initiative to rename the park as "Rock Creek National Park in the District of Columbia," Einberger masterfully describes the park's diverse history.

More than Forests, Hiking, and Biking

Reading the book, I learned that Rock Creek Park encompasses more than an excellent place for biking, horseback riding, golfing, and hiking.

Although some 85% of Rock Creek Park is covered with dense forests, the park is much more than a nature destination. The Zoo Tunnel, Rock Creek Trail, Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway are part of the park, as are many surrounding buildings and sites that are not necessarily located in the park's nature areas.

Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park
Cyclists and cars in front of Peirce Mill between 1918 and 1920

Cyclists and cars in front of Peirce Mill somewhere between 1918 and 1920. Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Control Number - 2016819320. Rock Creek Park has been a popular destination for bikers since its inception. See also Einberger, 2014.

In fact, some 100 sites, buildings, monuments, and parks are administered by the National Park Service under the administrative unit of Rock Creek Park. These include Fort Stevens, Fort Reno (the highest natural point in DC), Fort DeRussy, Battleground National Cemetery, Miller's Cabin, Old Stone House, Meridian Hill Park, Thompson Boat Center, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Jusserand Memorial, and Carter Barron Amphitheatre.

A canon on display in Fort Stevens in Rock Creek Park Washington DC

A canon on display in Fort Stevens in Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC. Rock Creek Park's grounds were the site of the Civil War battle of Fort Stevens. President Lincoln narrowly escaped death from confederate sharpshooters at Fort Stevens on July 12, 1864, when he stood atop the fort's parapet to witness the battle.

The park includes traffic circles such as the notoriously dangerous Chevy Chase Circle, whose fountain is dedicated to Representative and Senator Francis Griffith Newlands of Nevada. It is also home to the famous Boulder Bridge, completed in 1902.

Rock Creek Park: An E-bike Heaven in the District

Beach Drive between Broad Branch Road and Joyce Road is Washington DC's longest and widest asphalt road open to pedestrians and bikers only on weekends. Initiatives are underway to permanently keep motorized traffic from some sections of Beach Drive.

A traiif barrier keeping motorized traffic from Beach Drive during the weekends

A traffic barrier keeps motorized traffic off Beach Drive between Broad Branch Road and Joyce Road on weekends. Superintendent Jim Redmond realized the closure of this section of Beach Drive in 1981. Efforts are again underway to permanently close this section of Beach Drive to motorized traffic after a similar plan failed in the mid-1980s. Einberger, 2014: 200-203.

Rock Creek Park is an ideal place to practice e-biking skills in a safe and beautiful environment. With its hills and hundreds of feet in elevation difference, Rock Creek Park is a great place for a work-out on any bike, including e-bikes.

Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek Park E-bike Lovers

The Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek Park. The boulders were supposed to be much smaller: "The construction called for 'man-sized' stones, a technical term for stones light enough to be handled by a worker without machinery. However, the contractor of Boulder Bridge took the term man-size literally." Einberger, 2014: 86.

E-Bike Lovers' "E-hill Circuit"

Rock Creek Park is an excellent area to develop e-biking skills on hilly terrain. This 6.7-mile circuit (see map below) has significant elevation differences. If you bike on the weekends, Beach Drive is closed to motorized traffic.

E-biking in Rock Creek Park

E-biking is permitted in Rock Creek Park where cycling is permitted. For more information, see our article on e-biking in Rock Creek Park.


Conclusion

Einberger has written a compelling account of the human, natural and urban history of Rock Creek Park. A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness & Washington D.C., is a highly recommended book for anyone interested in the history of the capital's largest urban park.

Get your copy of A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness & Washington, D.C. on Amazon.

Loved this book, everything you need or want to know about RCP, plus a fun writing style.


Ken OnuskA Berman

Awesome. Enjoyed reading this book ... especially interesting are the stories about boulder bridge, Peirce Mill, the older gentleman who mowed the grass using horses ... and much more!

Steven Warner

Packed with interesting historical tidbits. It will open your eyes to what you are seeing while hiking in Rock Creek.


Displaced Minne-sotan

About the Author

Scott Einberger is a parks, interpretation, and historian professional. He served as the park manager for Georgia's Cloudland Canyon State Park for 1.5 years and worked as an interpretive park ranger for the National Park Service for eight years, including four years at Rock Creek Park.


Rock Creek Conservancy


Scott is an environmental history dork to the nth degree. As such, his Rock Creek superpower is time travel! His book, "A History of Rock Creek Park: Wilderness and Washington, DC” tells the story of Rock Creek Park and how it came to be the beloved park it is today.

He currently works for Rock Creek Conservancy, the primary partner of the park. Outside of his day job, Einberger is an independent environmental historian and author of two books. His primary interest in history lies at the crossroads of parks, political science, and environmentalism.

The author can be reached via his website.


Dr. Gregory F. Maassen

Gregory discovered e-biking after 20 years of overseas work as project manager for the World Bank and USAID. He writes about e-mobility and e-biking in the DMV area, and loves the outdoors (white water kayaking, hiking and biking). He lives with his wife, Janet in Washington DC.


Favorite e-bike: Riese & Muller Super Charger Class 1 touring e-bike.


Dr. Gregory F. Maassen

FOUNDER E-BIKE LOVERS


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