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Reconnecting with nature at Kenilworth

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Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens may be a living marvel, but it's kept that way by the National Park Service and a corps of unsung volunteers.

"Kenilworth is one of my favorite parks," says volunteer Alan Spears, who admits he can't tell the difference between a lotus and a lily.

Mr. Spears has visited "well over 100" of the National Park Service sites as a lobbyist with the National Parks Conservation Association and for his own pleasure. He says Kenilworth ranks right up there near Yellowstone and Gettysburg.

"It's a magical place to reconnect with nature in D.C.," he says.

But keeping the park in a magical state requires muscle and manpower. Consider the 77-acre Kenilworth Marsh, Washington's last tidal marsh.

"In high tide, you can look out and think it's pristine," Mr. Spears says.

At low tide, it's anything but: "It's not just an eyesore," Mr. Spears says. "It's an ecological threat."

Beneath its surface, he says, volunteers have found and collected enough athletic equipment to open a Sports Authority, along with furniture, stereos and more.

One day when Mr. Spears went out to pick up white plastic buckets in the mud, he got stuck. Within a matter of minutes, the 6-foot-1-inch volunteer was up to his stomach in mud. But before he could panic, he realized he wasn't going to sink any deeper and laughed it off.

"The park police came to my rescue," he says. "They took one look at me in the mud and their crisp, white linen shirts, and called on Eagle One, the same helicopter that circles overhead during events."

Mr. Spears claims that these kinds of things happen to him so they won't happen to anyone else.

"I encourage our volunteers to act more reasonably than I did," he says.

Together, the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association organize volunteers to help at Kenilworth on the fourth Saturday of the month and for two major cleanup days in the spring and fall.

"We have an amazing group of volunteers who keep coming back, but we need more help," says Mr. Spears, pleading for extra hands. "We have rubber boots with your name on them and in your size. We just might not have your color."

To volunteer, call Mr. Spears at 202/454-3384 or park ranger Debbie Kirkley at 202/426-6905.

— Kathryn McKay

WHAT: Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens' Annual Waterlily Festival and Lotus Asian Cultural Festival

WHERE: Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, 1550 Anacostia Ave. NE

WHEN: Festival from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. July 21. Park open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily

ADMISSION: Free

INFORMATION: 202/426-6905, nps.gov/kepa or nps.gov/history/nr/travel/wash/dc95.htm

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