- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Theodore Roosevelt Island Park is an oasis. Buzzing with natural activity and wonderfully devoid of crowds, the 91-acre wooded island is a peaceful alternative to the higher-profile memorials around the Mall.

Countless potential visitors drive by the island along the George Washington Parkway every week, but the island remains one of the well-kept secrets of the District, National Park Service ranger Jay Johnstone says.

"People see the signs," he says, "and perhaps their curiosity is piqued, but they never pull in."

They are missing a gem.

The island is outside Arlington on the Potomac River between the Key and Roosevelt bridges. Its grounds of marsh, swamp, forest and an amazing memorial to the 26th president beckon dog walkers, joggers, naturalists, Teddy Roosevelt fans and families out for an afternoon of low-key fun.

The parking area for the island is accessible only via the northbound lanes of the George Washington Parkway. If you reach Arlington's Spout Run Parkway, you've missed the exit. One parking lot bonus: Whether due to karmic intervention or the theory of rotation, there always seems to be a parking spot opening up in the lot (ever try to find a spot at the Tidal Basin?). Once parked and unloaded, visitors can make their way to the shores of the island via a footbridge high above the Potomac.

Like many points of interest in the Washington area, Roosevelt Island has a long and varied history. American Indians named the place "Analostan" and used it for fishing. Years later, it served as a summer resort for wealthy Virginians. During the Civil War, Union Army troops were stationed there.

In 1931, the island was sold to the Roosevelt Memorial Association; its members wished to establish a memorial for the former president, who died in January 1919. In 1932, the association deeded the island to the federal government. In 1967, the memorial to Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated, and it remains the most impressive aspect of the island.

Visitors reach the memorial plaza via a well-marked, slightly uphill path. The 17-foot bronze statue of Roosevelt looms, surrounded by gigantic marble tablets and framed by massive willow oak trees. Large moat fountains operate from mid-April to November.

"Most people are pleased to see a formal monument to Theodore Roosevelt," Mr. Johnstone says. "Most people like what they know of him."

Except, of course, those who come looking for the wheelchair and the Scottish terrier, Mr. Johnstone says.

"Sometimes it takes people a while to orient that this isn't about FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt]," he adds.

But visitors might not encounter a park ranger to set them straight on the finer points of American history, as the island is not permanently staffed. Even during the warmer months, people may see only a handful of staffers roaming the grounds.

What visitors also might not see in addition to the several varieties of snakes that Mr. Johnstone says are slithering around the island are stinging nettle and poison ivy. The stinging nettle is a low-lying plant with small, prickly looking leaves. One touch brings with it the sensation of a burning cactus.

The poison ivy crop is plentiful on the island, warns Mr. Johnstone.

"You won't have any difficulty as long as you stay on the trails," he adds.

Recent Dartmouth College graduate Seun Peters dropped by on a cold, windy day for a quick peek at the monument. It was his second visit to the island, and he calls the place "incredible."

"It's great to have a green space like this tucked away out here," he says. "It's unfortunate that more people don't know about it, but I guess that's a good thing."

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