- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

Thousands of visitors attended the annual Waterlily and Founder’s Day Festival at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Northeast yesterday to gaze at the fields of fragrant soft-colored lilies and lotuses blooming in the park’s many ponds.

Oohs and ahs could be heard as 2,500 visitors got an up-close look at a field of creamy yellow, soft pink and white lotuses standing in full bloom, with each plant engulfed by 2-foot-long circular leaves.

Tranquil waterlily ponds, reminiscent of French Impressionist artist Claude Monet’s famous waterlily paintings, delighted the guests as the plants floated on the water’s surface.

“Everyone loves to see the ancient lotus, which stand up 6 to 8 feet high in a variety of different colors,” said Debbie Kirkley, acting park manager since 1998.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is the only national park devoted to aquatic plants. The section of the park that features the tropical plants comprises 12 acres and has 46 ponds filled with blooming hardy water lilies and lotuses. The park sits on 30 acres of land west of Kenilworth Avenue.

Yesterday’s festival offered visitors a variety of programs and activities, including scenic bird walks, garden wetland tours and tub gardening workshops. Entertainment was provided by the Blue Sky Puppet Show, whose characters encouraged visitors to conserve energy and recycle.

The festival also honored Walter B. Shaw and his daughter, Helen Fowler — the land’s original owners, who created the unique habitat to protect the aquatic plants. The Department of the Interior purchased the land from them in 1938, and the National Park Service renamed it, Ms. Kirkley said.

“You will be simply amazed at the beauty and the surroundings that the park offers,” she said.

Noel Tipon, a photographer from Rockville, didn’t pass up the chance to see the lilies. With his camera and tripod in hand, Mr. Tipon photographed the flowers and their gigantic leaves. He even spotted a snake that had curled up near the lilies for an afternoon nap.

“What’s so fascinating about this is all of the different colors of water lilies and all of the different varieties,” said Mr. Tipon, who visited the park for the first time yesterday.

Meanwhile, others gathered near the park’s Visitors Center to hear storyteller Diane Macklin spin a yarn or two. Ms. Macklin, 31, is a former private school teacher and has attended the festival for the past two years.

“I love coming to this park because it’s almost like not being in the city,” she said. “It’s an oasis, surrounded by flowers, insects and a legacy of stories about tradition and the land. You know, there is land here that has never been touched.”

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