Ryan Goodale, 4, and his sister, Alexandra, 22 months, are too young to know much about Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president, who had a passion for wildlife and conservation.
What matters to Ryan and Alexandra, as well as their young friends from the Moms Club of Alexandria, is that there is room to run at Theodore Roosevelt Island National Park, the wooded park dedicated to the former president. Roosevelt Island is located in the Potomac River, between Rosslyn and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The toddlers and preschoolers scamper across the wide-open stone plaza, darting from fountain to footbridge, past the 17-foot-high statue of Roosevelt and back again.
“I bring my kids here a lot,” says Ryan and Alexandra’s mother, Julie Goodale. “It is a nice place to get outside. They love being outside, they love seeing the planes flying overhead, and they love the water in the fountains.”
Roosevelt Island is right there in the river, yet it maintains a remote feeling. The island has a long history, as it was believed to have been a seasonal fishing village used by American Indians. Descendants of George Mason once had a mansion and gardens on the property. It was later a training site for Union troops during the Civil War.
By the 1930s, it was deeded to the U.S. government to be used as a park and natural recreation area in honor of Roosevelt. More than 60 years later, that vision is intact. On any day this time of year, an assortment of joggers, tourists, history buffs, bird-watchers and, of course, youngsters, can be found exercising, observing, playing or quietly contemplating on the island.
The Memorial Plaza in the center of the island was built in the 1960s. The park is dominated by the giant statue and flat granite columns with famous quotes from Roosevelt.
His thoughts on youth and democracy are here, but his reflections on nature are the most appropriate. Says one inscription: “Nature: There is delight in the hardy life of the open.”
The children from the moms group know that. Ms. Goodale says there are learning opportunities in the outdoors as well.
“My son counted the posts on the footbridge,” she says. “We count flowers. They see things they wouldn’t normally see here.”
The park is accessible only from the northbound side of the George Washington Parkway. A footbridge across the Potomac connects the parking lot to the island.
The island has several easy walking trails. The unpaved Woods and Uplands trails take visitors through the island’s natural areas, and signs are placed at intervals pointing out native species and other nature and conservation information.
On the island side closest to the District, the boardwalk Swamp Trail takes visitors through marshy areas where they can watch for birds and other wildlife.
The natural areas have remained natural, but the evidence of modern civilization is never far away. Planes heading toward nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fly low overhead, and the Woods and Swamp trails intersect practically underneath the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, which whisks commuters back and forth from the nation’s capital.
When you go:
Location: Theodore Roosevelt Island National Park is in the Potomac River between Rosslyn and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Directions: The park can be accessed by the footbridge connecting the island to the parking lot on the Virginia side of the river. From the District, cross the Memorial or 14th Street Bridge, then take the George Washington Memorial Parkway north and follow signs.
Parking: Free parking in lot.
Hours: Open year round, 8 a.m. until dark.
More information: 703/289-2500 or www.nps.gov/this.
m Roosevelt Island is operated by the National Park Service. There is a large plaza with fountains and a 17-foot statue of the nation’s 26th president, as well as trails that take visitors through wooded and marshy areas. The island is a good spot for jogging, fishing, bird-watching and nature walks. The trails are flat, but some are rocky and muddy, so wear appropriate footwear.
Pets must be leashed.
Bicycles are not allowed on the island.
The restrooms on the island are closed during the winter.