- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

Constitution Gardens, a 50-acre park nestled among several memorials on the Mall, offers a place to rest, eat ice cream and enjoy the view of ducks, geese and rolling hills.

“Many visitors use it as a resting point between visiting the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial,” says Bill Line, spokesman for the National Park Service, which oversees the park.

The park is bordered by Constitution Avenue to the north and the Mall’s reflecting pool to the south. To the east is the World War II Memorial and to the west are the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln memorials.

Cynthia Williams, who works at the Constitution Gardens’ concession stand and sells a lot of ice cream in the spring and summer, says she thinks the park often is overlooked.

“I didn’t even know Constitution Gardens was here until I started working here,” Mrs. Williams says, “but it’s a really beautiful and peaceful place. It’s kind of a hidden gem.”

She says she sees people of all ages throughout the day use the park for reading, meditating, walking and running. Some bring picnics, and others enjoy the offerings of the concession stand, which will add soft ice cream to the menu in the summer, she says.

The park has dozens of benches and big stretches of lawn where people can rest. Restrooms are a stone’s throw from the concession stand.

The flora includes oaks, maples, dogwood, azaleas and dozens of weeping willows. The fauna features mostly ducks, geese and squirrels.

“You kind of forget you’re in a big city when you’re here,” Mrs. Williams says. “It’s very tranquil.”

Visitors can hear cars on Constitution Avenue, but the vegetation is so thick during the summer months that traffic is barely visible to those in the park.

Constitution Gardens offers more than just trees and birds, Mr. Line says.

In the middle of the man-made lake that dominates the park is an island with a modest memorial dedicated to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Names include several lawyers and planters from Maryland and Virginia in addition to that of Benjamin Franklin. The memorial was dedicated in the early 1980s.

The area where the park is located, like much of the Mall and memorial parks, was under the Potomac River in the 1800s. At the turn of the last century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged and created the land that became Constitution Gardens, Mr. Line says.

A more recent historical event was two years ago when an uninvited visitor — a disgruntled farmer — drove his tractor into the man-made lake, claiming to have explosives onboard.

“The tractor man, as he’s euphemistically known,” Mr. Line says.

The park has few organized events but does host an annual naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens, according to the National Park Service Web site.

On June 6, it will host a fishing day at the lake for elementary school children to teach them about rods, reels and fishing etiquette, Mr. Line says. Families are invited, too. A start time is to be determined.

The park is open 24 hours a day and offers something many city folks — whether young, old or in-between — crave: a place to get away from the hustle and bustle, Mr. Line says.

“It’s definitely a place for respite and relaxation in the urban environment,” he says.

When you go:

Location: Constitution Gardens is located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on Constitution Avenue NW. It’s bordered to the south by the reflecting pool on the Mall. The park sits on the northwestern corner of the Mall and is accessible from Constitution Avenue.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day.

Parking: Limited parking is available on Ohio Drive and Constitution Avenue.

Admission: Free.

Information: 202/426-6841 or www.nps.gov/coga.

Notes: Nearby Metro stops include Farragut West and Smithsonian on the Orange and Blue lines. Farragut West is a few blocks to the north, and Smithsonian is a few blocks to the east. Wearing comfortable shoes is recommended.

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