On Wednesday, July 15, Mayor Muriel Bowser extended the District’s public health emergency due to Covid 19 through October 2020. Continuing restrictions in the District include the size of gatherings both inside and out and mandatory mask wearing with few exceptions. Hospital elective surgeries have been put on hold since mid-March and continue to lag pre-Covid levels. Local schools, colleges, and universities are offering online classes for this fall semester. We are not sure when students will return to brick and mortar classrooms. Our restaurant owners and District officials have creatively set up street-side dining and take-out is booming. Health officials describe the Covid-curve as “not as flat as they would like it.” With much of the city working from home, the usual light summer traffic is even lighter. Parking spaces, usually in short-supply at all times and a constant source of city tension, are eerily available.
However, despite these difficult circumstances, here in Georgetown we do have one avenue of pandemic-escape we would like to share with our friends near and far. Georgetown, once a well-known bustling port city, has always been a fabulous walking neighborhood. Our colonial forebears, including the Founding Fathers, who frequently used the local taverns while hammering out The Declaration of Independence, certainly found it so. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.” John Adams was known for both his long letter writing and long walks.
Today’s Georgetown neighborhood walkers, both residents and visitors alike, enjoy the Potomac Riverfront with its glorious views of bridges in both directions up and down the river. Walkers can easily take a stroll across the Key Bridge to access Theodore Roosevelt Island’s boardwalk trails and shady footpaths. A walker’s godsend in DC’s mid-summer heat, the island is home to deer, herons, ducks, ospreys, and an occasional eagle. It is always enjoyable to look out over the river and see the assortment of boaters floating or powering along. Watching the plethora of university rowers, kayakers, paddle boarders, and canoers zipping along downstream and struggling on the return trip can be both inspiring and amusing.
Walks along the C & O canal towpath are a favorite daily excursion at any time of day. Heartier souls, and those following Jefferson’s exercise edict, can keep walking 185 miles, all the way to Cumberland, Maryland, or head the other direction and follow the footpaths thirteen miles south to Mt. Vernon. We owe this special canal park to the venerable Supreme Court Chief Justice William O. Douglas who, in 1954, was instrumental in saving the towpath from being turned into a scenic highway. His 36-year long tenure on the bench in DC, and reputed love of long walks since his boyhood days, led Douglas to lead the fight to save the path which, finally, in 1971 was designated the beloved and well-used walking trail ( and biking) we utilize today.
It is wonderful to walk along and spot a lumbering giant turtle crossing the path in search of the perfect place to lay her eggs, to see a mother deer with peeking spotted twin fawns by her side, or to see a fish splash out of the water.
Of course, the riverfront is not the only pleasant place to take a stroll in Georgetown. Here we also have access to Rock Creek Park and its extensive system of trails (again, with the all-important summer shade.) And, while today’s trekkers cannot actually go inside the historic buildings they pass—Tudor House, Volta House, Dumbarton Oaks, The Old Stone Church, Oak Hill Cemetery, The Aged Woman’s Home, and many more—it is still lovely and pleasant, especially in the early morning and evening, to walk by these historic places, peek into their cloistered Italianesque gardens, marvel at a stately wrought iron fence here and there and see the fashionable modern doorways set in distinct contrast to the neighbor’s colonial-style doors. A walk along the streets of Georgetown, lit each evening with the soft light of lanterns more reminiscent of the time when gas lighting was the norm, and Georgetown’s plethora of well-tended gardens, is indeed a balm for our pandemic-woes. The crepe myrtles, now in full-bloom, remind us that September’s cooler and perfect walking weather will soon be upon us. And for that, here in Washington, we are grateful.
We hope you are staying safe and well. We will certainly give you a friendly wave (from 6 feet away of course) if we see you walking along in our neighborhood.