Washington, DC: Oxon Hill Farm to Great Falls
The Fort Circle Parks, the remains of Civil War fortifications that once ringed Washington, D.C., provide an extraordinary view of our Nation's capital. Some fortifications are managed as community parkland, others are remembered through historic sites and interpretive markers. South of the Anacostia River, parks include Fort Stanton, Fort Dupont and Fort Davis to create several hundred acres of parks and open space. They and other sites are connected by a trail through mature woods of poplar and oak that make it easy to forget you're walking through a major city. This trail, partially complete, is recognized as a segment of the Potomac Heritage Trail in the District of Columbia.
Planners in District agencies and the National Park Service have completed a "general management plan" for the Fort Circle Parks that includes development of a continuous route for hiking to connect many of the Civil War fortifications. A draft of the plan includes a new bridge over the Anacostia River, providing direct access to Kenilworth Gardens. Regardless of specific alignments, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in completing this likely urban component of the Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT).
North of the Anacostia, the route follows Eastern Avenue and other trails on visits to Barnard Hill Park (named for the general who supervised construction of the forts); Forts Totten, Slocum and Stevens; and enters Rock Creek Park. Combined with the wooded hikes south of the Anacostia River, trails in Rock Creek and Glover Archbold parks offer one of the world's premiere urban hiking experiences — and all are accessible by Metrorail and Metrobus, the city's transit system. Be sure to check out the Civil War Defenses of Washington for more information on the forts.
In the Northwest quadrant, the route takes to the street to pass through Tenley Circle, where hikers can find food and refreshment before continuing through Glover Archbold to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath. From here the route follows Washington, D.C.'s most famous trail upstream to Great Falls.
After the Civil War, most of the 68 forts and 93 batteries were dismantled, and the land was returned to pre-war owners. Over time, remnant earthworks and fortifications were consumed by the growing city. Before they completely disappeared, park planners conceived of purchasing key remaining sites and connecting them as a greenbelt within the city. This idea was the genesis of the Fort Circle Parks.
The parkway plan was abandoned in the 1960s and urban development along the corridor proceeded at a very swift pace. Fortunately, the parkland part of the plan has resulted in a kind of greenbelt circling the city and providing valuable open space for its residents — in addition to preserving Civil War history. Today, the greenbelt concept is alive and well. Instead of a parkway, a trail network connects many of the parks, with more connections planned by District agencies and the three area National Park offices that together administer the Fort Circle Park system in the city.
One of the most enjoyable parts of hiking is seeing places you thought you knew up close, and having your expectations turned upside down. In contrast to the popular image of The Mall, the Fort Circle route reveals a city of lovely residential neighborhoods, good food and wonderful parks.
Rock Creek Park is one of America's oldest national parks. Its 3200 acres offer nearly 30 miles of hiking trails and 11 miles of bridle trails. It was established in 1890 as one of the country's first national parks, and has been integral to life in the city ever since. In the decades following the Civil War, there was an emerging realization that the United States was destined to be a great nation. A great nation needed a worthy capital city, and to be a worthy capital Washington needed a system of parks. This was a hay day for city park planning. Rock Creek Park was envisioned as much as the jewel of American urban parks as the anchor for Washington's parks.
There are two hikes in the Oxon Hill to Great Falls section. The first is a long leg stretcher from Oxon Hill Farm to Fort DeRussy in Rock Creek Park. This hike is followed by an easy 5.6 mile walk from Fort DeRussy to the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Foundry Branch.
Did You Know?
When the Civil War began, Fort Washington was the only existing fortification for the capital's defense. Fort Washington, nearly 12 miles down the Potomac, was built to guard against enemy ships during the War of 1812.