Fort Totten Trail Construction

Update on construction of new trail at Fort Totten

The National Park Service (NPS) is working to construct a new, safe and enjoyable trail at Fort Totten Park. Below is a summary of the past use of the park, the soil testing that has been completed at Fort Totten and the status of trail construction.

Construction of the Green Line

In the 1980s, the NPS authorized the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) to use two areas of Fort Totten Park for the construction of the Fort Totten Metro Station and the Green Line. The area where the NPS is constructing the new Fort Totten trail (to the east of the Fort Totten Metrorail station, between Gallatin and Galloway Streets NE) was reportedly used for construction of the Green Line tunnel, which consisted of deep excavation to build the tunnel, filling to cover the tunnel and grading for stormwater management. WMATA reports that no fill material from off-site was brought to the site.

WMATA was also authorized to use a separate portion of Fort Totten Park to the west of the Fort Totten Metrorail Station to stage construction equipment. A 0.75-acre portion of the park was cleared and compacted for the staging area. The permit required that after the completion of the construction, WMATA was to restore the site to its pre-construction condition. In 1992, WMATA excavated the staging area and placed 60 cubic yards of uncompacted fill material in the park. During the placement of the fill, workers complained of eye and respiratory irritation. The fill also contained large amounts of various debris. The NPS required that WMATA remove the fill and replace it with clean fill.

In 2014, it was confirmed that the source of the original fill was 4825 Glenbrook Road N.W. (“Glenbrook Road property”) within the Spring Valley Formerly Used Defense Site, a property determined under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to be impacted by the release of hazardous substances. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently remediating the site.

Construction Staging Area

Following the removal of contaminated soil from the staging area in 1992, there were reports suggesting the potential that a portion of the contaminated fill remained on the wooded slope. In 2019, the NPS and WMATA performed additional soil testing to determine whether there was residual contamination. Samples of surface soil and sediment and subsurface soil were collected from the former WMATA staging area and adjacent areas.

Lab test results did not detect the presence of chemical weapons materials (CWM) or any other contaminant of concern associated with the Glenbrook Road property. Results did indicate high levels of heavy metals and one PAH (benzo(a)pyrene). Upon further investigation of soils away from the staging areas, it was determined that they were naturally occurring. The heavy metals that were found, such as cyanide, selenium, and vanadium, arsenic and lead, are common in urban soils and are the result of air pollution, sometimes referred to as atmospheric fallout, from power plants, incinerators, crematoriums and other industrial discharges. PAHs like what was found, are also common in urban soils from combustion sources such as vehicle exhaust and wood and coal burning. Based on the soil and sediment sample data results and analyses, no subsurface sediment sampling or groundwater sampling was determined to be needed. Overall, test results suggested that the contaminated fill originally brought to the site was removed and that there are no persistent impacts from any contaminated fill that may have remained in this area. From this information, the NPS concluded that no further action was needed at the restoration site. WMATA can best speak to the material that was placed and removed from the site.

In addition to the soil testing, the NPS conducted a focused human health risk assessment to understand potential health risks to people. The study analyzed soil exposure through skin contact, ingestion and inhalation. The risk analysis determined that an individual may safely be present in the park one full day (24 hours) per week, for a total of up to 35 days per year for 26 years. Risks were calculated for a young child and adult, assuming passive recreational use, meaning that there is a relatively low potential of a visitor coming in direct contact with the soil. There are no playgrounds or picnic areas in the park, and dense vegetation limits access to much of the site.

Fort Totten Trail Site

In 2020, a contractor working for the NPS discovered a WWI-era empty metal canister on the surface of the ground while working on the Fort Totten Trail. At the time, the NPS thought that the canister could be an unexploded ordnance, and the canister was immediately removed from the site and inspected by the Department of Defense (DOD). The information provided by DOD indicates the munition was an unfused, unused, empty canister, and it was safely disposed of. The source of the munition is unknown. Fort Totten was used by the Army only during the Civil War, and there is no record of military activity around Fort Totten that would explain why a WWI munition would be found at a site.

In 2021, the NPS conducted a soil investigation in the area of the trail where the metal canister was discovered. Before the soil investigation, the site was swept for additional metal canisters and none were found. The testing did not detect the presence of CWM. Test results did indicate the presence of metals (arsenic, manganese and zirconium), and PAHs, which are commonly found in urban soils and do not pose a health risk. Based on the test results, the soils of the Fort Totten Trail are reasonably representative of expected conditions, and there was no indication of a need for further testing. Based on this information, the NPS has kept the park between Gallatin and Galloway Streets NE open to the public.

Status of trail construction

The NPS began construction on a permanent trail through Fort Totten Park in 2020. The work was paused in July 2020, when the NPS discovered a metal canister during construction. Work was paused again in early 2022, after the NPS uncovered a portion of Metrorail infrastructure during trail construction. The NPS then conducted a thorough review, consulted with engineers and engaged with WMATA and determined that we will need to redesign the trail with a new alignment.

It is our intent to complete the trail design in 2023. In the meantime, the NPS has constructed a temporary trail with a level surface between Gallatin and Galloway Streets NE. The trail opened to visitors on January 9, 2023.

The NPS appreciates the community’s engagement and patience as we work to construct a permanent trail through Fort Totten Park.

Last updated: February 27, 2023

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