History of Rock Creek Park

History of Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is one of the closest major parks near the White Flint Sector. Kevin Kline offers some history of Rock Creek Park, from information supplied by Friends of Rock Creek:

 Rock Creek Natural History

·         The Rock Creek Watershed is home to a surprisingly diverse assortment of wildlife.

·         The nature enthusiast will discover 160 bird species ranging in size from the Blue Heron that fishes in Rock Creek to the butterfly-like Warblers. The Yellow Crowned Night Heron is a shy and secretive species that feeds primarily on crayfish.

·         Surveys reveal thirty-five fish species that spend at least part of their life in Rock Creek’s waters. Two of the most famous are the American shad and the blue back herring. These two species spend their adult lives in salt water but come back to fresh water to spawn. Both species are making a comeback in the watershed as we remove historical barriers to their migration. The latest barrier removed was the historic dam at Pierce Mill in the Rock Creek National Park. Instead of tearing down the dam, a fish ladder is being built and will give the herring free access to all of Rock Creek in Washington DC.

·         Thirty species of mammal are found in Rock Creek, including white-tailed deer, beaver, coyote, and red and gray foxes. The coyote is one of the newest residents of the watershed. Park managers and scientists suspect the canine is expanding its range from the north.

·         A diversity of species is important for the watershed because it helps maintain stability of the ecosystem. When one species population grows, it will sometimes create pressure on other species causing them to disappear locally. Humans often assign species to categories of “good” or “bad” or “problem” species either because of the damage they cause to the local ecosystem or to homeowner property. Because we have highly impacted the watershed’s natural environment, we have an obligation to manage the species found here in order to balance our needs and the need for biodiversity.

·         The watershed is home to one endangered animal, the Hay’s spring amphipod (a small shrimp-like species) and seven highly rare plant species. Amphibians and reptile species’ populations are declining or disappearing from the watershed. Often thought of as the “canaries in the coal mine” because of their sensitivity to pollution, amphibians have a long life span and  reptiles have a slow reproductive cycles.  The decline of amphibians and reptiles in Rock Creek suggest we must  work to reduce human impact on the watershed’s health.

Rock Creek Human History

·         Rock Creek has been home to humans since prehistoric times. There is evidence of temporary settlements by native American Indians. These archeological sites date from 7,000 BC to the 1600’s AD, and include several temporary camps, and quarries for weapons and tools.

·         The first known European presence  was 1703, when a trading post was established at the mouth of Rock Creek in the Georgetown Area. In the early- to mid-1800’s milling thrived in Rock Creek. Washington DC had six mills and further upstream in Maryland twelve mills were established. These mills used Rock Creen water power to grind grain and run machinery. The last DC mill closed in 1897 almost ten years after Rock Creek National Park was founded.  The last Montgomery County mill closed in the early 1900’s.

·         Rock Creek National Park was one of the Nation’s first national parks and was established in 1890. A dozen years later, because the park was under threat by up-stream activities in Maryland, the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission was created. The Rock Creek parkway opened in 1932 after work by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

·         Lakes Needwood and Frank, located North of Randolph Civic Association-land were constructed in the 1960’s for flood control and recreation. These lakes provide significant water quantity control and water quality benefits such as sediment control.  Areas in Rock Creek are designed as overflow areas for typical flooding events, and preserve aquatic habitats such as vernal pools and wetlands within the floodplain.

·         Some famous users of Rock Creek include Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.  President Wilson dated his second wife in Rock Creek.  They played tennis, drove the parkway, and picnicked.  President Teddy Roosevelt’s friend, the French Ambassador Jules Jusserand, is the only person with a Rock Creek memorial dedicated to him. 

·         President  Teddy Roosevelt went horseback riding, took long and grueling hikes, and even skinny-dipped in Rock Creek!  

 Source: Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment.  Visit their website at  friendsofrockcreek.org

Barnaby Zall


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