Getting Dirty to Keep Our Parks Clean

Viburnum in Glover-Archbold Park – Photo by CGIOS

The older I get, the more I feel I need excuses to put on wellies and jump in mud puddles. Why is that? And what’s a better excuse than signing up for a park clean up that also just happens to be on a rainy spring day?

Last April, I joined site leader Jerry’s group for the Rock Creek Conservancy’s Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup. Our task was to remove the trash from Glover-Archbold Park, a sub-unit of Rock Creek Park. For a map of all of Rock Creek Park and its finger parks, check here.

I made sure I wore comfortable clothes that I didn’t mind getting muddy in. And I honestly did fight myself a little getting out of the door. After all, rainy days are great for curling up at home with a book and a cat. At the end of the day, getting out was not a decision I regretted.

I arrived and paired up with another woman whose partner was at home with a broken ankle. Since the rest of the group seemed to arrive together from a college, it was lucky for us that we were each alone. Jerry handed us a large bag for garbage and one for recycling, gloves, instructions, and pointed us in the opposite direction of the big group. We were on our way.

We entered Glover-Archbold Park near New Mexico Avenue and Garfield Street. It was raining a little harder than I realized, but that added to the visual magic. Thanks to the rain’s broad brush over the earth, we were surrounded by new spring growth made bright green in contrast to the darkened tree bark.

What’s nice about volunteering in early spring is the beauty of the early growth mixed with the lack of poison ivy and bugs (if bugs aren’t your thing). My mother passed on her love of wildflowers to me, and DC is full of them. The very first things I noticed with delight were the prehistoric-looking Jack-in-the-pulpits everywhere! And there was a tree with beautiful cascading white blooms on one side trail that was a challenge to identify. After outsourcing the plant’s identification on Facebook, a friend who works in parks says he is 100% sure it’s viburnum. I returned the very next weekend, sun in tow, to snap pictures of both species.

Jack-in-the-pulpits – Photo by CGIOS

I was grateful for my clean up partner who had a much better sense of direction than I do. I was mostly teaching myself to use visual cues in the physical geography as breadcrumbs, but not very successfully.

We chatted some and learned about each other, and walked quietly and enjoyed the light rain while we collected trash on the network of trails. The park was mostly empty of people, probably from the weather. Their loss.

Most of the trash in this area of the park was located closer to the street entrances. That is where the hard work was concentrated. However, one of the more disturbing things for me (and here is your embedded PSA, people) was the number of doggie bags people leave in the park. The point of the bags is to pick up your pup’s poo and remove it with you. So leaving it in the bag in the woods seems even more egregious than just leaving the waste there to decompose. We picked up quite a ridiculous number of bags. And also found a few plastic Easter eggs with toys in them, clothing, and the always ubiquitous plastic water bottles.

I know from my volunteering experiences over the years that people show up for a variety of reasons. I’m an introvert and love people but also love just plain hard solitary work. So I go for the joy of being outside and helping the environment, and the therapy that is ripping vines from trees and hiking into challenging crevices for a piece of trash. For me, there’s nothing like the feeling of taking a warm shower after getting really dirty and working hard. A lot of people volunteer for team building and for socializing and, yes, because this is DC, even networking. If you met your partner for life while volunteering, I’d love to hear about that! Tell us why you volunteer in the comments.

The Rock Creek Conservancy works to protect Rock Creek and its parks throughout Washington, DC and Maryland (including Rock Creek Park). Like in any system, the condition of one part can affect another part. The health of Rock Creek, for example, affects the health of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay (the bay closest to my heart). Join the efforts to protect these parks as a natural oasis for all to enjoy. For forthcoming information about the next Extreme Clean Up and other volunteer opportunities, keep an eye on this page.

The Rock Creek Conservancy volunteer experiences are well-planned, with site leaders who bring supplies and communicate about the event with participants. All you need to do is dress for the weather and the woods (and if you must, bring a business card or two). But most importantly, get out there and have fun!

What DC Coyotes Eat for Dinner

Coyote. Photo by jamescumming / 123RF Stock Photo

On my way home from a long work day, with the hours getting darker, the humid air still hung itself like a damp coat over the end of September.

As I walked towards the woods at the end of my street, I took in the darkness and wondered why no one on our ever-dissatisfied listserve has complained about the lack of street lights.

Ahead of me, I could barely make out the silhouette of a woman walking her two small dogs and hoped she could see my own outline so I didn’t surprise her. But something else was about. Just as we met up, we both heard the howl at the same time and her two dogs started barking. “Did you hear that?” “Uh, yes.” “Coyote. My husband told me he’s been seeing them around.”

For newcomers to DC who may think that the most exotic creatures we have here are interns, coyotes have lived in this city since 2004, according to the National Park Service FAQ page about the elusive creatures. Read Jacob Fenston’s article for WAMU, “Why Does A City As Dense As D.C. Have So Much Wildlife?,” to learn how our regional park corridors provide habitats and access to our backyards for our furrier neighbors.

I like telling people that there are coyotes in Washington. Maybe talking about coyotes could help remove the myth that DC is all stuffed suits and type A women wearing Ann T. You already know I’m here for the parks.

Not counting the occasional tropical bird that gets blown off course and ends up in New England or pet pythons released in Florida plumbing, there must be animals living in other cities and places that only appear to be interlopers.

Some friends of mine who moved from Capitol Hill to a cabin in rural Kentucky told me my favorite story of surprising residents. The Southern Devil Scorpions live in rural Kentucky. In the woods. And your shoes. These scorpions do sting but aren’t interested in people and not dangerous.

Please let me know in the comments what animals and insects you are most surprised to see where you live or have visited. Now back to the coyotes in DC.

How likely are you to see one?

The answer to this is you might see one while in and around Rock Creek Park and some of the adjacent neighborhoods, but it isn’t likely. The population appears to be small, and coyotes are most active in the evenings and at night.

And I know the burning question that is on our minds is: What do coyotes eat for dinner?

Coyotes eat dead things, vegetation, and small critters in the park. You’re safe, but keep an eye on your pets. It’s best if taking your animals on hikes through the park or near the park, that you keep them leashed. It’s the law anyways, though I witness it often ignored especially in the parks. (And normally I wouldn’t care because I love your animals as much as you do, except that someone’s very lovely, playful Goldie once yanked me off my fast-moving bike by my ankle. I’ve since forgiven the pup but not his people.)

Fake news alert: Coyote wolf hybrids do not exist in Rock Creek Park. It takes two to tangle and without a wolf population, well, you just get more coyotes.

If you see a coyote: According to the National Park Service, notify Resource Management Specialist Ken Ferebee at 202-895-6221. Let Ken know the date, time and location you saw the animal.