Come sit with me on the Cap­i­tal Cres­cent Trail

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer is the found­ing di­rec­tor of the Trust for Pub­lic Land’s Cen­ter for City Park Ex­cel­lence and co-founder of the Coali­tion for the Cap­i­tal Cres­cent Trail.

Tired Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, good news: You now have a place to rest when you’re out on the Cap­i­tal Cres­cent Trail. We fi­nally have a bench. If you’re a Mary­lan­der, this is noth­ing new; Mary­land has had benches on its part of the Cap­i­tal Cres­cent for years. But along the al­most four miles of the trail in the District, there has been nary a place to sit, from Ge­orge­town all the way out.

I would tell you where to find the bench, but I don’t have to. Just keep go­ing un­til you get to it. It’s the only one!

Might there be a back story here? Well, yes. I hap­pen to know, be­cause the new bench was do­nated by my friends and co-work­ers to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice (by way of the C&O Canal Trust) in honor of my re­cent re­tire­ment. Even though they col­lec­tively ponied up more than $2,500 to pur­chase, in­stall and en­dow the bench, you won’t find their names on it. You won’t find my name on it, ei­ther, be­cause there is a rule in the District pro­hibit­ing the nam­ing of gifts in parks. (There is a lit­tle sign, but it says “Re­cy­cled Plas­tic.”)

This doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to share my bench with peo­ple anony­mously. (In fact, I’ve been to parks with so many donor plaques that read­ing glasses have to be re­moved to en­joy the view. Once, in At­lanta, in Cen­ten­nial Olympic Park, which has 50,000 in­di­vid­u­ally named bricks, I spot­ted the name of a friend of mine. It was ex­cit­ing. But in ret­ro­spect, it’s the main thing I re­mem­ber about that park.)

The District’s anti-nam­ing pol­icy didn’t de­ter me. I think of Texan Sa­muel Mav­er­ick, who left his cat­tle un­branded; although some were stolen, he could lay claim to all un­branded cat­tle, wher­ever they were. How­ever, the pol­icy ob­vi­ously does de­ter some. That may be why pre­vi­ous bench donors have grav­i­tated to the Mary­land por­tion, where they can be rec­og­nized.

But there are folks in the District who need to take a load off, too. Maybe you’re a se­nior cit­i­zen, or you’re tired, or in­jured, or preg­nant, or you’re a mother with small chil­dren, or a reader, or you want to eat lunch, or tie your shoelace, or put on sun­screen, or just sit and watch the world go by. Come sit down!

Sur­pris­ingly, there’s a nasty lit­tle se­cret about benches: Many park man­agers don’t like them. A sur­vey by the Trust for Pub­lic Land’s Cen­ter for City Park Ex­cel­lence last year found that not only are benches often re­sisted, but also some have even been taken out of parks in Nor­folk, Pitts­burgh, Bal­ti­more, Roanoke, New York and, yes, the District (Tur­tle Park, on Capi­tol Hill).

Benches, af­ter all, make parks more com­fort­able — but maybe too com­fort­able. Sit­ting, yes, but what about lean­ing and ly­ing and nap­ping and fullscale slum­ber­ing? Where does it all end?

Cer­tain types of bi­cy­clists don’t like benches, ei­ther. The put-your-head-down-and-go crowd isn’t gen­er­ally in fa­vor of any­thing that does not stay on the right and travel at about 20 miles an hour. Peo­ple on benches add an un­pre­dictable el­e­ment — just like dogs on leashes, chil­dren on scoot­ers, se­niors in wheel­chairs and lovers walk­ing hand-in-hand — that not in­fre­quently pro­vokes an­gry pro­fan­ity from the Ly­cra crowd.

To be hon­est, my first mo­ment on the bench was some­what of a rev­e­la­tion to me, a whole new way to see the Cap­i­tal Cres­cent Trail. I’ve been walk­ing and cy­cling on the cor­ri­dor since 1985, even be­fore the rail­road tracks were taken out, but this was the first time I’d ac­tu­ally sat still within the for­est and not watched the trees go hurtling past. Yes, we have al­ways pro­moted the green­way con­cept as a con­nec­tor, a beau­ti­ful and his­toric way of get­ting from one place to an­other, but it was sud­denly also its very own nat­u­ral and so­cial re­al­ity, the kind of place to be ap­pre­ci­ated from a bench.

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