Come sit with me on 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.