Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

At Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens starting in late May water lilies and lotus take center stage each summer. The park is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna once native to the region before urban sprawl took the surrounding land. 

In an age old dance wind, water, and land combine here.  Sparkling in the sun on a breezy day, this natural area along the Anacostia River has origins in a 1926 act of Congress to preserve the forests, water quality, and recreation value of the waterways of Washington, DC.  The park reflects the policies that affect rivers and wetlands.

Kenilworth Marsh is a natural work where raptors punctuate the winter sky and marsh wrens design their summer songs. Come by canoe or use the boardwalk and river trail accessed at the Aquatic Gardens. There is an ever changing pallet of water colors all year with fall foliage and winter birding. Mornings are the best time for viewing open summer flowers.

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Image Credit: Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Hours

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

This area of the park, entered from Anacostia Avenue, contains the gardens, greenhouses, boardwalk trail, and visitor center. During the winter (November 1 - March 31), it is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. During the summer (April 1 - October 31), it is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The park is closed on January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25.

Kenilworth Park (Athletic Fields and Meadow)

This area of the park, entered from Burroughs Avenue, contains the athletic fields and meadow. It is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk. This area may be closed if road conditions are hazardous or after heavy rains to prevent damage to the fields.

(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)

Fees

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is FREE to the public with no entrance or parking fee.

Activities

Birding, wildlife viewing, photography, water garden enthusiast, education, leisure walks, relaxation, painting, art, picnics or volunteer in a clean-up

A short walk can be taken on the 0.7mi River Trail that leads away from the ponds and towards a wooded area between the marsh and the Anacostia River. 

It is no wonder this tranquil site is a place for yoga and tai chi practices, or where parents bring their youngsters to find a common bond with nature.  Life moves seasonally and won't be hurried or delayed.  Winter brings wildlife sightings.  Spring sings with bird song and wild violets.  Summer water gardens scent the air.  Fall enchants with color and texture of ripening marsh seeds.

Pond tours

Water Flow Info:

Facilities

  • Book store
  • Visitor Center

Accessibility

The parking lot has four handicapped parking spaces near the path that leads to the aquatic gardens. Unfortunately the paths around the ponds and the river trail are not paved and may be uneven or muddy at times. Please use caution. For your safety it is encouraged to visit with a friend and do not explore the grounds alone in a wheel chair. Please visit our book store and visitor center as it has a ramp and is wheel chair accessible!

Pets

Leashed pets are welcome. Summers are hard on pets here. Owners should bring a water dish if they plan to be in the park very long and never leave a pet in the cars.

History

Today, you join the cycle of discovery and rediscovery of this land that began when people started living here over 4,000 years ago. These wetlands sustained their civilization with clean water, abundant food, medicine, and shelter. From the cattail alone, people derived food, medicine, and the raw materials for household goods and summer shelter. They began the cycle of human discovery, loss, and rediscovery.

Remnants of this original wetland edge two sides of the ponds near the boardwalk. The value of local wetlands was lost to the English, accustomed to English bogs. They cleared the high land of protective forests to build farms in the1600s. Later, the Industrial Revolution increased deforestation for fuel, fences, and homes. Unprotected by forest, soil washed into the Anacostia River and deep channels that once harbored sturgeon, filled with silt.

Coming here in the 1800s,Walter Shaw found the wetlands were a good place to build his water garden. By building the paths that separate ponds from the tidal marsh, Shaw built a garden that would provide beauty and profit. His daughter, Helen, would become an ambassador for water gardening and the Shaw Gardens. It was Helen who would successfully lobby Congress to save the gardens from dredge operations in the Anacostia River, and accidentally save a section of the original marsh.

It would be many decades before we rediscovered the social value of wetlands. Today the historic ponds and the natural wetland areas that support them are managed by the National Park Service, in a balance that demonstrates sustainable management known to those first residents. Explore, see what stories the land can tell and, perhaps, see value in the park that is unique to you.

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Last updated: October 25, 2019
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