I first heard about Roosevelt Island on NPR. They were doing a feature on great places and parks that were metro accessible. And then life happened and I pushed it back in the crevices of my thoughts.
Years later, Kimeu and I had just begun dating. I mentioned it to him, telling him that the only thing I knew was that it was in within walking distance from Rosslyn Metro. After a quick search on the internet, he grabbed the car keys and said, “Let’s go find it.” So we set off on the George Washington Parkway, with the Washington Monument in our rear view mirror. Just before Key Bridge, we saw the sign for Roosevelt Island and pulled off the parkway to our right.
The only way to get to Roosevelt Island is across a footbridge that stretches from the parking lot over the Potomac River. Not even bikes are allowed. Once we set foot on the island, we took our first right and then another left. We swore we were in Rock Creek Park until the trees suddenly disappeared. We found ourselves in a clearing filled with huge granite stones, fountains, and an enormous 17-foot statue of President Teddy Roosevelt. We spent a little time taking in the beauty and reading the quotes and then headed toward the bridge, just to the right of the statue.
We randomly took the trail ahead of us, not knowing what to expect. A few minutes later, we stumbled onto a man-made path that took us past wetlands, cattails, and an array of fish, turtles, and tiny lizards climbing up and down the trunks of trees. As the trail twisted and curved, we eventually ended up at the edge of the Potomac River. In the distance, we could see kayakers, boats, and the Georgetown harbor.
All of those times I had been sitting at Sequoya or Tony and Joes enjoying dinner and drinks, I had no idea that the trees just beyond the edge of the Potomac River encompassed this secret world.
On our date, we both left our cell phones in the car and took advantage of exploring a place that was totally new to us. If you aren’t feeling as adventurous, the Park Service offers a guided tour or “Island Safari.” Meet at the footbridge, by the bike racks. A Park Ranger will provide a guided group tour. For a trail map, click here.
Saturday, May 12
10 am to 11am
Saturday, May 27
2pm to 3pm
Saturday, June 9
10 am to 11am
Sunday, June 24
2pm to 3pm
The History of Roosevelt Island
The island was once home to the Nacotchtank Indians. It was then taken over by several private owners, including Captain Randolph Brandt and John Mason, grandson of George Mason. A ferry once crossed from the island, connecting Virginia to Georgetown.
During the Civil War, in 1863, regiments of black soldiers were recruited from D.C. They were stationed and trained on the island to protect them from people who were openly hostile to the idea of having black soldiers. At that time, it wasn’t uncommon for Black soldiers to be assaulted on the streets of DC.
After the war, Roosevelt Island fell into the hands of the Washington Gas Light Company and it became somewhat overgrown. The Roosevelt family then purchased the island to build a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt. They transferred control of the island to the Federal Government and it is now managed by the National Park Service.
Important Things to Know:
- Great for dates, families, and groups of friends
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothes
- Hours: Open daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Metro Accessible: A few blocks from Rosslyn Metro
- Parking: Free parking; Not accessible from Southbound George Washington Parkway
- Kid Friendly: Yes
- Cost: Free!
- Water fountains: Yes but you can also bring your own
- Restrooms: Yes
- Bikes: No
- Pets: Yes, if on a leash constantly held by owner/guardian
- Strollers: Yes