Friends Group Keeps an Eye on Waterfront Park

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Grace Bateman and Jonda McFarlane. Photo by Robert Devaney.

“We’ve been together for over 12 years,” mused Grace Bateman, one of the founding members — or should we say godparents? — of Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park. In 2005, Bateman, Barbara Downs, Gretchen Ellsworth, Jonda McFarlane, Ann Satterthwaite, Bob vom Eigen, and Roger Stone dedicated themselves to developing the waterfront acreage along K Street between Wisconsin Avenue and Washington Harbour. By the 1980s, it had evolved from an industrial port of historic Georgetown into a messy, mixed-use city property, utilized as a parking lot and storage area (including for wrecked cars).

For decades, various Georgetown volunteer groups had pushed to make the valuable property into a public park where Georgetown families and visitors could enjoy a leisurely waterfront experience.

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park was the fourth organization to attempt this herculean project of reconstitution. Three predecessor organizations — the Committee for Washington’s Riverfront Parks, the Georgetown Waterfront Arts Commission and the Georgetown Waterfront Park Commission — had all tried. But FOGWP was the one that finally accomplished it.

In the early 1980s, the National Park Service encouraged the District of Columbia to transfer 10 acres of the waterfront land in Georgetown to the federal government in exchange for the Park Service’s agreement to create a national park there. The transfer was completed in 1985, but the Park Service did not have funds to construct the park. So, for many years, the Georgetown waterfront remained a parking lot.

“For years we met with the National Park Service to go over multiple plans for a possible nature park there,” recalled Bateman. “We planned and carried out fundraising events and fundraising campaigns via social media and by mail.” Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Illinois), who lived next to Bateman in Georgetown, became an active advocate.

In 2005, after working for more than a decade with the District of Columbia government, the National Park Service and private donors, FOGWP finally reached its $23-million fundraising goal. Groundbreaking for Georgetown Waterfront Park was held in July 2006; Phase 1 (Wisconsin Avenue to 34th Street) opened in October 2008 and Phase 2 (Wisconsin Avenue to Washington Harbour) opened in September 2011 as a Potomac River nature park.

After the details of the plans had been negotiated for years, the Friends got almost all the features they had wanted. Still when it was finished, there were surprises.

“We thought the spouting water fountain would be a fun and simple visual attraction,” Bateman said. “We never ever imagined what a fun focal point it would be for everyone from children to grown-ups, who run through and play in the water, especially on a hot day.”

The other surprise attraction was the labyrinth painted on a paved terrace in the middle of the park. “Children on tricycles love trying to negotiate the curving path,” Bateman said with a laugh. “We never expected that.”

The steps leading almost to the river level have become a popular picnic spot. “The landscapers had suggested that park guests would enjoy a place where they get closer to the river than the park along the ridge,” said Bateman. “They were right.”

Now the role of the Friends is to monitor park activities and maintenance and to supplement the ongoing replacement of plants and the repairs to park features. Some of the plantings have not worked out and some minor repairs need to be made to the fountain, Bateman reported. “But the National Park Service has no money for things like that, so we have to raise supplemental funds for such projects.”

An all-volunteer organization with a board of directors and an advisory board, FOGWP has been successful in getting donations and some grants from city and business organizations. The group normally meets about every six weeks and enthusiastic new members are always welcome, according to Bateman.

FRIENDS OF GEORGETOWN WATERFRONT PARK
P.O. Box 3653
Washington, DC 20027
georgetownwaterfrontpark@gmail.com

georgetownwaterfrontpark.org

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