Dumbarton Oaks Park Restoration Project Celebrates New Phase


The sky was misty, the leaves crunchy, the air cool and fresh smelling as Dumbarton Oaks Park fans and friends made their way Saturday, Nov. 13, down the half-mile “Lovers Lane” – the paved pedestrian-only walkway between Dumbarton Oak estate’s formal gardens and the National Parks Service’s public park and tennis courts – to what many of the walkers consider the “real gem of Dumbarton Oaks” – the Stream Valley.

America’s first and perhaps most well-known female landscape architect Beatrix Ferrand designed the 20-plus acres of woodlands, natural plantings, streams and waterfalls, meadows and rustic wood plank and stone bridges in the 1930s as her “wild garden” masterpiece.

Dumbarton Oaks Park. Photo by Robert Devaney.

On Saturday, patrons gathered at the Old Stone Bridge near the entrance of the wild park, to celebrate the launch of the second phase of the restoration project.

“Ten years ago, we committed to clearing the stream and waterfalls, and restoring and replanting the landscape and plantings around the Old Stone Bridge,” said Liza Gilbert, co-chair of Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy, to the small gathering sipping hot cider at the bridge. “Look up and down stream. The rolling falls and beds of the meandering stream are clean, the landscape around the bridge and the Clifton Hill walk have been cleared of decades of invasive species and replanted with native flora.” Then she laughed, “Only that one huge fallen tree trunk up stream could not be moved. So, we worked around it, making it part of the intrinsic landscaping.”

“All this has been the result of hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours by the community facilitated by the Dumbarton Oaks Conservancy with the support of the Georgetown Garden Club and other partners,” said Lindsey Milstein, co-chair of Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy. “It’s taken ten years to get to this point.”

Now, a new planned project for renewed plant communities of the Stream Valley is being finalized by the conservancy and Larry Weaver Landscape Associates, following Farrand’s naturalistic vision. “Over the years, invasive species, heavy visitation and excessive stormwater adversely impacted the park,” according to the 2020 Master Plan. “The plan has designed ways to enhance and protect this section of the park and celebrate native flora of the region.”

Details of plantings and natural protections and enhancements of six park “plant communities” are detailed in the plan, including the floodplain Meadow and the Woodland Glade. New plank bridges will be fashioned from cut trees.

Besides being a place of respite and walking, the park has also served as a nature education center for D.C. youth. Nature classes and projects are ongoing with partnerships with D.C. schools and youth organizations like the Jelleff Boys and Girls Club, said Milstein. “They have been especially important during the pandemic.” There are three entrances to the park: Lovers Lane off R Street, Massachusetts Avenue, just north of the bridge in front of the Italian Embassy and from Whitehaven Street, east of Wisconsin Avenue (near Trader Joe’s).

A fundraising campaign will be launched by the conservancy to raise the approximately $300,000 needed for the refurbishment project and maintenance, that is the responsibility of the organization. The Stream Valley “wild garden,” formerly a part of the Dumbarton Oaks estate, is now managed by the National Park Service, although maintenance and restoration is entirely funded by the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.

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