Teddy Roosevelt’s Mar-a-Lago
By Melissa Lembke
When you think of Washington, D.C., hiking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. You more likely think politics, monuments, and museums. But, truth be told, the nation’s capital is home to hundreds of miles of natural beauty and opportunities for exploration.
According to The Trust for Public Land’s 2016 ParkScore® index, Washington, D.C. (which is 21.9% parkland) comes in third out of the 100 largest U.S. cities for meeting the need for parks. All those triangles, circles and squares add up, especially when you add in major resources like Rock Creek Park which is enjoyed by 2.48 million visitors a year.
Make that 2.48 million and one, as I recently had the pleasure of joining Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author of the award-winning book “A Year in Rock Creek Park,” for a morning hike. Melanie has spent hundreds of hours exploring every inch of the park and she shared a few of the highlights at a recent DC EcoWomen event.
We set off walking in the footsteps of our 26th President along the Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail. While on the trail I was reminded of Teddy’s love for the outdoors. His favorite resort was Rock Creek Park, and he frequently led members of his “Tennis Cabinet” and foreign ambassadors on grueling hikes here. To be invited by the President to go on one of those hikes was regarded as a mark of special favor.
My favorite story that Melanie shared was one occasion when the President lead Jean Adrien Antoine Jules Jusserand, the French Ambassador to the United States, on a jaunt in the woods and when they reached the Potomac they shed their clothes and dove in. The Ambassador sent the following account of the outing to the French Foreign Office:
“At last, we came to the bank of a stream, rather too wide and deep to be forded…But judge of my horror when I saw the President unbutton his clothes and heard him say, ‘We had better strip, so as not to wet our things in the creek.’ Then I, too, for the honor of France removed my apparel, everything except my lavender kid gloves…’With your permission, Mr. President, I will keep these on; otherwise, it would be embarrassing if we should meet ladies.”
The President and Ambassador became fast friends after the outing and remained friends for life. Today, a monument honoring Ambassador Jusserand – reportedly the only diplomat who could keep up with Teddy on a hike – sits near the trail to commemorate his achievements and love for Rock Creek Park.
As we continued onto the Valley Trail we approached the historic Boulder Bridge. Melanie explained that the extra large boulders that comprise the bridge resulted from a misunderstanding by the bridge contractor.
“The plans called for ‘man-sized’ stone, which meant stone that could be easily handled by a stone mason. Instead, the contractor used life-sized boulders. When the Corps of Engineers head, Colonel Beach, arrived at the site and saw the work underway with the large boulders, he liked the way they looked.”
Not a bad decision as the structure has held up exceptionally well through the years.
Boulder Bridge is also the site of the well-known tale where a prized ring slipped off Teddy’s finger. After a search failed to turn it up, he placed an ad in the local paper for its return reading:
“Golden ring lost near Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek. If found, return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Ask for Teddy.”
To this day, his ring has still not been returned.
While that ended our short adventure, it only scratches the surface of the fresh air, landmarks, and years of history that Rock Creek has to offer. With this green oasis just moments from the heart of the city, there is no excuse not to join Teddy and the other famous users of this “all-inclusive” park featuring a golf course, equestrian trails, tennis stadium, and amphitheater. No plane ticket to Palm Beach, Florida required.
Melissa Lembke is a DC EcoWomen Board Member.