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Green Acre #166: A Park for All Reasons


WE WERE WANDERING around Smorgasbord, the Saturday food festival, in Washington DC’s Yards Park a couple of weeks ago and I was reminded of why I was so skinny growing up in New York. One eats the air there—the spicy scent of peppers and yeasty breads and sweet pastries. There was no need to actually . . . chew. 

Smorgasbord, spawn of Brooklyn’s popular outdoor food market, has 30-some booths open each Saturday through the end of October, offering an aromatic cacophony of BBQ, Thai, tacos and pretzels, along with farmers selling the this and that that farmers sell. One could eat with one’s eyes. Hanging out, perhaps I could grow thin again.

A couple of years ago I wrote about Yards Park, the stretch of Anacostia River waterfront that was just being sculpted out of a weedy, broken-down industrial area adjacent to the Washington Navy Yard and just under the freeway from Capitol Hill’s elegant town houses and marble Offices of State. An area that, despite its brand-newness, is the oldest in the Federal City, dating to the 1790s. A place that fell into disrepair after WWII and is only now being reclaimed. 

The brand-new Nationals baseball stadium—with live concerts holding court when there were no games scheduled—was  humming. There was a walkway along the riverbank with a silvery, soaring, futuristic bridge spanning a canal, and built-in lounges set in a grove of young trees was the perfect place for reading the Sunday papers and daydreaming. 

A splash pool with a waterfall and fountains provided free summer cooling for kids, some great old buildings were being converted to loft living and shopping, and shiny new apartment buildings, with the promise of wraparound terraces with river views and rooftop pools, were cropping up like mushrooms after a hot rain. 

Back then it was peaceful only on weekends, the yammering of construction and rumble of trucks on two-day hiatus. But flotsam and jetsam floated in the river, drifting to the banks where it clung. A lonely sneaker here, a dead fish there. And most of the buildings and restaurants were still a wish.

Two years later and I don’t know where the detritus went, but the waterfront is now immaculate. Sailboats swan about. The trees have grown thicker, as they do, and planters spill with flowers. There are excellent restaurants, outdoor beer halls, a winery, several brave and interesting retailers, beautiful night lighting—and, oh yes, a trapeze school. 

Follow your nose to Nicoletta Pizza, an offshoot of the delicious Osteria Morini. Pick up a pizza and beer and eat at the café—or tote your own (well-hidden) bottle of whatnot and find a more intimate table upstairs, along the rail. Watching the sunset, cheese dripping from your chin, is the cheapest, sweetest date night around. 

Besides the Saturday Smorgasbord, and a Sunday farmers market that runs through September, there are free yoga classes, free festivals and free events like family-friendly Back to the Yards, a celebration of retro games such as pinball and Pacman, music from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s (is that retro already?) scheduled for Friday, September 20 from 7 to 9pm. 

Yards Park gets a lot less attention than the gaspingly expensive restaurants and touristy razzamatazz of The Wharf, which is just around the bend on the Potomac River—and that’s a good thing. There are kids in the pool, taking their first steps in the grass, and losing the training wheels on their bikes. Grownups are reading in the shade, snoozing in the grass, canoodling.

It’s a great neighborhood park. 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” knows a good park when she sees one. 


2 thoughts on “Green Acre #166: A Park for All Reasons

  1. Yes – but do you feel any thinner? xxx

  2. Jean B. Gordon says:

    What a great article….YOUR writing transported me to the most picturesque …aromatic…..
    colorful trip that I have ever been on…..Thanks for sharing ….ybsj

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