East of the Anacostia River, nestled between the waterway and I-295, is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a quiet oasis just inside the D.C.-Maryland line in Northeast.
The gardens, part of the larger Kenilworth Park, provide a habitat for many species of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
While the entire park is about 700 acres, the aquatic gardens area is fairly small and can be explored in an hour or two. The day I went was a rare one for D.C. — breezy and partly cloudy with temps in the low 70s. I encountered nary a mosquito in the entire visit, but henceforth, a heavy coating of DEET before you hit the paths is recommended.
Pink and white lotus flowers and water lilies, still open in the afternoon on this temperate day, covered the water’s surface.
As I moved along the paths between ponds, I spotted two turtles, sunning themselves. Perhaps used to visitors, they tolerated my advances, not moving while I snapped pictures. Farther along, a pair of swallowtails flitted about together almost as one, but too quick for my camera.
I hiked the boardwalk out to the marsh, where I looked down over the railing into the puddles left behind at low tide. Groups of tiny fish crowded together, waiting patiently for the water to return. An occasional dragonfly flew past, its buzz competing with the sound of traffic on I-295. I could hear a bullfrog, but couldn’t spot it among the flora.
Upon embarking on the River Trail headed out toward the Anacostia, I almost immediately encountered a snake. Perhaps a foot long and no bigger around than my thumb, it sat quietly as I took pictures, its flickering, forked tongue contrasting the stillness of the rest of its body. Soon enough, some bicyclists came along, and the snake quickly slithered away into the grass.
Farther on in the walk a lizard ran across my path. Or was it a salamander? According to savethesalamanders.com, the difference is “lizards usually have external ear-openings and clawed toes while salamanders lack such features.” Alas, it was too quick for me to examine ears or toes.
According to the NPS website, herons, ducks and hawks are common in the park, but on the day I went, I spotted only geese with a passel of goslings in tow.
Although the gardens are small, you can extend your visit by packing a lunch and making use of the many picnic tables available. Or plan to take part in a ranger-led walk, held at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, beginning in front of the Visitor Center.
Also, take note — July is peak lotus blooming season, and the gardens mark the occasion with the Lotus & Lily Festival, slated for Saturday, July 15, this year. The festival includes dance performances, gardening workshops, face painting, lotus tea tasting and painting demonstrations.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, 1550 Anacostia Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20019; April through October, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., November through April – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; free.