I have a blog post over on GGW about how I think DDOT and NPS should formalize the shortcut across Kenilworth Park that many trail users (and you know its not really open yet, right? I'm disappointed to be running into so many people out there) have been taking instead of riding through Mayfair. Anyway there are quite a few things that had to be dropped because GGW doesn't like rambling posts full of lengthy sidebars. Here are a few of my thoughts that didn't get in.
The best solution might be to build the temporary trail and then just keep it, at least the part in Kenolworth Park South. A "road to trail" conversion if you will. Then you'd have a local route on the east, a scenic route along the river and the express route on Deave Avenue. But just doing the temporary trail until the river trail is built would be a big improvement.
Kenilworth Park between the gardens and the power plant started out as a tidal marsh. It was filled in with material dredged from the river by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1912 and 1916, the same time and way that Kingman and Heritage Islands were built. It became the Kenilworth Open Burning Landfill, the principal solid waste dump for the District of Columbia. Trash was openly burned here, and the ash then buried on site. Dark plumes of noxious smoke would blow into adjacent neighborhoods all year long.
After years of opposition to continued operation of the landfill, and the advent of home rule, the District ended the burning following the 1968 fire-related death of a young boy playing in the dump. The District quickly added incinerators - which had been planned for year - and used it as a sanitary landfill for two more years. They then covered the ash and trash with more dredged material from the river and made it into recreational fields.
In 1997 Gentry Davis, superintendent of National Capitol Parks-East, allowed two contractors to dump waste on the Kenilworth South site, ostensibly to build soccer fields [Experts at the time said that this was not needed for soccer fields] . Contractors then dumped tons of dirt and construction debris into the park over the next two year without permits or trucking logs and in violation of existing laws. Some of the material is thought to have come from construction of the MCI Center. So much debris was brought in that a pile 26 feet high was built on 15 acres of land, and locals dubbed it "Mystery Mountain." Again, in the wake of local opposition, it was shut down by the city in October of 1988. A few months later, Davis was promoted and NPS announced that it hoped to have the site cleaned up by 2001.
If you ride the trail, you'll notice a large hill just beside the trash transfer center - that (I think) is the trail crossing over the edge of Mystery Mountain. The Mountain itself, I think, is between the river, Watts Branch, Deane Avenue and the trail.
The site wasn't cleaned up by 2001. It wasn't until 2012 that a Feasibility Study for a cleanup was completed and it was another year before the Park Service issued a proposed plan for cleaning up the site. The plan, as written then, was to identify contaminated soil near the surface and cap it with 24 inches of clean, low-permeable soil. That plan was supposed to be followed quickly with a Record of Decision and the start of work.
Interestingly, the NPS study and plan go into a lot of great detail about the history of the landfill prior to 1970. Not mentioned are Mystery Mountain and the Park Service's role in creating it. If you didn't know better you'd think the old landfill, and not the illegal dumping, was the problem.
Instead NPS has spent the last few years doing environmental studies to re-determine the scope of the problem. Soil samples and groundwater samples taken from the river indicate that the amount of metals leaking into are less than previous believed. As a result, they would like to modify their remedy to make it cheaper. They now plan to do another feasibility study and design a new remediation plan next year. They might put out a new fact sheet on the status this year. They still have funding to pay for the cleanup and they're working with the DC government on it.
This could be a fox watching the hen house situation. "Agency charged with cleaning up mess they made discovers that cleaning it up is going to be really cheap and easy." But with the local government and advocates involved, I'm hopeful that this is just NPS being a good steward of public money.
Despite this, the park's current state doesn't represent much of a health risk. Human health risk assessments done prior to the 2013 plan determined that "there is a slightly increased risk of cancer for Site visitors primarily from ingestion of surface soil containing PCBs and PAHs...[and] that Site visitors do not have an increased risk of non-cancer-related illnesses from exposure to Site contaminants."