Georgetown Current

Fletcher’s Set To Reopen With New Dock As Temporary Fix

March 25, 2015

By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer

The boathouse at Fletcher’s Cove will reopen for its regular season this weekend, with its previously unsafe walkway to the Potomac River now fixed. But that work was just a patch-up for a problem that’s been building for decades at the waterside recreation area.

Local advocates and officials are now searching for a long-term solution to the cove’s problem of excess silt buildup — thought to trace back to the 1960s.

The latest consequence was debris collecting beneath the cove’s walkway last fall, making it dangerous to use. With river access blocked, Fletcher’s Boathouse was forced to close down in October.

But the National Park Service just finished installing a new floating dock there this week, meaning the boathouse can reopen on time for its spring season.

“We have a short-term solution, but our work has really just begun for a long-term solution,” said Mike Bailey, an executive member of Friends of Fletcher’s Cove.

The advocacy group formed last fall when the river access was blocked, starting with a petition of over 450 signatures to get the Park Service’s attention.

Now that the smaller problem is solved, the Friends group is working to obtain formal nonprofit status and map out future fundraising possibilities. The group says extensive studies may be necessary to correct the long-standing forces that are “silting in” Fletcher’s Cove, Bailey said.

The cove, located on the Potomac between Chain and Key bridges in the C&O Canal National Historical Park, is a popular spot for fishers, canoers and kayakers, among other recreational uses.

A public boathouse first opened there after the Civil War, and today the Park Service oversees its concessions. Archaeological digs have found evidence that Native Americans once used the area to camp and fish, and President Andrew Jackson was known to fish there.

The cove’s current problem with silt is believed to be manmade. In the 1960s and ’70s, a field of landfill was built at the river’s edge and in the wetlands just north of Fletcher’s Cove. The soil for the landfill was excavated from two local projects, involving the Dulles Interceptor Sewer and Metro construction, according to research by the Friends group.

But the landfill apparently altered the natural patterns of the Potomac River in a way that’s harmful to the shoreline of Fletcher’s Cove. “Now the river slides back into the cove and deposits silt,” Bailey said.

A few dredging projects, the last one in 1996, attempted to address the problem but provided only temporary fixes. “You can compare it to digging a hole at the beach when the tide is coming back in,” said Bailey, who’s been fishing at Fletcher’s for 40 years.

The issue impacts not only recreational access to the cove, but also “emergency response capabilities in the lower Potomac Gorge,” according to Friends chair Nicolas Miller. “This location provides the only launching point to the dangerous Little Falls area upstream for the U.S. Park Police, D.C. Fire and Rescue and Montgomery County Rescue,” Miller wrote in a recent letter to the Park Service.

The Friends group has expressed gratitude to the Park Service for working quickly to restore river access. But Miller adds in his letter that the group is “committed to help with a long-term solution in any way appropriate, including assisting with necessary fundraising to support environmental assessments and site remediation.”

Gregory Kniesler, chief of maintenance for the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said the first step of a “multiphased plan” could be minor dredging at the end of the fishing season next fall, if approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Next, officials will evaluate the possibility of “dredging the entire cove” and removing some or all of the problematic landfill upriver, Kniesler wrote in an email. A long-range plan could involve “environmental restoration of the Potomac River shoals just upstream of Fletchers Cove,” he wrote.

More information on the issue and the Friends group is available at friendsoffletcherscove.org.

This article appears in the March 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Georgetown Cat Cafe Hits Start-Up Goal

March 17, 2015

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A chance to play with someone else’s cats for a few minutes may sound more like pet-sitting than a lucrative business venture.

But a planned “cat cafe” in Georgetown seems to have tapped into clear enthusiasm for this activity, collecting over $25,000 in Kickstarter donations from more than 400 supporters in just a week. In fact, Crumbs & Whiskers hit its $15,000 target just one day after the online donation campaign began on March 8.

“Honestly, I’m amazed and really excited and insanely grateful and shocked by how quickly we met our fundraising goal,” cafe founder Kanchan Singh wrote in an email to The Current. “That was pretty crazy. And also super awesome.”

Singh’s concept for Crumbs & Whiskers follows an approximate business model that has popped up increasingly around the world but remains unfamiliar to most Americans. She has partnered with the Washington Humane Society to keep up to 20 cats, which will be available for adoption. And customers will pay a yet-undetermined cover fee to enter and play with the cats, enjoy a relaxed feline-filled ambiance and consume complimentary refreshments prepared off-site.

Singh hopes to open this summer at 3211 O St., but she still needs to sign her lease and receive various approvals from the D.C. government, all of which she hopes will go through this month. The Board of Zoning Adjustment will hold a hearing on Tuesday to determine whether the site is suitable for animal boarding, and she needs to “finalize the food model” with the Department of Health.

But if the donations are any clue, there’s no shortage of interest in the Crumbs & Whiskers plan. In addition to raising over $25,600 as of yesterday afternoon, Singh said a launch party for the Kickstarter campaign filled the entire upstairs of the downtown Penn Social sports bar.

“The money is going towards building the cat cafe — basically creating a place that’s really comfortable for both people as well as cats,” Singh wrote.

Funds will also cover modest gifts to donors and the 10 percent fee charged by Kickstarter. As of yesterday, more than 430 people had donated. (Singh will cancel the donations if the city ends up nixing the cat cafe concept.)

The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission is also enthusiastic, having unanimously supported the zoning application for this “unique and fun cafe experience.”

“There are a lot of animals that are euthanized every year because no one can find homes for them,” commissioner Jeff Jones said at the March 2 meeting. “This is a much better life for them.”

This article appears in the March 18 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Georgetown Pushes for Dent Place Archaeological Work

March 11, 2015

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

In the early 19th century, one of Georgetown’s prominent residents was Yarrow Mamout — a skilled brickmaker and businessman who had climbed the community’s social and economic ladder after arriving in the U.S. from Africa on a slave ship.

Yarrow lived in a log home at what is now 3324 Dent Place from 1796 to around 1832. In recent years, the property has been most famous for the blighted condition of the 1850s home there, which neighbors said attracted vermin and insects as it gradually decayed and was even partially crushed by a tree.

That house is now gone, the lot cleared in anticipation of redevelopment. But there’s a growing push in the community to keep the land empty, at the very least until an intensive archaeological excavation can take place — both to find artifacts specific to Yarrow and also as a statement that the neighborhood isn’t ignoring part of its heritage.

“It is necessary that some semblance of the fact that African-Americans once lived in Georgetown must remain,” said Vernon Ricks Jr., president of the board of trustees for the Mount Zion United Methodist Church at 1334 29th St. “This site should be preserved as a living museum of African-American history,” Ricks said, speaking at last Monday’s meeting of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission.

Commissioners voted unanimously March 2 to ask the city to block any building permits or ground disturbance at the property until its “very significant archaeological potential” can be fully explored. The city’s archaeologist conducted a brief examination last year but lacked the funding to undertake more elaborate digs using ground-penetrating radar.

The money for the effort thus would likely need to come from private sources — possibly including the property’s owner, who hopes to sell, and its prospective developer, who hopes to build one or two homes there. After all, if the city were to grant the commission’s request, these parties would be limited in what they could do with the property until the dig was complete. Ricks said the Mount Zion church will also contribute toward a study.

Neighborhood commission chair Ron Lewis wrote in an email to The Current after the meeting that he considers “an intensive archaeological investigation of the Dent Place land a realistic and important goal.”

Edward Giefer, spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Planning, which includes the city’s Historic Preservation Office, said the agency is planning for a grant-funded investigation this spring but funding details haven’t been finalized.

“If we discover artifacts or features that would justify the designation of the property as a historic landmark, then we would consider a nomination, but we first have to conduct an investigation to determine whether any significant resources remain,” he wrote in an email to The Current. “Only after we find out the results of the investigation will we determine what the appropriate next step is.”

James Johnston, author the 2012 book “From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family,” said at the commission meeting that artifacts are highly likely to remain buried at 3324 Dent Place.

Yarrow’s log cabin was destroyed in a fire at some point, and the most recent house on the site was built in the 1850s, but the cabin’s stone foundation and some of the original logs are likely still there, said Johnston. “If your house burned down, everything was left on the property,” he said. “They didn’t have trash collection in those days.”

Johnston also raised the slight possibility of finding items from West Africa that Yarrow could have brought with him on the slave ship. There has also been speculation that Yarrow was buried on the property.

One Georgetown resident, Bob vom Eigen, raised concerns at the meeting about the neighborhood commission’s request. He said he was impressed by Yarrow’s history but not the way the commission is proposing to handle it.

“I question about putting the burden on the owner of the site,” he said. “To condition a building permit on an owner doing an archaeological dig when the D.C. government says they can’t afford it, I can’t support it.”

Commissioners have expressed little sympathy for the property owner in the past, blaming her for allowing the historic home to deteriorate so badly that demolition was the only option. They’ve also opposed plans by the developer who intends to buy the site, urging preservation authorities to allow only a single modest home on the site rather than two larger ones.

But attendees at last week’s meeting focused mainly on the site’s historical value, rather than the logistics of excavation or preservation.

“There’s nothing else like it, and it would be lost if developed,” one woman said. She called for a reconstruction of Yarrow’s cabin, saying it “would give a glimpse of another early Georgetown that sadly vanished long ago.”

This article appears in the March 11 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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