Saving Georgetown's Valley of Eden: Part 2

Photo by Dumbarton Oaks Conservancy
Robert Frost and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Dumbarton Oaks Park - May 11, 1962
Robert Frost and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Dumbarton Oaks Park - May 11, 1962

Who more eloquently than Robert Frost can remind us of the magic of rural nature? To a group paying tribute to Henry David Thoreau 50 years ago this month, the quintessential American poet said this. 

    "Whenever I'm weary of considering, and I can stand things no longer, I always say: Give me the woods."

Entangled weeds (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Entangled weeds

The historic event where Frost spoke was sponsored by Secretary Udall and The Wilderness Society (included guests Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice William O. Douglas) to draw attention to a wilderness bill that had stalled in Congress. Eventually signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, the Wilderness Act created the legal definition of Wilderness and protected over 9 million acres of federal land.

In the half century since the bill's signing, Dumbarton Oaks Park has not fared so well. Invasive plants (including fragrant honeysuckle and spreading bamboo) have overrun the Park. Storm water runoff from neighboring structures has eroded the hillside and threatens the delicate ecological balance.

Fan of Beatrix Farrand, architect Liza Gilbert with Conservancy President Rebecca Trafton, (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Fan of Beatrix Farrand, architect Liza Gilbert with Conservancy President Rebecca Trafton, "This is a jewel. We have to save it."

Together with the National Park Service, the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy is working to correct these problems. The goal is to restore the Park to it original brilliantly naturalistic design and to make it accessible to everyone.

Sandbags adjacent to stones to prevent flooding (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Sandbags adjacent to stones to prevent flooding

Its history goes back a few hundred years before then, but the Dumbarton Oaks we know was born in 1920 when Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss bought, what grew into a 56-acre Georgetown estate.

Forsythia Gate (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Forsythia Gate

The house and grounds have been well documented, generously granted to Harvard University by the family and turned into a museum open to the public.

The 27 acres that make up the northern portions of the Bliss property were donated to the U.S. government and are managed by the National Park Service. That’s Dumbarton Oaks Park.

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

Landscape architect Beatrix Farrand (with the help of Mildred Bliss) turned the land into a naturalistic landscape of stream, woodland, and meadow. A circular walk begins at a stone bridge, crosses through a series of waterfalls and pools, meets a forest of mixed, largely native, trees and shrubs and then winds through four meadows on the northern slope above the stream. Many plant species chosen by Farrand for the upper gardens extend into the lower gardens: Forsythia, native Rhododendron, Scilla, and Crocus.

The formal threshold to the naturalistic garden, Forsythia Gate was intricately decorated with the Bliss RBM monogram. From inside the property it reads: Dumbarton Oaks Park. From the Park it reads Dumbarton Oaks. Just one of many examples of the architects' attention to detail.

Whitehaven Street exit near Danish Embassy (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Whitehaven Street exit near Danish Embassy

In Part 3, plans for making this a park accessible for everyone ... and how to make your way in and out.

One of Bliss markers for beloved horses and dogs (Photo by: Judith Beermann) One of Bliss markers for beloved horses and dogs

Here's a link to Part 1.

0 Comments For This Article


Thanks for keeping Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy's efforts on people's minds!


This is a local treasure that must be restored and protected by all of us who care about quality of life in the natural world...right at our doorsteps. Thank you for making us aware.


Parks are sacred spaces and offer refuge from the daily hustle and bustle. The sheer pleasure of being in a park alone or with your child or for a chat with a friend is something very special. Taking my granddaughter to parks when she was a toddler and pointing out flowers and birds delighted her. Your article about Dumbarton Oaks Park announces the hidden gem it is and I hope all who read this go there soon.

local hiker

Before reading Part 1 of this series, I had no idea that this park existed. I recently had the chance to walk its trails --and you are right--what a treasure! This is a great park for hiking and so convenient--adjacent to Georgetown, Burleith, Glover Park, Mass Ave. I hope the Conservancy is successful in its efforts to let others know about this gem and raise resources to restore and maintain the park. If you haven't visited Dumbarton Oaks Park yet, you should!

John Boffa

This is a special place. The first critical step is to remove the invasive vines which have killed off many of the trees. That will be a huge project, but the vines are very aggressive.

Ann Aldrich

All are invited to help remove invasive plants on June 15 from 12-4 and June 23 from 8-12. Please contact Ann Aldrich at Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy at