George Washington Memorial Parkway

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Quick Overview

This is the audio-only described version of George Washington Memorial Parkway's official print brochure. It presents the history of the parkway and information for planning your visit. 

Side one of the brochure includes text and photographs regarding the history of the parkway, the natural habitats it protects, and the many sites related to George Washington's life and the nation he helped to build.  

Side two of the brochure consists of a map of the parkway which follows the Potomac River as it winds its way past Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. More detailed information is provided on the sites and activities available to visitors exploring the park.

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PHOTO: George Washington Memorial Parkway at Fort Hunt Park

At the top of side one, an aerial photograph by NPS and Steve Ruth stretches across the expanse of the brochure.  The caption reads, "Road, trail, and river meet near Fort Hunt Park along the George Washington Memorial Parkway." In this shoreline image, the upper third is filled with a dense forest of deciduous green-leafed trees, several of which are in bloom. 

At the bottom, the Potomac River runs horizontally across the image. Small ripples can be seen in the reflected images of trees dotting the shoreline.   

Separating the forests from the Potomac River and running in parallel, is the two-way road of the Parkway and the Mount Vernon Trail which hugs the river. On the left side of the image, two benches along the trail face the river.  

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TEXT: a Brief History of the Parkway

Commander-in-chief in the American Revolution. Founding father. First president. Few figures in United States history are so revered as George Washington. Henry Lee’s 1799 eulogy still rings true: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Three centuries later, Washington lives on through countless places of tribute. But sites in and near his namesake city can claim special significance because here he lived, worked, worshipped, and planned for the nation’s future. Even in Washington’s lifetime, his home at Mount Vernon drew sightseers, growing more popular with each generation. In 1932, the bicentennial of his birth, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway opened from Arlington Memorial Bridge to the estate. The 16-mile road improved access through Virginia and ushered in a new era of road-building. Built by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Public Roads, it was proclaimed “America’s Most Modern Motorway.” While it was under construction, Congress renamed it George Washington Memorial Parkway, expanding its authorized length and its mission. Under the Capper-Cramton Act of 1930, the federal government acquired land along the Potomac River in Virginia from Great Falls to Mount Vernon to protect the shoreline and palisades, preserve historic features, and provide for public recreation areas. In the 1950s and 1960s the parkway was extended northward. Traversing more difficult terrain than the southern leg, this section displays the latest in road engineering methods for its time—a wide, gently curving road with a grassy median, low stone guardrails, and soaring steel-and-concrete arched bridges. By 1970, 6.8 miles of the Maryland section were complete; that section was renamed in honor of Clara Barton in 1989. Today George Washington Memorial Parkway is a 7,600-acre national park area protecting the landscape and native habitat of the Potomac shoreline. Within the park you can visit over 25 sites associated with George Washington’s life, and with the life of the nation he helped establish.
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TEXT: a Road Through Past and Present

By the time he became president in 1789, George Washington owned 8,000 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia, from south of Mount Vernon to several miles north of the estate. One of his dreams for post-Revolutionary America was to turn the Potomac River into the commercial gateway to the West. He lobbied for building the Patowmack Canal to route boats safely around the “great falls” of the Potomac, nearly 30 miles upriver from his home. George Washington Memorial Parkway includes remains of this late-1700s canal at Great Falls Park and sections of Washington’s tidal Potomac farmlands: Riverside Park, Fort Hunt Park, and Collingwood Picnic Area.

Other members of Washington’s family held land that is now within the parkway. Abingdon, home of Washington’s stepson John Parke Custis, is the site of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Arlington House was the property of Washington’s step-grandson George Washington Parke Custis, who was raised by the Washingtons. Custis left Mount Vernon in 1802 after his grandmother Martha Custis Washington died. That year, on the 1,100-acre estate he inherited, Custis began building a Greek Revival mansion. He filled the home, finished in 1817, with Washington heirlooms. Later, Custis’ daughter Mary and her husband Robert E. Lee lived here until the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Two more U.S. presidents are honored at Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac and Theodore Roosevelt Island. Other sites recall the nation’s past: Claude Moore Colonial Farm recreates 1700s tobacco farm life. Military sites in Virginia include Civil War-era Fort Marcy and Spanish-American War and WWII-era Fort Hunt. Glen Echo, Md., features the home of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, and site of a Chautauqua Assembly in the 1800s, now Glen Echo Park.

Turkey Run Park and Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve are natural habitats preserved within parkway lands. Watch for signs of the seasons: spring’s dogwood, redbud, and daffodils and fall’s fiery hues of oaks, maples, and hickories. Watch for wild turkeys, bald eagles, and other migratory and resident birds. As you travel the parkway, see how the Potomac River’s character changes between the falls and tidewater.


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PHOTO: Mount Vernon Estate

This photo by the National Park Service shows an angled view of the Eastern facade of the white, two-story mansion surrounded by lush, but neatly trimmed grass. From this perspective, the rectangular building is several times wider than it is deep. The second floor boasts eight windows spanning its width. A red roof with a cupola and weather vane extends from above the second floor outward to create a covered porch area supported by eight posts. To its left, a colonnade provides a covered walkway.
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PHOTO: Great Falls

In this photo by Carol Highsmith, a series of short waterfalls can be seen in a section of a fast-moving river. White water pummels the craggy rocks and boulders as it winds its way downstream towards the viewer. The riverbank visible on the other side of the river displays a wall of green, dense forest.  The caption reads, "At Great Falls the Potomac River drops 77 feet in one mile. The Patowmack Canal, built in the 1700s to promote trade with Western markets, skirted the falls." 

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PHOTO: Dentzel Carousel Horse

This image of a brightly painted carousel horse and pole is credited to Carol Highsmith. The white horse, with dark mane and tail, sports a painted saddle with decorative trim. Painted leafy red flowers drape over the shoulder of the horse, and a golden pole extends through the midsection. A caption reads, "At Glen Echo Park in Maryland you can ride a high-stepping horse on the restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel."

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PHOTO: Clara Barton National Historic Site

A photograph by Carol Highsmith provides an angled view of the Clara Barton House. The photo shows the front part of the building and paved walkway and ramp at the side of the porch that leads to the front entryway on a sunny, cloudless day. The sandy-colored clapboard house has two floors with many windows on each level. A front porch roof covers the entryway and several benches. The porch area is flanked by stone towers with steep red gabled roofs. Extending from the rooftops are two flags, one of the United States and the other of the Red Cross.

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ILLUSTRATION: Arlington House

This illustration by John Aikens depicts Arlington House and its grounds. Shown in the background, on a cleared hilltop surrounded by trees, the house is a white Greek revivalist mansion. The front of the two-story home is visible from afar. Its central section figures prominently with a triangular pediment supported by six massive posts. To the left and right of this middle section are single story extensions with three windows, though the right section is obscured by extensive foliage.  Below the hill and in the foreground is a row of trees in full bloom with white and pink blossoms.

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PHOTO: LBJ Memorial Grove

A photo by Carol Highsmith depicts the full length of a 19-foot tall granite megalith on a bright, sunny day. Encircled by paving stones, the giant, rough-hewn rock is broad at its base and narrows towards one side after about a third of the up. A brilliant blue sky fills the image behind the megalith. Also visible are a grassy meadow, a waterway, and trees in the distance.  

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PHOTO: Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

In this color photograph by John Skowronski, we are provided with a water-level view of an empty expanse of still water viewed through a patch of reedy cattail plants. Beyond the water, an overcast sky blankets a shoreline and forest.  

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PHOTO: Theodore Roosevelt Island

In this photo by John Skowronski, a larger than life statue labeled "Theodore Roosevelt" stands on a pedestal looming over the heads of about two dozen people. The statue, three times as tall as the people milling below it, shows Theodore Roosevelt in a standing position with his legs shoulder width apart and his right arm raised high as if in the middle of giving a speech. He appears neat and professional, sporting a three piece suit with long coat and his hair trimmed short, parted off-center.  

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PHOTO: U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial

Though this famous memorial is actually a statue depicting six men, only the silhouetted bodies of three men are clearly distinguishable in this back-lit photograph. Their bodies are piled nearly atop one another in forward momentum as they struggle to raise and plant the US flag. In the distance at the far right of the photo, is the upper section of the Washington Monument, lit up against the darkening sky.
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TEXT: Exploring George Washington Memorial Parkway

George Washington Memorial Parkway was designed to bring people closer to nature and history. With rapid suburban growth, the parkway is now a major commuter route. The very qualities that set this roadway apart—a rolling, winding course bounded by stone walls, with wildlife and eye-catching scenery—now make it unsafe at high speeds. When driving, observe posted speed limits. Keep in mind that first and foremost, the parkway is a park!

The parkway has two main sections, Virginia and Maryland. The 25-mile Virginia section runs northward from Mount Vernon along the Potomac River to I-495. In Maryland, the Clara Barton Park- way follows the Potomac River for seven miles from Chain Bridge in Washington, D.C., to north of I-495. Along the way are historic sites, memorials, and scenic and recreation areas, listed below north to south. Unless otherwise noted, entrances to these sites are directly from the parkway. For directions from Metro stations call 703-289-2500.


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MAP: George Washington Memorial Parkway

A map of the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC area shows both the Clara Barton and George Washington Parkways as they follow the Potomac River. The map is oriented to the north. In the top half of the map, the river runs in a southeasterly direction, separating Virginia to the west from Maryland and Washington, D.C. to the east. The river then turns slightly and heads in a more southerly direction towards the bottom of the map. A boxed boundary marks the borders of the Washington D.C. area from surrounding Maryland, with the other half of the box showing the Historic District of Columbia boundary in Virginia. The additional map description will follow the George Washington Parkway from North to South in Virigina, followed by the Clara Barton Parkway in Maryland.  

Starting at the top of the map, beyond the start of the George Washington Parkway is Great Falls Park in Virginia.  The George Washington Parkway starts at I-495 near a bend in the river.  Nearby, visitors will first encounter Turkey Run Park, Parkway Headquarters, Claude Moore Colonial Farm, and Fort Macy.  

Heading further south along the parkway brings visitors to a Historic District of Columbia area of Virginia which sits on the opposite riverbank from Washington, DC. In this section of the parkway, visitors can visit Theodore Roosevelt Island, US Marine Corp War Memorial and Netherlands Carillon, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Arlington House, Arlington National Cemetery, Lady Bird Johnson Park, LBJ Memorial Grove on the Potomac, Navy and Marine Memorial, Gravelly Point, and Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary. 

 Continuing further south on the parkway at spaced intervals, visitors will find Daingerfield Island, Belle Haven Park, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Alexandria Avenue Bridge, Collingwood Picnic Area, Fort Hunt Park, and Riverside Park. The George Washington Parkway ends at Mount Vernon.  

At the top right of the map is the Clara Barton Parkway in Maryland. It hugs the opposite riverbank from the start of the George Washington Parkway in Virginia near I-495. Almost directly across the river from Park Headquarters, visitors will find the Clara Barton National Historic Site and Glen Echo Park.  

Additional information about each of the sites along the Parkway is provided under its own section. 

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What to See and Do Along the Parkway

TEXT: Great Falls Park, Virginia

Overlooks have views of the Potomac’s most dramatic series of falls. Nearby are remains of the Patowmack Canal, promoted by George Washington and built 1786–1802. Visitor center, trails, picnic area, snack bar.

Open 7 am to 10 pm daily except December 25. Entrance fee. Information: 703-285-2965.

Directions: From I-495 take exit 44, Va. 193 (Georgetown Pike) west for 4.2 miles; right on Old Dominion Drive; follow signs to park entrance.


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TEXT: Clara Barton National Historic Site

Built in 1891 and renovated in 1897 for Clara Barton, the house was a supply warehouse, American Red Cross headquarters, and Barton’s home until she died in 1912.
For hours: 301-320-1410.
Directions: From Clara Barton Parkway take Cabin John exit; turn right on MacArthur Blvd.; follow signs to entrance.
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TEXT: Glen Echo Park

Established by the Chautauqua Assembly in the 1890s, Glen Echo was an amusement park from 1907 to 1968. Today it is a center for visual and performing arts. Restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel, picnic area, classes, weekend dances.
Information: 301-320-1400. 24-Hour Hotline: 301-634-2222.
Directions: see Clara Barton NHS (above).
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TEXT: Turkey Run Park

This quiet wooded area has views of the river’s palisades and access for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, which follows the riverbank 8.5 miles from I-495 to Theodore Roosevelt Island. Trails, picnic area. Closes at 10 pm.
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TEXT: Claude Moore Colonial Farm

Operated by cooperative agreement with Friends of Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run, this is a working re-creation of a small 1700s tobacco farm. Picnic area (permits required). Entrance fee.
Open 10 am to 4:30 pm, Wed.–Sun., April through mid-December. Information: 703-442-7557.
Directions: Exit parkway at Va. 123 south; right on Va. 193 (Georgetown Pike); right on Colonial Farm Rd., 0.6 miles to entrance.
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TEXT: Fort Marcy

See earthworks and the site of a Civil War fort built in 1862 as part of the defense system that encircled Washington, D.C.
Closed at 10 pm.
Directions: NOTE—Enter from northbound parkway only! Southbound traffic, take Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to Constitution Ave., right on 23rd St., cross Memorial Bridge; bear right to return to parkway northbound.
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TEXT: Theodore Roosevelt Island

Memorial dedicated to the 26th U.S. president and conservation advocate preserves 88 acres of swamp, marshland, and forest. A formal plaza has a statue of Roosevelt with quotations from his writings carved in stone. Hiking, wildlife watching. Closes at 10 pm. No bicycles.
Directions: NOTE—Enter from northbound parkway only! Southbound traffic, see directions for Fort Marcy (above).
Metro station: Rosslyn.
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TEXT: U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial/Netherlands Carillon

Statue depicts the World War II second flag-raising on Iwo Jima and honors
sacrifices of U.S. Marines since 1775. The Netherlands gave the 50-bell carillon to the United States in gratitude for its support in WWII.
Closed midnight to 6 am.
Directions: From parkway southbound, take right exit for I-66/US 50/Roosevelt Bridge; bear right onto US 50 west; take ramp on right for Ft. Myer/Key Bridge/Rosslyn; left onto N. Meade St.; left onto Marshall Dr.; go to park entrance on left. From parkway northbound: bear left and follow signs for US 50 west; from US 50 west, proceed as above.
Metro stations: Arlington Cemetery or Rosslyn.
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TEXT: Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Robert E. Lee and wife Mary Custis Lee lived at the Arlington estate 1831–1861. Federal troops occupied it after Lee took command of Virginia’s army during the Civil War. Later, a freedman’s village was set up here, as was Arlington National Cemetery. Completed in 1932 and visually linking the Lee and Lincoln memorials,
Arlington Memorial Bridge symbolizes the reunited nation after the Civil War. In Virginia the bridge leads into the cemetery via Memorial Avenue, lined with military monuments that include the Women In Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA).
Information: Arlington House 703-235-1530; Arlington National Cemetery 703-607-8000; WIMSA 1-800-222-2294.
Directions: From parkway, exit at Arlington National Cemetery; follow signs to parking; walk or take shuttle bus.
Metro station: Arlington Cemetery.
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TEXT: Lady Bird Johnson Park

Columbia Island was renamed in honor of the former first lady and her campaign to beautify Washington, D.C. She chose the site of Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, where the Johnsons often stopped to admire the city as they drove from Texas. Nearby is the Navy and Marine Memorial dedicated to Americans lost at sea. Area includes Columbia Island Marina and a snack bar.
Closed midnight to 6 am.
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TEXT: Gravelly Point/Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary

Gravelly Point has a boat ramp, playing fields, and views of Washington and air traffic at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Across the parkway is Roaches Run, a popular birding area.
Closed 10 pm to 6 am.
Directions: NOTE—Enter Gravelly Point from northbound parkway only! Southbound traffic, turn around at Daingerfield Island. NOTE—Enter Roaches Run from southbound parkway only; turn around at I-395 south.
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TEXT: Daingerfield Island

Includes Washington Sailing Marina, playing field (permits required), boat ramp, picnic area, snack bar, and restaurant.
Closed midnight to 6 am.
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TEXT: City of Alexandria

Scottish merchants founded Alexandria in 1749. George Washington considered it his home town. Visitor center: 221 King St., 703-746-3300.
Directions: Parkway becomes Washington Street within city limits.
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TEXT: Jones Point Lighthouse

This is the southernmost point of the original 10-mile-square District of Columbia. The 1856 lighthouse (closed) was one of the nation’s first inland river lighthouses.
Directions: Please call 703-289-2500 for information.
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TEXT: Belle Haven Park/Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Set on an early 1700s tobacco warehouse site, Belle Haven Park has trails, a picnic area, and marina. Over 250 species of birds nest or feed at Dyke Marsh, a swamp forest and cattail marsh. South of Belle Haven the Alexandria Avenue Stone Bridge typifies those built in 1930–31 by the Bureau of Public Roads.
Closes at 10 pm.
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TEXT: Collingwood Picnic Area

This land was once part of George Washington’s River Farm.
Closes at 10 pm.
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TEXT: Fort Hunt Park

This 1890s fort, from Spanish-American War times, never saw action. Reactivated in World War II for military intelligence operations, this popular area has facilities for group picnics (permits required).
Closes at dark. Information: 202-439-7325.
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TEXT: Riverside Park

This recreation site has a picnic area, fitness course, fishing areas, and river views. Look for bald eagles.
Closes at 10 pm.
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TEXT: Mount Vernon Trail

This paved, multi-use trail runs 18.5 miles from Key Bridge to Mount Vernon. Bicyclists must ob- serve 15-mph speed limit. No motorized vehicles. Most sites along the parkway have parking for the trail.
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TEXT: Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

George Washington’s home 1754–1799 is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. House, gardens, and demonstration farm are open daily. Fee.
Information: 703-780-2000.
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TEXT: Safety First

Emergencies: call 911 or U.S. Park Police, 202-610-7500

The parkway is narrow and winding.  Speed limit varies from 25 to 50 mph. Do not speed! • Watch for deer, wild turkeys, and other wildlife and pedestrians. • Metal detectors are prohibited. • For firearms regulations see the park website. • A license is required for fishing; local regulations apply. • Do not destroy or remove plants, animals, or other natural or cultural objects; all are protected by federal law. 

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OVERVIEW: Accessibility

Contact the park for details about accessible facilities and activities. Service animals are welcome.
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OVERVIEW: More Information

George Washington Memorial Parkway c/o Turkey Run Park, McLean, VA 22101 

703-289-2500 

www.nps.gov/gwmp 

The parkway is one of over 390 parks in the National Park System. To learn more about national parks and National Park Service programs in America’s communities, visit www.nps.gov.

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