From Stone To (Bright Red) Structure: A Tour Of The Seneca Quarry (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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The Week On Metro Connection: The Great Outdoors

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And what do you know? It's the end of August already. Isn't that crazy? But we still have time to jump on those last few weeks of summer, you know, soak in some rays, breathe some fresh air. Just slip on those sandals and get outside. So that is precisely what we are doing this week. We're gonna play a little soccer. We're gonna zoom around on some electric bikes.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

We're even gonna plunge underground and do some serious spelunking as we bring you some of our recent favorite shows in a show we're calling The Great Outdoors. But we'll start today's show by heading out and going back in time, way back in time to something like, I don't know...

MR. GARRETT PECK

Two hundred and twenty million years ago or so.

SHEIR

In other words, the late Triassic age. The Triassic age?

PECK

Yeah.

SHEIR

Is that before or after the Jurassic age?

PECK

Before, yeah.

SHEIR

And according to the guy we're walking with here...

PECK

My name is Garrett Peck. I'm the author of "The Potomac River: A History and Guide," which just came out.

SHEIR

The late Triassic was a marvelous time in our region's history because it led to the formation of a rather distinctive local feature, one you can see in the Cabin John Bridge, for instance, and some walkways and doorways of the U.S. Capital Building.

PECK

And, of course, the most famous is the Smithsonian Castle, right on the mall.

SHEIR

The ancient feature in question is a bright red rock known as Seneca Red Sandstone.

PECK

Another building made with Seneca Red Sandstone, it has been torn down in the 1970s, but it was there for about a century, was the D.C. jail.

SHEIR

What became of that stone when the jail was torn down?

PECK

Some of the stone went into the Smithsonian's collection, should they ever need to repair the Smithsonian Castle.

SHEIR

So it's like a secret stockpile somewhere. Do you know where it is?

PECK

Not specifically, but I could probably find out if you gave me about two hours.

SHEIR

Listeners, we'll get back to you on this one.

PECK

Yeah.

SHEIR

And we will, I promise, on some future show so stay tuned. For now, though, it might be helpful to let you know where we are right now. We're right by the Potomac River in Maryland at Seneca Creek State Park. We're not too far from the Seneca Quarry. That's where all that super durable sandstone came from. To approach the quarry, you head down the C & O Canal towpath right around mile 23. So how far away are we from the quarry now?

PECK

We are almost in the quarry.

SHEIR

Oh.

PECK

Yeah, it's very close.

SHEIR

But here's the thing, you'd never know how very close it actually is. See, the quarrying operation closed around 1900. Then more than a century later, thanks to Mother Nature and Father Time, you can barely see the quarry for the trees.

PECK

The trees are very, very, very thick and the ground is covered in brush.

SHEIR

Well, back in the day, all of this growth, these trees, this brush, not here, right?

PECK

There wasn't probably, hardly, a single tree here at all. I mean, this was an industrial operation.

SHEIR

And what an operation it was. Garrett Peck says, the place was clattering with hammers and buzzing with drills as early as the 1770s. The when the C & O Canal's Seneca section opened in 1830, things really took off now that workers could float tons of stone to Washington each day. But as Peck points out, as the turn of the century approached, things began to change. For one thing...

PECK

The C & O Canal declined.

SHEIR

...and eventually...

PECK

There was a major flood and then that shut the thing down.

SHEIR

That was in 1924. The quarry, of course, seized operations before that. But in any case, people also had begun moving away from red sandstone and gravitating toward other kinds of stone like granite.

PECK

Before an era of big ships and railroads and so on, you kind of dealt with the rocks you had locally. But now we can granite in our homes. Well, gosh, you can get it from North Carolina, you can get it from New Hampshire and you don't really care.

SHEIR

Hence, again, the Seneca Quarry's decline. But the overgrown cliffs aren't the only evidence of this downfall. If you veer off the C & O towpath and hike toward the quarry itself...

PECK

We'll walk right here, just a little ways.

SHEIR

...you'll approach a veritable shell of a building.

PECK

It's like you think you're somewhere in ancient Rome.

SHEIR

You know, I was just thinking that. It's bright red sandstone, about half the length of a football field and was once the Seneca Stone Cutting Mill. Though looking at the roofless ruin with its decrepit walls, it's hollowed out windows and doorways, you'd be hard pressed to identify it as such. Seriously, I would never know this was a mill.

PECK

Yeah. I mean, it's not protected, it's not particularly well preserved and there's also a little bit of graffiti.

SHEIR

A little bit of graffiti, apparently Nick was here.

PECK

Yeah. Nick was here.

SHEIR

As, for the record, was someone named Kevin. Their spray painted scrolls join a host of others on the crumbling mill which Garrett Peck predicts, eventually, will crumble away all together.

PECK

Yeah, unless it's preserved, which means that someone has to be proactive about shoring up the building.

SHEIR

We don't know if there's any movement afoot to do that?

PECK

The state of Maryland and, I believe, the C & O Canal, they've had a plan going back to the 1970s to do something with the quarry, to build some kind of visitor park or something. And they just never had the funds to do it. Which is really too bad. I think this would be a great park. And especially after seeing what Stafford County has done with Government Island.

SHEIR

Government Island is the Virginia Quarry that provided aquia sandstone for a bunch of famous projects including the White House and the U.S. Capital. Stafford County recently transformed the old quarry into an archeological site and park.

PECK

It's a great place to go watch birds and they've got signs all over it. You can walk among all the quarries. It's really, really cool. So A plus to Stafford County for doing that.

SHEIR

Whether Montgomery County will receive similarly high marks remains to be seen. In the meantime, Peck hopes more people will learn about the Seneca Quarry or at least learn it exists. We've past a few people here on this path, some joggers, some dog walkers, a guy on a bike. Do you think they have any idea about the history of, I mean, what they're walking by, what they're jogging by, what they're biking by?

PECK

I doubt anyone knows. There's not a sign to explain, hey, this is the place where the Smithsonian Castle was cut. But so much significance of our nation's history, of our capital city history, came about here through this quarry.

SHEIR

This quarry that Garrett Peck, for one, views as a regional treasure, a gem, a near forgotten diamond in the tried and a true rough. Garrett Peck is the author of "The Potomac River: A History and Guide," newly published by History Press. To see photographs of the Seneca Quarry and Mill, as well as some of the local structures built using that bright red sandstone, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We turn now from quarries to caves and the people who explore our region's subterranean spaces. Environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour tagged along with some cavers back in February to learn how they manage when caught in a tight space.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

An hour and a half outside Washington and 60 feet into the earth, I have been abandoned.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

Where are you?

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

Keely Owens is a longtime caver and she's led us through chamber after chamber through hundreds of feet of rock.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

No, that's impossible. A person can't fit in that.

MS. KEELY OWENS

You want to see?

BEN-ACHOUR

Oh, my gosh. So Keely has just disappeared into a rabbit hole.

OWENS

It's kind of like twister. It's a three-dimensional puzzle you got to solve with your body. So that's the fun part of it.

BEN-ACHOUR

Then it's my turn.

OWENS

Here come the feet. It's kind of like watching a birth. Here come the feet. We've got feet, we've got knees. There you go, you're in. You're in the water, not where you want to be.

BEN-ACHOUR

We've entered this room through an eight foot tube in the rock. The room is not more than three feet high. For Owens, these tight crawls are exhilarating, and undiscovered quiet spaces are peaceful and nurturing. But for other people, not so much.

OWENS

Yes, they trigger all sorts of stuff and I've seen people get really disoriented. They feel like they're going to fall over. We could be underground and have everything be fine and everybody's happy, everybody's joking and people would start to, we're going to start heading out now soon? And you can tell by the tone of their voice that it was really like that you needed to be saying yes to that question.

BEN-ACHOUR

So of all people who go into a cave, Amber Leeman, is maybe the most unlikely. On the second floor of a downtown Boston office building, the walls are all glass and light pours in.

MS. AMBER LEEMAN

Thanks for coming out. I'm Amber. Come on, let's head back this way and we'll chat.

BEN-ACHOUR

Leeman is a recovering claustrophobe.

LEEMAN

I could not go in elevators above the second floor. If the elevator was packed with four or five people, I would wait and take the stairs. I would go into complete panic mode. Heart racing, hyperventilation, the whole gamut.

BEN-ACHOUR

Until one day, a friend of hers suggested she do something about it.

LEEMAN

She said, you know, you really should try caving. And she said, you know, it might help with your claustrophobia. And I'm like, you're crazy. I'm not going in a cave.

BEN-ACHOUR

Leeman passed on caving trip after caving trip after caving trip until finally something possessed her to just give it a try.

LEEMAN

I was anticipating completely freaking out and having a panic attack, which I'd had before. A panic attack feels very similar to a heart attack, you think you're dying. When I got in there, my first thought was, what am I going to do if I get stuck? What if I break my leg? What if I break my finger? What if I break a nail? I mean, you know, anything is running through your head at that time.

BEN-ACHOUR

But with reassurance from her friends, something crazy happened.

LEEMAN

We're into the cave and I'm doing surprisingly well, kind of shocked myself and I found that I actually started loving it.

BEN-ACHOUR

Not only can Leeman now deal with crowds, elevators and tight spaces, she helps run a caving club and leads expeditions just about every weekend. But this isn't actually all that strange.

DR. JOSEPH BIENVENU

The main treatment for phobias is something called exposure therapy.

BEN-ACHOUR

Joseph Bienvenu is an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

BIENVENU

And it involves getting into a situation that you would typically avoid, letting your anxiety be there until it decreases substantially.

BEN-ACHOUR

He says if people stick with it, start small, anxiety levels will fall.

BIENVENU

For some people, if they spend too much time away from the situation, their fear builds up again.

BEN-ACHOUR

Back in the cave, Keely Owens says the lessons learned 60 feet underground also help her deal with life's problems.

OWENS

When I'm out in my regular life, which is actually a lot harder to manage than caving, then I find myself in situation that just, it feels like, you know, it's too small, it's too hard, it's too difficult of a crawl for me to get through. I think okay, it's okay, calm down, take your time, take a breath.

BEN-ACHOUR

Sounds like, you know, a lot of the important things in life can be found in a cave.

OWENS

Yes, there's one little thesis right there, Sabri, yeah.

BEN-ACHOUR

I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

For photos of caving and links to local caving clubs, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

INTERVIEWER

Time for a break, but when we get back, D.C.'s number of zooming commuters is on the rise.

MR. JO REYES

When we first opened in 2010, we sold, between April and December, we sold about 12 units of electric bikes. In 2011, we sold approximately 34 units of electric bikes.

SHEIR

That and more coming your way here on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week, we are getting out of the office and heading into the great outdoors with some of our favorite outdoorsy stories from the past few months. Later in the show, we're gonna zoom around town on electric bikes and we'll play a bit of soccer or football with players from all over the world.

SHEIR

But first, let's head to Adams Morgan for a story about basketball. The players we're about to meet are teens and 20 something's who've come to see the basketball court as a kind of haven from the dangers of street life. And as Jessica Gould tells us, these individuals have become a kind of family, sharing both success and devastating loss.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

Aniekan Udofia says the sound of a basketball bouncing is like his heart beating faster and faster as he makes his way to the court.

MR. ANIEKAN UDOFIA

All of a sudden, you start walking faster, your heart starts beating and you're thinking, okay, what team do I play with tonight? I want to win games.

GOULD

For years, a rectangle of cracked concrete at Walter Pierce Park has been the unofficial hub of the neighborhood. Udofia says it's a place where divisions from race and class to crew melt away in the heat of the game.

UDOFIA

It's not just a basketball court. Like, it's a community center.

GOULD

And Pierce Park regular, Gerard Allen, says the court is his home away from home.

MR. GERARD ALLEN

Like, I could talk about family issues, I could talk about females, I could talk about money. If it was a point where I couldn't go home, it's guaranteed, There's at least two or three people down there, I know I can go over their house.

GOULD

Neighborhood activist, Bryan Weaver, began playing pickup games at Pierce Park more than a decade ago. He came for the basketball, but he stayed because of the friendships he formed, especially with kids who are struggling to stay out of trouble.

MR. BRYAN WEAVER

I'd spent some time in Central America and I really sort of viewed the life that a lot of kids were living here in D.C. were very similar to the lives that a lot of young folks in Guatemala were living in. Violence had touched every household, people were sort of looking for games to be an escape from day to day lives.

GOULD

Weaver decided to bring a group of kids from the neighborhood to Guatemala and host a basketball camp for the locals. Clayton Mitchell was on that first trip.

MR. CLAYTON MITCHELL

And you see how they struggle, it makes you look back at D.C.'ers like, damn, we've taken a lot of things for granted.

GOULD

Since then, Weaver has brought about 150 kids to Guatemala as part of the non-profit he started called Hoops Sagrado. And over the years, the annual trips have strengthened the comradery on the court, transforming a diverse group of pickup basketball players into a family.

WEAVER

I look around the table and I think I see the pallbearers at my funeral. I mean, it's just that kind of friendship that I think that we've sort of established.

GOULD

Gerard Allen says he isn't sure where he'd be without the Hoops community.

MITCHELL

It's a good chance I could've been locked up. There's a greater chance I could've even more tragic than that.

GOULD

But not all the Pierce Park players have been so lucky. Drugs, violence, they call it the fast life and they say it's claimed several of their friends and relatives. In 2008, Clayton Mitchell lost his brother Durell (sp?) in a burst of gunfire.

MITCHELL

He just had one of them type of personalities, like even if he was having a bad day, he could change your whole day with just a few words. He was just that type of person.

GOULD

Then, in 2010, Hoops alum Jamal Coates, was gunned down on U Street. Aniekan Udofia painted a mural at the park as a tribute to Coates and the others.

UDOFIA

The first panel has a kid blindfolded with an hourglass, but he's wearing a graduation hat and the hourglass is broken.

GOULD

He says the mural represents the potential of the players and the things that stand in their way.

UDOFIA

They have high aspirations and you see people who are trying to help push that high aspirations, but then there's something in between that, which is originally the environment they grew up in.

GOULD

Bryan Weaver says that combination of hope and struggle has deep roots in the neighborhood.

WEAVER

That court is built on a cemetery and it's a cemetery of freed slaves and of white abolitionists. And that, to me, is always sort of the sacred ground in the community.

GOULD

But Sam Levy who grew up playing basketball at Pierce Park says the core group of players is getting older now. And jobs and families can make it difficult to get together the way they used to. Meanwhile, he says, gentrification is changing the community and the courts.

MR. SAM LEVY

People should know, people that use the park now and people that are moving into the neighborhood, they just can't really understand how important playing basketball that park was for everyone that used to play basketball there because whether or not this court saved you or not, it was there for you.

GOULD

Udofia puts it this way...

UDOFIA

To this group, basketball is not just a game, it's life.

GOULD

And for them, the bounce of a basketball will always be the beating heart of the neighborhood. I'm Jessica Gould.

SHEIR

You can find more information about Hoops Sagrado and Walter Pierce Park on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Now, when it comes to sports, soccer may be the most international one there is. And though America tends to lag a bit behind in enthusiasm for the sport, that doesn't dampen the spirits of people who come here from abroad. Every week at an undisclosed location in northwest D.C., soccer players from all over the world gather for some early morning play. They call it Sunday Soccer. And as Emily Friedman tells us, it isn't just a pick-up game, it's a way of life.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

It's 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning. And I'm standing on the sidelines of the Sunday Soccer game. It appears the yellow team is winning, but there's no scoreboard, so it's kind of hard to tell.

MR. MASSIMO GIGLI

We make fun of each other keeping score, but it's not really...

FRIEDMAN

Massimo Gigli is lacing up his cleats, getting ready to join in the game. As he waits, he proudly tells me exactly how this community began.

GIGLI

And our kids were playing soccer and we saw a ball. We just kicked the ball, too, and I said, why don't we start a game?

FRIEDMAN

Back then, which was about 15 years ago, there were a handful of men who played. Now you have to get her on time, otherwise you sit on the sidelines until another player gets tired, which luckily for Gigli is about to happen. Massimo Gigli is in, Olafur Gudmundsson out.

MR. OLAFUR GUDMUNDSSON

I'm originally from Iceland and I've been coming religiously to this game for about six, seven years.

FRIEDMAN

Sunday morning is tricky, he says, because there's always pressure to stay home, help out with the kids or go to church. But seven years in, his family knows exactly what his excuse will be.

GUDMUNDSSON

Sorry, this is the Temple of the Round Ball. This religion trumps all other religions.

FRIEDMAN

It's a religion, he says, that unites people from all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

I'm from New Delhi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Lebanon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

I'm from Peru.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Cleveland, Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Palestine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Moscow, Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Cameroon, Sierra Leone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

I'm from Brazil.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

Trinidad and Tobago.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

New Castle, England.

MR. DANIEL KAUFMANN

Daniel Kaufmann from Chile.

FRIEDMAN

Daniel Kaufman from Chile is one of the oldest players on the team. He's 60. And to keep a competitive advantage, he and other Spanish speakers have been known to switch over to their native language when the game gets really heated.

KAUFMANN

We take it relatively seriously, but it's not a competitive world cup.

FRIEDMAN

During the week, Kaufmann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And though one of his specialties at Brookings is anti-corruption, other players tell me Kaufmann is well known for his attempts to lure better players to his side.

MR. JAIME VILCHES

It's not even be on my team. Carlos switch.

FRIEDMAN

Jaime Vilches (sp) who's from Peru and works for the State Department says there's also a comfort factor in playing with this big mix of people.

VILCHES

I realize (unintelligible) with different accents. When you play with only Americans, they're like, they always say to you, what do you say? They pretend that they don't understand what you're talking about.

FRIEDMAN

Here, Vilches points out and you've probably noticed, nearly everyone has an accent, and then there's the issue of gender. Sarah Hughes, the only female player on the field today, says actually never really comes up.

MS. SARAH HUGHES

More unusual being American born and raised, I hear more about that problem than being a woman on the team.

FRIEDMAN

Those who were born and raised in the U.S., like Timothy Schwartz from Manhattan, saying playing with such an international crowd has toughened them up a bit.

MR. TIMOTHY SCHWARTZ

Our one friend who wasn't here today, he's Russian, big, strong Russian guy. And I went up for a header, yeah, and he broke his nose in the game. And he sort of sat on the ground, he stood up, blood pouring out and he set his nose and kept playing.

FRIEDMAN

After the game, Schwartz leads the group to a nearby Starbucks. The players were competitive on the field, but the post-game gathering feels more like a family reunion.

SCHWARTZ

Well, if you ask us, seriously, about playing this game on Sundays and playing with all these guys, we'd tell you these are our best friends. These are the guys that -- this is the day we look forward to the whole week.

KAUFMANN

We never know what's going to happen, whether there's going to be a great game, bad game, whether we're going to have a laugh fest afterwards or whether we have to have a pass the peace pipe around. But we know one thing that's going to happen, we'll have fun.

FRIEDMAN

And fun, Daniel Kaufmann says, is what soccer is all about. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

Emily's story was informed by WAMU's Public Insight Network. It's a way for people to share ideas with us and for us to reach out for input on upcoming stories. There's more information at metroconnection.org/PIN.

SHEIR

So let's talk commuting. When it comes commuting, there aren't many ways to get around that we'd consider all that rare or unusual, right? There's the bus, the train, your car or your own two legs. Well, back in February, new reporter, Martin DiCaro tested out another method in our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."

SHEIR

And as he did, he found that this particular method, while still rare, is starting to take off.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

Jo Reyes used to work in a noisy world of horsepower and engine exhaust. He was a Ferrari racecar mechanic in his younger days.

REYES

It was fun. It was a good experience.

CARO

But these days, instead of the roar of a 12-cylinder engine that would get about five miles per gallon, his ears are filled with this...

CARO

That's an electric motor on a bicycle. It's like a drill.

REYES

We call it an electric assist bicycle. You get 25 percent of your assist from the electric motor, 75 percent of it comes from you. So it's kind of, you know, an electric-human hybrid, if you will.

CARO

Welcome to the Green Commuter, the bike shop Reyes has owned with his wife for the past two years, the place where he hopes to sell a lot more electric bicycles. Right now, he's lucky to sell one per week.

REYES

When we first opened in 2010, we sold, between April and December, we sold about 12 units of electric bikes. In 2011, we sold approximately 34 units of electric bikes.

CARO

Reyes only took an interest in electric bikes after a fight with his wife who was getting tired, literally, of their long treks on regular bicycles.

REYES

She's ready to kill me. So I did some research and that's when I started learning about these electric bikes. So I bought her one of these bikes from -- this is really what started everything here.

CARO

An electric bike looks like your regular sturdy road bike except for the lithium ion battery pack on the rear frame. So new models have a range of 20 miles or more and can easily reach the top speed allowed under federal law, 20 miles per hour. As the technology has improved, Reyes says, electric bikes have become more practical, they're lighter, their batteries last longer and they're a lot of fun. I know because I took one for a test drive. So I'm at the bottom of a hill on an electric bike. I need a little throttle, whoa, up I go.

CARO

You can hear that sound, that's the engine or the battery, no engine. Electric bikes can also be fitted with cargo containers. I plopped into a big black bucket Reyes uses to go grocery shopping. He peddled. I sat in the back, destination, the Tacoma Metro Station, one mile from his store. How fast are we going?

REYES

Probably 18 miles an hour.

CARO

Man, 18 miles an hour. It took us about five minutes to get there and it probably would've taken us about 30 minutes to reach the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania...

CARO

...where I met Charlie Garlow, the President of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, near his office at the Environmental Protection Agency. He is an attorney who works on compliance with the Clean Air Act and a big supporter of Green Commuting. He co-owns the bike shop with Reyes.

MR. CHARLIE GARLOW

Some people say, well, Charlie, I don't know about bicycling. There's -- you could get so hot and sweaty and all that. And I said, well, try an electric bicycle. Especially for folks who are a little older like I am, I'm 62 years old. If you're having a hard time getting up that hill without throwing out that old knee injury you had from soccer, then just pull the trigger on your electric and zing, up the hill you go.

CARO

As you can tell, electric bicycling has plenty of benefits. No pollution, the exercise is good for your health and it's a cheap ride too, about three cents a mile based on kilowatt hours. But the bikes themselves aren't cheap. A new model can cost you close to $3,000. You can get a good one for $1,500. Garlow expects the prices to eventually come down if the bikes grow in popularity.

GARLOW

Variety is the spice of life and if you see somebody cool going down the highway with a bicycle like that guy right there who just dinged at us, he's one of my pals, you say to yourself, yeah, I can do that.

CARO

Richard Cowden (sp?) used to drive 38 miles one way to work in the 1990s, but now the 61-year-old editor at a publishing company rides his electric bike 24 miles roundtrip from Tacoma Park to Crystal City. He foresees more people living closer to their offices, making bicycling more appealing.

MR. RICHARD COWDEN

The housing collapse forced people to start looking again at their -- the inner city, the urban infrastructure, the central business district areas where there were plenty of good housing stock that was largely either abandoned or underutilized.

CARO

Sixty-eight percent of all drivers commute between one and 15 miles one way, according the U.S. Department of Transportation. Only 16 percent drive at least 26 miles, one way to work. So maybe this sound...

CARO

...doesn't have to be so rare after all. I'm Martin DiCaro.

SHEIR

To see for yourself what these electric bikes look like, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And now our weekly trip around the region. On today's "Door To Door," we visit Parkfairfax in Virginia and D.C.'s Southwest Waterfront.

MR. DAN KING

My name is Dan King and I live in the Southwest Waterfront and that neighborhood extends from the historic fish market on the west side on M Street all the way to South Capitol Street on the east side. On the north side it's pretty much the Southeast/Southwest highway and then on the south side is the Washington Channel, the Potomac River. It has a lot of history. This was one of the places especially after the Civil War many African Americans kind of made their homes here.

MR. DAN KING

That pretty much lasted until the 1930s, 1940s. There used to be wharfs down here and pretty worked at the Navy Yard. The 1950s and 1960s was the start of the urban renewal project and they basically just wiped out almost everything down except for the military base and a few churches. So it's an area that really underwent a lot of change and I don't think it quite lived up to its promise.

MR. DAN KING

At the same time they were also building the Southeast/Southwest Highway. It sort of cut off this neighborhood and only a few streets could get north of that highway. So this sort of became an island unto itself. The development for the past five years has really been anchored on, I think making up for some of the mistakes that the early redevelopment initiated. I think there were very grandiose plans but it never really felt like a neighborhood again. So the new development really has been looking at reclaiming that sense of community.

MS. MEG BOHABEEB

My name is Meg Bohabeeb (sp?) and I'm from Parkfairfax here in Alexandra, Va. it's right across 395 Shirlington so everyone -- a lot of people know where Shirlington and there's actually a walk bridge over to Shirlington so you can get there in about five minutes which is also one of the nice things about living here. Parkfairfax is really charming. It has a lot of the old-school brick original foundation. It's from the '40s.

MS. MEG BOHABEEB

It was actually created for Pentagon workers and it has two presidents who have lived here, Nixon and Ford. So it's surprisingly kept pretty much as it was. It's very unique in its nature and the enchanting kind of forest paths you know and it's kind of like a secret garden. You know, you come up upon it and it's kind of out of place but they've kept a lot of the natural atmosphere.

MS. MEG BOHABEEB

We're all fighting for land and you know everywhere nearby new high-rises are cropping up and this particular condo community provides something pretty unique and different.

SHEIR

We heard from Meg Bohabeeb in Parkfairfax and Dan King on the Southwest Waterfront. If you think your neighborhood should be part of "Door to Door," just send an email to metro@wamu.org or visit us on Facebook. That's facebook.com/metroconnection.org. And to see a map of all the doors we've knocked so far, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

After the break, we hit the beach for some phenomenal yet fleeting sculptures.

MR. RANDY HOFMAN

We had about 15 kids out here digging, took about three hours to dig and took me probably 15 hours altogether to do this sculpting, you know, the whole day.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute, on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week, we're exploring the great outdoors and getting out and about with some of our favorite "Metro Connection" stories from the past few months. We've shot some hoops, hopped on electric bikes. We've even gone spelunking. But in this next story, we'll explore an outdoor landmark, many outdoor landmarks, actually that you've probably never noticed.

SHEIR

Just to set things up here, if you've ever looked at a map of D.C., you've probably noticed that the boundaries of our nation's capital form a diamond. These days, that diamond is technically missing a corner, the piece of land that Congress handed back to Virginia in the 1840s. But that diamond was whole back in 1791, when it was created by a surveying team led by Major Andrew Ellicott.

SHEIR

Along that diamond's borders, Major Ellicott's team placed 40 stones, all made of sandstone from the Aquia Creek quarry. That's the same place we got stones for the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Anyway, the boundary stones, as we now know them, are the oldest monuments in D.C., and the first ever purchased by the federal government.

SHEIR

Here's the thing, though, after more than 200 years, the boundary stones and the iron fences put up in the 1900s to help protect the stones, well, they've all seen better days. Which is why, since 2010, a group of volunteers has visited the stones every May and October to do preservation work. In this case...

MAN

Whatever stays on could be painted over.

MR. STEPHEN POWERS

Yeah, just keep scraping.

SHEIR

Scraping off the fences' crumbling paint so it can be replaced with a rich hunter green shade.

POWERS

I'm going to get more workers over here, though, because the Southwest #1 and Southwest #2 are just about done now. So we'll get some of those volunteers and move them around.

SHEIR

We're in northern Virginia, at the edge of a yard off King Street, at the stone site known as Southwest #4.

POWERS

And I want to see where I am on 5 and 6.

SHEIR

Our volunteer wrangler here is Stephen Powers. Powers grew up in the D.C. area. And a handful of years ago, he decided to take his children to visit all 40 stones.

POWERS

As I started taking them to the stones, I got what I call stones fever. And I took over 3,500 photos of the stones, and did condition studies of them.

SHEIR

Since then, he's become acting co-chair of what has got to be my favorite acronym of all time.

POWERS

NACABOSTCO.

SHEIR

Which stands for?

POWERS

The Nation's Capital Boundary Stones Committee. It's made up of close to 30 different groups, local governments, historical societies.

SHEIR

Not to mention organizations like the American Society of Civil Engineers - National Capital Section, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, who actually first put up those fences. NACABOSTCO seeks to do two things. One...

POWERS

Raise public awareness.

SHEIR

And two, unite the boundary stones under one owner.

POWERS

The federal government.

SHEIR

Because currently, the stones on the Maryland-D.C., border fall under the auspices of the DDOT.

POWERS

The District Department of Transportation.

SHEIR

Which says it doesn't have funding for restoration or preservation. And in Virginia...

POWERS

When the government retroceded the lands, also retroceded the stones. So the Virginia stones are all owned by that individual landowner, many of them are in private yards. One of them is in a church parking lot. And the owner of that land actually owns those stones.

SHEIR

So, right now, NACABOSTCO is working on an application to submit the stones for National Historic Landmark status.

POWERS

That would create federal funding and an ownership. And these stones would no longer be orphaned and forgotten, and would lead to them surviving for future generations to enjoy.

SHEIR

Because in a way, it's kind of shocking this generation has been able to enjoy the stones, or the ones that remain, anyhow. See, originally, there were four cornerstones, and then nine stones on each 10-mile leg.

POWERS

Thus, there's 40 sites and stones.

SHEIR

But four of those sites no longer have their original stones. Instead...

POWERS

One has a plaque.

SHEIR

Two feature replicas.

POWERS

And the final stone acts as storage and we're hoping to get that one back into the ground. So, 37 of the original stones actually still exist.

SHEIR

And boy, have those stones been through a lot. Stephen Powers says some were used for target practice during the Civil War. Southwest #4 was repeatedly struck by farm plows. And a couple of miles north, on to another stone?

POWERS

Yep. Now this stone you can actually see engraving on.

SHEIR

On Jefferson Street, just south of Columbia Pike...

POWERS

And here is number six right here. We'll go down and we'd make a U-turn and come back around.

SHEIR

Southwest #6 was hit by a car. We're actually -- we're in the median right now.

POWERS

We're right in the middle of the median. The stone is in the median. That's why it was hit by a car back in 1966 and why it's broken in half. We'd like to see this median actually widened, maybe put some more protective bollards or something around it so that another accident wouldn't happen in the future.

SHEIR

That would, of course, require some major engineering. So Powers says it's a good thing the American Society of Civil Engineers - National Capital Section is on board. The organization hopes to designate the boundary stones an ASCE Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It also hopes to design and raise funds for a public park at the East Corner Stone. The West Corner Stone, south of West Street in Falls Church, already has a park, named for Major Andrew Ellicott.

SHEIR

But, otherwise, Stephen Powers says, the boundary stones are largely forgotten. People either pass right by without noticing. Or, if they do notice...

POWERS

Local residents will come up to us and say, is that a gravestone? What is that? When we tell them what it is, they get very excited by it.

SHEIR

And the hope, he says, is that the federal government will get excited, too. And, hey, maybe even come down with a case of "stones fever" itself.

SHEIR

If you'd like to visit all 40 boundary stone sites or at least see a map of where they lie, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We transition from stones to sand as we hit the beach for our "On The Coast" segment in which coastal reporter Bryan Russo brings us the latest from the eastern shore of Maryland and coastal Delaware. Now, Bryan does a lot of his reporting in Ocean City, Maryland, and if you've ever spent time there, you've probably seen these massive sculptures rising up out of the sand right near the Boardwalk at Second Street.

SHEIR

These sculptures, often Biblical in nature, are the work of a man named Randy Hofman, whose been making sand sculptures in Ocean City for more than 30 years. Bryan chatted with Hofman recently about what it's like to spend so much time on art that's destined to disappear.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

When you start, you just have a mound of sand so going from the mound of sand to these exquisite and intricate scenes, you know, we're looking at probably a 15 foot Lord's Supper scene. Talk about creating that. How long did it take, what's the first steps, how do you do it?

HOFMAN

These are mega sculptures now. I've worked up to -- the big efforts, the biggest sculptures I'll do for the summer, but when we come out in the spring, they're just little piles. They're like one-third the size of this Last Supper pile. And then, after we make a couple of them and they get decayed or vandalized, and then -- for example, this Last Supper here, we had to wreck two perfectly good sand sculptures and we lumped the two together to make this triple-sized sculpture, this Last Supper.

HOFMAN

And we had about 15 kids out here digging, took about 3 hours to dig and took me probably 15 hours altogether to do this sculpture, you know, the whole day.

RUSSO

And you talk a little bit about the paste and using a little -- you know, you showed me the knife. It's like a little plastic carryout...

HOFMAN

It's a plastic knife. It's from the Mug And Mallet across the boardwalk in the Plim Plaza to pick the crabmeat. But it's a little plastic knife, but it's strongly made. I can remember some of the early years, I'd be looking for little sticks on the beach 'cause I'd want to do, you know, intricate details on the eyes and all and my hands were pretty good, but I couldn't really cut.

HOFMAN

And then this knife -- I don't know. I forget when I first started, but it's been my main tool and my whole life is this little plastic knife. It's so simple, but it's light and it's great to do lettering with.

RUSSO

Let's walk towards the sculptures a minute. Talk about how long that takes to kind of hone the craft to be able to have it this intricate.

HOFMAN

I remember when I thought, well, maybe I'll do sand sculpture and went over to asiatique so all alone and private so nobody could see how good or bad it would be. And I did a Jesus laying on the cross just flat on the ground and it was okay. But my early sand sculptures, they were like the Michelin tire people, you know, they were these blob kind of things. So it's taken a lot of devotion to keep honing the craft.

RUSSO

You know, certainly weather plays into the existence of these sculptures. I'm sure any time you watch, you know, the weather and you see a big storm coming, how much does a regular rain storm or wind storm damage these amazing pieces of art?

HOFMAN

Oh, my. You know, last couple of weeks, we've had a lot of rain, oh, and just some harsh storms have rolled through. Although now, we spray the finished sculpture with a little bit of water and Elmer's glue and it puts a crust on it and that protects it. And so they can last for about a month or so. But if it rains lightly, the rain will go in and wash off, but if it’s a heavy rain and it keeps raining hour after hour, it'll turn the Elmer's glue back into nature, you know.

HOFMAN

I'll dissolve and the sculpture will get heavy and blobbed down and just fall down.

RUSSO

Do these ever get vandalized? And, you know, I guess, talk about that, the way that the community interacts with these sculptures. Are they respected enough to not be damaged?

HOFMAN

Most people pretty much enjoy it for one reason or the other. It's kind of a combination of two. Wow, look, using natural materials on the beach, very appropriate, beach presentation of the Bible. So that's a cool thing. So most people like it, but then say like early in the morning, somebody's half drunk and they're not really mentally there and so they may jump on it or -- you know, in every crowd there's some wise guy that just wants to be cute and do something daring and he'll run up to it.

HOFMAN

So I don't know reasons why, but it does get vandalized once in a while.

RUSSO

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say, man, I gotta go do the sand sculpting again today?

HOFMAN

No, actually, I do so few now. In the early years, before the Elmer's glue, we'd do about 100 a summer. We'd have to come out every night. I was a Sabbath abuser. But now, I do about 15 of them or so, besides the commercial contracts I do of sand sculpture. So I kind of look forward to it because it's more fun than when I'm just by myself down in the studio just painting.

RUSSO

Are you looking to teach the next person that will keep this going, you know, when you can't do this anymore or when you choose not to do it anymore?

HOFMAN

I'd like to see it go on. I mean, it'd be a failure if it just dropped out when I drop out. I'm 60 right now, you know. I feel like I got maybe up to a decade. You know, they say, is this your church? Well, in a way it's a church, but more, I'm an evangelist, which means the bringer of the good news, the guy who just comes in, says, I got good news.

HOFMAN

You know, it's like a gossip. It's a Paul Revere guy riding on the horse, you know, runs into town, the British are coming. And I'm in Ocean City, says, the kingdom of God is coming. It's good news and he accepts you.

RUSSO

But instead of holding the Bible, you're holding a little plastic knife and you're creating sand sculptures.

HOFMAN

I'm a visual communicator. I think God's equipped me with these skills to do this job in this way.

SHEIR

That was sand sculptor Randy Hofman, speaking with WAMU's Bryan Russo. To check out some of Hofman's work, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Before we wrap up today's Great Outdoors show, we revisit one of our favorite "D.C. Gigs" segments from the past few months. "D.C. Gigs" is our series exploring the distinctively D.C. jobs held by folks in the area. And this guy we're about to meet spends most of his time digging, yes, in the great outdoors. Jack Sustic is the curator of the National Arboretum's Bonsai Museum and it's no small job considering these little trees can live hundreds of years. Producer Marc Adams spent a soggy afternoon with Sustic, back in April, and learned why caring for bonsai's is more than a commitment, it's a calling.

MR. JACK SUSTIC

My name Jack Sustic and I'm curator of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Being curator means that you're responsible for the entire collection, for the entire museum at the National Arboretum. And that entails the oldest, which is almost 400 years old. It has been a bonsai for almost 400 years to making sure that the benches are clean and that the water basins are clean and its wide range of responsibility from heavy responsibility to light responsibility.

MR. JACK SUSTIC

So fortunately, the bonsai grow and that's job security for me but we also have to trim them. So we have to maintain the shape. When we get rain like this, we get a break and it's not just a physical break, but it's a mental break too because we're always checking the trees for water because they all dry out at different times. So it's something that's always on your mind.

MR. JACK SUSTIC

So this is the oldest tree in the collection and it was started as a bonsai in 1625 and we call the Yamaki Pine because it was the Yamaki family that donated it and it was in that family for six generations before it came here in 1976. It's a very special tree, well, they're all special, but this one is very special for us.

MR. JACK SUSTIC

You know, before I got into bonsai I was not into plants. I didn't really care about plants. I was actually in the army stationed in Korea and I just happened across a store where they were selling bonsai and they were very nice trees and they just captivated me and couldn't stop thinking about them and came back to the States and the first thing I did was I joined a club and it just started from there.

MR. JACK SUSTIC

I don't see myself ever not doing bonsai. It's a lifetime commitment if you're serious about it. These trees are I often say that they're like children. They're like your children, our children. You know, when you have a child that does well or has a play at school and they're, you know, on stage and you're very proud, that these trees are the same way. When they're looking good and I have them in the exhibit I'm very proud. When they're not doing well I worry about them, when they're kind of sick, so they're very much like children. They will always be a connection -- whether I'm here or not there will always be a connection for me with these trees.

SHEIR

That was Jack Sustic of the National Arboretum speaking with producer Marc Adams. You can see photos of some of the oldest and best known Bonsai trees in the National Arboretum's collection on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And if you have a distinctively D.C. gig you think we should feature on the show, please let us know. Our email address is metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro's Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour, Jessica Gould, Emily Friedman, Bryan Russo and Martin DiCaro, along with producer, Marc Adams. Our acting news director is Memo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Benin. Jonna McKone, Lauren Landau and Raphaella Benin produced "Door To Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts'' and our ''Door To Door'' theme "No Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and Facebook links. You can read free transcripts of stories and if you've missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing by clicking the this week on "Metro Connection" link.

SHEIR

To listen our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or just find us in iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we unite past and present with a show we're calling, "Then and Now." We'll dip into the "Metro Connection" archives and check out a former nuclear bunker that now houses the most audio and video recordings in the world and we'll tickle the ivories with a 100-year-old piano prodigy.

SHEIR

Plus, the evolution of video games.

MAN

The transitionary of games is really describing the move from 2-dimentionl games to 3-dimensional games. So think about if you were someone who only ever painted in oils on canvas and all of a sudden, you said, great, now you need to move to sculpting marble.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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