Washington’s Birthday and Washington’s View

The View of Mount Vernon from Piscataway Park

by Wilton Corkern, President

In 1793 George Washington wrote that, “No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this.” Three years later the noted architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, painted the “situation” that so pleased our first president. His watercolors show a lush, pastoral landscape on the Maryland side of the Potomac. Fortunately for us and for posterity that landscape as seen from Mount Vernon has changed relatively little from what Latrobe and the numerous other people who visited Mount Vernon during Washington’s lifetime saw. As we celebrate the annual anniversary of Washington’s birth, it is worth noting that the Accokeek Foundation’s first job was to secure and hold the core of that view “for the benefit of the people of the nation.”

A half-century ago, in 1961, Congress enacted Public Law 87-362, authorizing the creation of Piscataway Park. It was only fitting that Piscataway Park was dedicated on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1968.

On this Washington’s Birthday we look not only back to past achievements, but forward to the challenges ahead. The view from Mount Vernon still faces the possibility of despoliation. Piscataway Park protects only 10% of the entire “viewshed.” The remainder of what we see is controlled by state and local governments and by thousands upon thousands of individual property owners. It also includes some extremely valuable and diverse historic and environmental resources: breeding grounds for anadromous fish (like American Shad and Rockfish), freshwater tidal wetlands, historic buildings and communities, mature upland forests, and habitats for rare plants and animals. The challenge now is to work with those private property owners, and the governments (federal, state, and county) that represent them, to find new and innovative ways to expand and enhance the protected area.

The Accokeek Foundation’s goal now and in the future is to preserve this beautiful pastoral landscape and the richness it provides to local residents, to visitors from near and far, and even to “the people of the nation” for many generations to come. We envision a future landscape, filled not only with well-designed and well-sited houses and businesses, but also the passive recreational spaces, sustainable farming operations, public River access points, and other amenities that make this an attractive and enriched place to be. The Mount Vernon Viewshed is truly a national treasure. The Accokeek Foundation is honored to be a part of its ongoing protection.

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