Hello, Theodore Roosevelt Island!
Welcome to Theodore Roosevelt Island!
The boardwalk on Theodore Roosevelt Island/Photo by Chris Rief
This park, which consists of a nearly 90-acre island in the Potomac River, with land (via a bridge) access just off the George Washington Parkway in Arlington, Virginia, is open daily year-round from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. As you enter the centrally located Memorial Plaza, you’ll notice the 17-foot statue of Theodore Roosevelt, flanked by water features and four plaques, each displaying a different quote and depicting a variety of virtues (Nature, Manhood, Youth, The State). From there, you can take several different routes to explore the 2-plus miles of trails around the island.
Photo by Chris Rief
Prior to its dedication as Theodore Roosevelt Island, this area was known as Mason Island, or Analostan Island. General John Mason (1766-1849) was the eighth son of George Mason of Gunston Hall, a brigadier general in the District of Columbia militia, and founder of the first bank in the District of Columbia. Being a prominent businessman, he purchased the island for his summer home and plantation—his main residence still stands at 3425 Prospect Street in Georgetown.
Many notable visitors were hosted on the island during that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans (later crowned King of France). Years later, a fire burned a portion of the home down and the Masons relocated for financial reasons. In the years to follow, the island would be used as a public resort, a camp during the Civil War, and an athletic club, and was eventually purchased by a power company before being acquired by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association, and subsequently donated in 1931 to the federal government.
Photo by Chris Rief
How was this oasis of a park established? When research began to create a monument dedicated to the 26th U.S. President, there were several locations in play. Could you imagine seeing a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt on the site of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial? It’s hard to envision, but that was an idea proposed by J.R. Pope in 1925. However, the Olmstead Brothers’ proposal won out, and Mason Island was selected. Initial plans for the site included several structures, but the plans evolved until the Memorial was completed in 1967 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as the only structure on the island (aside from a restroom on the southern portion). There isn’t even a visitor center!
Click here to see the proposed images and plans.
Kayakers paddling towards Georgetown/Photo by Chris Rief
When you plan your visit, check out the trail maps, birds, and connecting trails to Theodore Roosevelt Island friends group. Seeing the larger-than-life statue of Theodore Roosevelt is fun, but the walk around the east side of the island on the boardwalk might be my favorite. You’ll catch glimpses through the trees of the John F. Kennedy Center, see college and local crew teams rowing on the Potomac River, and of course, spy lots of wildlife. Don’t be alarmed when you hear airplanes and helicopters, as the island is located in the flight path to Reagan National Airport.
Quinn masked up/Photo by Chris Rief
Enjoy your visit, take photos, and if you bring your dog, make sure they are on a leash!
Header photo: By Chris Rief
Chris Rief is a non-profit professional with a deep passion for photography and public lands. He lives in the D.C. area, where you can find him exploring national park units near and far with his daughter, Quinn.