Twelve Scouts and four adults had a great time on our annual Troop Trip – this year to Washington, DC – over a rainy three-day weekend, April 21-23, 2006.
We left Kings Park just after 6 a.m. on Friday morning and enjoyed a smooth drive south, stopping briefly for breakfast and gas along the way. Our immediate destination was Greenbelt National Park in Greenbelt, Maryland where we tented for a couple nights. Troop 75 hadn’t stayed there before, so we didn’t know exactly what to expect. We discovered a heavily wooded, scout-friendly place with fine group campsites, lots of deer, and excellent access to the Metro, making it ideal for our purposes. However, we did have to wait quite a while before being assigned a site, so we ended up having to rush to set up our tents and be on our way again in order to make our appointment at Rep. Tim Bishop’s office in the Longworth House Office Building.
We enjoyed riding the Metro into the city and arrived on time after a short walk and the first of many security checks we’d encounter. Members of Rep. Bishop’s staff welcomed us before one of them, John, took us on a tour of the U.S. Capitol. Highlights included walking between the buildings through a network of tunnels; seeing the Rotunda, the House Chambers and Visitors Gallery, the Old Supreme Court, and the floor below which George Washington is entombed; and of course, the gift shop.
After the Capitol, we took the Metro to Arlington, Virginia for a walking tour of the National Cemetery and its environs. Several Scouts noted the inspirational words of John F. Kennedy that are engraved near the Eternal Flame. Later, at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the troop respectfully observed the honor guard and solemn ceremonies, including a particularly moving playing of Taps. Then we viewed the Netherlands Carillon and Marine Corps (Iwo Jima) Memorial as we walked toward the neighboring community of Rosslyn where we grabbed some dinner before taking the Metro from there to the National Mall for an evening tour of the monuments and memorials.
It had begun to rain pretty hard by the time we got there, so we darted from tree to tree as we made our way down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, passing the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, and Reflecting Pool along the way. Upon reaching the Lincoln Memorial, one of our Scouts fell on the slick, wet, marble steps and seriously bruised his leg. After getting checked out at the first aid station it was late, so we headed slowly to the nearby Foggy Bottom station for the ride back to Greenbelt.
We got to our tents around 11 o’clock, and everyone went quickly to bed. In the dark and quiet we didn’t notice that a very large troop had moved in next to us and was already asleep. However, they made their presence known before 6 a.m. when they began chopping wood and yelling to each other! They quieted down at our request and headed out shortly thereafter. We woke a little later, got ready, and headed out ourselves, getting breakfast before taking the Metro back into town.
First up on Saturday was a walking tour of the Federal Triangle area during which we viewed the Old Post Office Building, Ronald Reagan Building, Ellipse, Sherman Monument, Boy Scout Memorial, IRS Building, Department of Justice Building, and the FBI Building. Outside the White House, the Scouts imagined that the person seen walking on its roof must have been a sniper.
After rejecting 1-2 hour waits at the nearby Hard Rock and ESPN restaurants we had lunch at the very large food court in the Ronald Reagan Building.
After lunch we walked to the Museum of American History where we buddied up to explore on our own for a couple of hours. Highlights included seeing the actual Star Spangled Banner, structural steel from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon flag, pop culture artifacts, and numerous other fascinating exhibits. The gift shops and a simulator ride were popular too.
From there, we headed to the Air and Space Museum, passing the Museum of Natural History and Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden along the way. Again, we spent a couple of hours exploring in small groups. It was very crowded, and there was stuff to see everywhere! On display were so many famous craft like the Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis, Voyager, Grumman X29, Mercury and Gemini capsules, Lunar Module, a section of Skylab, and SpaceShipOne. Other favorites included a hands on flight science laboratory, a mockup of an aircraft carrier, and examples of early flying failures.
After Air & Space we walked through the rain past the Smithsonian Castle, Forest Service building, Holocaust Museum, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on our way to the Tidal Basin, which we found to have overflowed its banks. The rain was quickly stripping the Japanese cherry trees of their remaining blossoms, and petals covered the ground and filled the many puddles. First we passed the picturesque Boathouse as we headed to the Jefferson Memorial. There we rested and soaked up the atmosphere, particularly the grand views and Jefferson’s noble words. From there we continued around the swollen Tidal Basin, detouring around some flooded sections of walkway. We were very impressed by the FDR Memorial, and the heavy rain seemed to fit well with its flowing water theme. This four-part memorial is exceptional in that it encourages the visitor to step off the pathway and interact with it, and the Scouts enjoyed its rockscapes and the stepping stones that lead out into the pools and the waterfalls. After our tour of the Tidal Basin area we headed back to the Mall.
At the Korean War Memorial, we walked alongside a platoon of ghostly, slightly-larger-than-life statues of American soldiers as they advanced dressed in their rain gear just like us. Next we stopped by the Lincoln Memorial again for another quick visit because our previous time here had been marred by injury. And, because not everyone got to see the Vietnam Memorial on Friday night, we headed there next. There a bunch of us huddled under an umbrella in the driving rain and read from a few of the letters and cards that had been left by loved ones. By this time we had worked up quite an appetite and were in the mood for a hot meal and a chance to warm up and dry out a bit.
So, we headed to Foggy Bottom again where a helpful motorcycle cop, who was taking cover from the rain under the awning of a hotel with his Harley Davidson, pointed us toward a nearby TGI Friday’s restaurant in the midst of the George Washington University campus. Although the place seemed to be already hopping with a Saturday evening crowd, our group was ushered right in to a very private and formal university-themed banquet room and treated like VIPs. We settled into high back wing chairs around a single dining table that easily accommodated our group. Boy, what a difference from sitting on a rock on a campout! Chris C., our SPL and Chaplain’s Aide, led us in grace before we dined like gentlemen. It was a really good time and a unique shared experience. After our feast, we walked over to the nearby station and took the Metro back to Greenbelt.
Back at the campsite we checked out all of our tents because of the heavy rains and discovered that three of them were in danger of being flooded by rising puddles and had to be moved. After that we settled in for our second night, during which the rain finally stopped.
We got packed up and ready to go quickly on Sunday morning and were on our way out to breakfast at 8:30 a.m. It had been our plan to follow breakfast with a stop at the visitors center of the nearby Goddard Space Flight Center, but before driving over there we noticed that it didn’t open until later on Sundays, so we decided to head for Baltimore’s Fort McHenry instead.
When we got there, we found the neighborhood by the fort immersed in a major charity road race, but we were able to make our way through without much problem. At the visitors center a park service presenter introduced us to the history of Fort McHenry as well as the story of the Star Spangled Banner and our national anthem. We also watched a short film before walking over to the fort itself.
In another stroke of good fortune, it turns out that we happened upon Civil War Weekend at Fort McHenry, which featured numerous costumed reenactors, musket firing demonstrations, as well as fife and drum performances. The Scouts enjoyed touring the exhibits as well as the cannons, ramparts, and other fortifications. One of the new Scouts, Tom L., had his picture taken and published on the web and in print by a photographer from the Baltimore Examiner newspaper. [See the article]
Alas, we finally had to head for home. We hit some heavy traffic on the way out of Baltimore, and opted to push on since no one was hungry yet. It was 3 p.m. when we did stop for lunch and fuel on the New Jersey Turnpike. That was followed by a brief comfort stop at another turnpike service area at 5 p.m., and we were back in Kings Park at 7 p.m.
It was a long weekend and not without its challenges, but, on the whole, it was a great time that will be long remembered by everyone who went.
- Mr. Mark Lowen, Scoutmaster
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