What happens in Reno…

by Molly

No, seriously, what happens in Fort Reno?

Other than me and my jeans taking an inadvertent mudslide down this hill:

Not a whole lot else is clear about the programmatic functions and use of Fort Reno. The park is huge, and as the photo tries to illustrate, the summit of Fort Reno is equally expansive; at 409 feet above sea level, it’s the highest natural point in Washington DC.

(Those two little spots at the top of the hill on the right are Collette and Li!)

But the highest ground of this highest summit is off limits, consumed by a water pump station operated by the DC Water and Sewer Authority. The area is fenced in, cutting off access to most of the views from Washington’s high ground.

(Judging by these two-day old remnants from Valentine’s Day, however, the top o’ the hill isn’t completely unvisited…)

The rest of the park’s land is occupied by playing fields, a community garden, and a school. Despite its size, however, there are few paths cutting across Fort Reno and linking its disparate elements into any kind of cohesive whole. The interpretation of the site (which is as limited as the other forts so far) is pushed to the periphery of the large site, and it’s Cultural Tourism DC’s plaque–not the National Park Service–that gives the best information about the original fort and Civil War Defenses.

The fort itself has no visible remnants in the site today, and the park land doesn’t even fully encompass the original boundaries of the fort. Cultural Tourism DC’s sign (again, not the NPS one…) overlays the historic map with the current street grid, demonstrating that the original ramparts/battlements/moat/etc. crossed into what are now residential neighborhoods north of Fassenden St.

The lasting impression of Fort Reno, for our purposes, is a combination of frustration with the site’s current shortfalls, overwhelmed-ness with the scale of this park (multiplied by 19 other sites), and excitement about how much a strong and coherent design could do to enhance the understanding and experience of this site. What happened in Fort Reno shouldn’t stay in Fort Reno.