By Noura Alfadl-Andreasson - 03/20/13 11:16 PM EDT
Our nation’s capital might have a reputation for being a serious, button-down kind of place where men and women in dark suits pave the marble corridors of power — but looks can be deceiving. Washington, D.C., also attracts a lot of outdoors types who enjoy nothing more than taking a hike on the many trails the Metro area has to offer.
“In a busy, congested, urban area, having a tranquil conservation area where things are green and beautiful and grow naturally is very important — especially for kids,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “It’s very important as part of our culture and civilization.”
Connolly did a lot of biking as a child growing up in Boston, and at one point even gave walking tours of the city. These early enjoyments, as well the fact that his district in Northern Virginia repeatedly comes in second or third place as the most congested area in America, has prioritized his political agenda.
Connolly describes the completion of the Cross County Trail, a 38-mile trail running from the Occoquan River to the Potomac River, as one of his proudest achievements.
“The Cross County Trail is now the most popular in my community,” he said. “When I have time to be an outdoor enthusiast I very much like to go for long walks on it.”
Other favorite trails include the Potomac Scenic Trail, parts of which he said still look “completely undisturbed,” and the Washington Old & Dominion Trail in Arlington.
“There are so many hiking opportunities in the area,” he said.
Even Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who hails from Portland — one of the greenest cities in the nation — can attest to what Washington, D.C., has to offer.
“The fact is, there are some real treasures here that don’t get the appreciation they deserve,” said Blumenauer.
Blumenauer’s favorite trails include the Capital Crescent Trail, Roosevelt Island, the C&O Canal and the National Arboretum — a real gem in northeast Washington on New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, especially when the azaleas bloom in spring.
“I mostly go to the C&O Canal or to the Arboretum,” he said. “It’s a modestly challenging bike ride and a great place to walk and savor,” Blumenauer said of the latter.
Most trails are accessible through the use of the Metro and or bus lines. Many of the trails accommodate dogs and bikes, but it’s best to check.
Both Connolly and Blumenauer agree that in their line of work, nature is a restorative gift, and they have sought to preserve, maintain and expand natural areas through various pieces of legislation — both men have been honored for the work by the American Hiking Society.
“People like the opportunity to get out,” said Connolly. “It’s one of the easiest ways to exercise and it’s tranquil. You can put aside your woes for a brief respite and feel refreshed and renewed afterward.”
Although Connolly enjoys the solitude of walking, Blumenauer does what he likes to call “meetings on the move.”
“I’ve got probably 100 people that are friends, family, colleagues or business people who would much rather have a meeting while walking or running then sitting down and eating or in the office,” said Blumenauer.
The Oregon Democrat said he tries to structure a walk or run at least three or four times a week with someone he needs to see or do business with. Sometimes he works on speeches or ideas while on the trail.
“Sometimes you just want to enjoy the Zen of being in nature,” he said. “But it’s also just a good way here on Capitol Hill to connect.”
The power of nature to “connect” is one more reason why both congressmen consider it a fundamental element for people to share.
Connolly suspects that a little congressional hiking could “start breaking down some of the gridlock.”
“Sometimes, when you take people into nature, it can be a real opportunity for reflection and change,” he said. “Certainly, this kind of experience can help bring people together and change perspectives.”
One of Blumenauer’s most memorable experiences was a backpacking trip he shared with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in August 2005. While working on wilderness protection for Mount Hood, the highest point in Oregon, they decided to round up some of their staff and family and hike around the mountain on a three-day, 41-mile trip.
“It was the best field hearing I’ve ever had,” said Blumenauer. “It was a really magnificent experience.”
Both congressmen are currently preoccupied with the dealings on Capitol Hill, but say they can’t wait to get back to the outdoors.
Connolly said he dreams of hiking on the “Big Island” of Hawaii again.
“Hawaii,” Connolly said a bit dreamily, “is just amazing.”
Blumenauer has his heart set on redoing a 450-mile, weeklong Oregon bicycle trip — a journey he said had the most “breathtaking scenery” and “some of the nicest people.”
Since I’ve been in Congress it has been hard to go,” he said. “I look forward to the day when I get back my life back and can do that again.”