Northeast

A Monumental Experience in D.C.

Cherry Hill Park Helps RVers Have a Capital Time.

With its traffic snarls, steep security and scarce parking, the idea of exploring Washington D.C. may seem impossible to RVers. But here’s how one Maryland RV resort changed all that, bringing the splendor of our nation’s capital within easy reach.

College Park, MD – The buzz of the Beltway is a distant hum, murmuring somewhere beyond the swimming pool, just over a wooded hill – a rural setting with a slightly urban soundtrack.

For Michael and Amy Karl, sprawled in lounge chairs with their daughters alongside their RV, the sound is a distant abstraction: an audible reminder of their ultimate destination – the monuments, memorials and museums that await in Washington, D.C. – but also a reminder of what they won’t have to battle in order to take it all in.

Lincoln memorial DCTo visit the city’s top tourist sites, they’ve elected to leave the driving to someone else. In fact, the Pennsylvania family chose to stay at Cherry Hill Park specifically because of the access the camp- ground provides to D.C. attractions.

And access couldn’t be easier.

Visitors catch a Metro bus at a stop located inside the park. A 25-minute bus ride — 10 minutes if you drive your own car — whisks you to a Metrorail stop. And the Metrorail plunges you into the heart of the capital’s tourism district: the Smithsonian museums, the presidential monuments, the Capitol and White House, and all the architecture and political color in between.

For the Karl family, Cherry Hill Park offers the perfect compromise — a chance to enjoy their Class C motorhome, using it as home base in a family-friendly campground setting, while exploring nearby national attractions, only an hour away by bus and Metro trains.

(The park’s two swimming pools didn’t hurt either, the Karl daughters quickly chimed in.)

“I’ve been down to D.C. by taking the train and staying in hotels, but we bought this in November and really enjoy getting out in it,” Michael Karl explained, nodding toward the family motorhome.

“ It really helps that they have public transportation right here. We’re not going to pull this out every day and try to negotiate the traffic in town,” he added with a chuckle.

Ticket To Ride

It seems so easy. Not only do Metro buses serve the park about every 20 minutes, visitors can purchase bus tokens, Metrorail passes and tour bus tickets at the camp office. Some guided tour buses will even pick you up on-site.

And staff is eager to share advice about where to go, what to do and the best way to get there. Mention a destination, and chances are they’ll hand you explicit step- by-step directions.

In fact, informational sightseeing sessions are conducted every evening in the park conference center to help demystify the D.C. experience. Here, practical tips are spelled out:

• See the monuments first, and then hit the air-conditioned museums.

• Consider using the Tourmobile, a sightseeing shuttle service, to ferry you to the biggest attractions.

• Want to visit the top of the Washington Monument? The White House? Call a congressman in advance to help secure tickets.

Washington monument

Visitors are especially urged to take advantage of the Metrorail, Washington, D.C.’s subway system. For a big city, it feels safe, clean, affordable and — most importantly — user-friendly.

“If you can drive across the United States and negotiate our Beltway, then this subway is going to be a piece of cake,” promised Barb Dryen, who’s traveled from Southern California to work at Cherry Hill Park in the summers.

It sounds great in theory — the closest RV Park to downtown Washington, D.C., with public transportation virtually at your doorstep. And more affordable than a downtown hotel room.

But does it really work? We decided to put the system to the test.

First impressions? You’ll find the 70-acre park chock-full of campers in snug sites, but the setting is friendly, tidy and pleasant. Evening activities include tractor rides, outdoor movies and marshmallow roasts — folksy and fun.

We chose a summer visit, peak season for millions of tourists. And we decided to traverse Washington, D.C., on foot, relying on the same public transportation that everyone else does.

Where To Begin?

If Washington, D.C. is guilty of anything, it’s the sin of abundance. For tourists, the menu can be overwhelming. It pays to do some homework, pick your top destinations, and plan each day, clustering visits to attractions near one another.

Try starting with the National Mall — perhaps the nation’s most concentrated center for sightseeing.

The Washington Monument and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials — spectacular to see by night, when you can avoid heat and crowds, fringe the western portion of the mall.

While most monuments are free, open 24-hours a day and readily accessible, those wishing to go inside the Washington Monument should call ahead for reserved tickets (1 800-967-2283). Free tickets are distributed each day on a first-come, first-served basis at 8:30 a.m. until the day’s tickets are gone.

The area is also home to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and World War II Memorial.

On the opposite end of the mall, you’ll find the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and nearby, the glorious architecture of Union Station.

While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the Museum of the American Indian, the National Gallery of Art and the U.S. Botanic Gardens.

Working back to the west, you enter a gauntlet of Smithsonian museums located on or near the National Mall — all free, and the best bargain in the city. From The Air and Space Museum, Natural History and American History Museums to five different art museums, intriguing exhibits abound.

Museums also offer a great air-conditioned retreat on sultry days. Arrive early or expect to wait in line. For security reasons, prepare to have bags and backpacks searched.

For simply getting around, the best deal may be the Tourmobile, which provides daily-narrated shuttle tours with free re-boarding all day. Tickets are available at Cherry Hill Park.

The Tourmobile boards at Union Station, but patrons can hop on or off at marked stops and monuments. A ticket will also take you across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery.

The same ticket will let you board a trolley to tour the cemetery, but consider strolling the grounds on foot — a moving experience.

While there, don’t miss the Women in Military Service to America Memorial’s heart-rending exhibit, “Faces of the Fallen: America’s Artists Honor America’s Heroes” — over 1,300 portraits paying tribute to service people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seen it all? How about a visit to the Holocaust Museum and the nearby Bureau of Printing and Engraving?

Or hop back on the Metrorail and check out the panda bears at the National Zoo, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. Admission is free.

Elephant statue DCThe Long Journey Home

At the end of a long day, join the sea of tourists and commuters at well-marked Metro stops — you won’t miss fighting the traffic.

But be warned: If you return to Cherry Hill Park, bus lines don’t run there much past 9 p.m., even earlier on Sundays.

If you find yourself stranded at a Metro stop, try grabbing a cab back to Cherry Hill.

As temperatures cool and campers return, the park seems to reawaken. People ease outside, hit the pool, play with their kids, walk the dog and rehash the day’s adventures.

Down the road, Genean and Michael Berggrun, of South Carolina, watched as sons Jamie and Jacob played Revolutionary War with their plastic soldiers in the shade of the family’s travel trailer.

Accustomed to camping at spacious state parks, the cozy quarters here took some getting used to, they acknowledged.

But when the couple’s daughter — just elected student body president — caught the political bug, a trip to the nation’s capital was a must. And Cherry Hill was a natural choice.

“This was the closest place we could find to D.C.,” Michael said.

Don't Forget

For their first trip into town, the Berggruns drove their truck — a big mistake. “There seem to be plenty of parking rules, but absolutely no driving rules,” Genean laughed. “We would advise any- one trying it to bring as small a vehicle as they could.”

But twilight brings a measure of peace, a chance to shake off the day’s stress. To roast marshmallows and exhale.

On an evening tractor ride through Cherry Hill Park — a daily ritual — Dee Konarska sat enjoying the breeze with her grandchildren.

“I absolutely love it here,” she said. “To have a place so close to all these wonderful things, the buses right there, a camp store at your beck and call, someone on-site to fix your RV, two pools, playgrounds, and big wide lanes to drive up and down — who could ask for more?” said Konarska, of California.

 

Tips for Getting Started

* Cluster visits around attractions located close together. For example, the Capitol is near the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the National Art Gallery.

* The Air and Space Museum alone can take up to a day to visit. Break up the trip with an IMAX movie or planetarium visit, or walk over to the American Indian Museum.

* Many memorials are located on the west end of the National Mall, including Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR, the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War, World War II and the Reflecting Pool.

* Consider taking a night tour of the monuments and memorials. Several bus services offer after-dark tours.

* Give yourself time. Research attractions in advance to choose what most interests you. Don’t try to do it all in one day … you’ll end up disappointed.

* Union Station and many Smithsonian museums feature extensive food courts and cafes that are open to the public.

* Check out these websites: www.washington.org , www.thingstodo-washingtondc.com  and  dcpages.com/tourism/

 

 

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