Big news, we’ve started a blog! This is a chance for us to share all the great stories and updates from the park, while having a place to host all the great content we all generate. We’ll kick things off with a sweet interview done with our resident expert on all things Kenilworth, Kenya McKeever. Interviewed and compiled by Elizabeth Curwen.
Kenya McKeever was born and raised in the Kenilworth neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C. Growing up, she would see cars driving to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens but she never ventured past the gate herself.
“First of all, we weren’t allowed to go there because it meant crossing the street,” she remembers. “And second of all, the people we saw going to the park were adults so us kids assumed that the park wasn’t for us.” She never gave much thought to why there were so many people coming and going from the park, especially during the hot summer months.
It wasn’t until she was an adult that she ventured into the park for the first time. Her young sons had brought home a pair of turtles they had liberated from a lily pond and she marched them across the street to make them return the animals. Miss Kenya immediately noticed that there was something different about this park.
“There’s no playground or swing sets, which usually parks have,” she recalls. She wondered what the park offered and why people would visit this place that looked like it was just a network of dirt trails. Her sons told her, “Mom, this is a magical park.” And that’s when Miss Kenya learned about the lotus, which each summer emerge from the muddy ponds and fill the park with enormous pink blooms.
“Oh my, are you serious,” she thought. “This is what the park offers!” That’s when she started to appreciate how different their park was compared to other parks in D.C.. It was pure nature and natural beauty, a hidden gem that you had to know was there in order to find it. It was the kind of park where you can create your own adventure and use your imagination to enjoy, no playground equipment needed.
Miss Kenya thinks about the trail from the parking lot to the lily ponds as the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz. “When you first get to the park, you just see a couple of trees and nothing else,” she notes. “Then you see people light up when the full park comes into view.”
Today, Miss Kenya feels truly blessed to lead community and camp outreach for Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. “I started as a volunteer and camp parent, and then went to work for one of the park’s partner organizations.” She leverages her lifelong ties to the park’s surrounding community to introduce the next generation to nature and to make sure they know that the hidden gem behind the park gates belongs to them, too.
Thinking about her vision for Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Miss Kenya says, “I would like to have a year-round educational center at the park because the nature is here all year long. I want people to have a space to learn and to connect as a community, not just when the park is in bloom.”
“In these times, nature, community, love, peace, and unity are so important. All people regardless of culture and background can enjoy the park, it helps you connect with neighbors and different kinds of people, too,” she says. “I care about the park because I grew up here. Our passion as friends and neighbors of Kenilworth makes us come back and I want all people to share that passion with me.”