Alexandria was founded as a seaport town. One of its major attractions throughout its long history has been its waterfront. That irreplaceable asset has also been coveted over the decades by developers and even the National Park Service.
But, to the benefit of all Alexandria citizens, there have been those willing to take on all odds to not only preserve the waterfront, but also enhance its open space visage. One such person was the late Ellen Pickering. She took one fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.
This Sunday, Aug. 24, her legacy as an Alexandria preservation/open space advocate and champion of the City's waterfront will be honored with an "Ellen Pickering Memorial Walk." Commencing on the steps of the Athenaeum, 301 Prince St., at 4 p.m., the walk, sponsored by the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance, will also feature a presentation by Robert L. Montague, III, "who fought in the trenches" with Pickering to preserve the Alexandria waterfront.
"Bob will explore and explain the sites that Ellen's activism had the most profound impact upon. This is only the first of what we hope will become an annual event," said Boyd Walker, a founder of the Preservation Alliance.
"We are also viewing this as a way to start to develop a citywide consensus on how to preserve the waterfront. The waterfront planning process is supposed to get formally underway in January and we hope this will stimulate some considered thought on the matter rather than wait until it gets before the Planning Commission," Walker said.
SOME OF THE SITES to be covered Sunday that Pickering's vigilance impacted include Founders Park, Oronoco Bay Park, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway bike trail. It was the preservation and creation of Founders Park that was at the heart of the Supreme Court case that has still not be fully settled.
As noted by Montague at Pickering's funeral this past April, "In 1973 Watergate (developers) wanted to build four 19-story high rises in what is now Founder's Park. Ellen pointed out to City Council that Watergate did not own the land. But, Council ignored her so she sued them and won." She based that suit on a 1790 waterline that she had thoroughly researched.
"Ellen stayed with the Waterfront issue throughout her life. The fight continues today. Ellen is leaving us a legacy — to continue this fight for the waterfront," Montague told the audience packed into St. Mary's Catholic Church on May 1 for Pickering's funeral.
Pickering never stopped her battle for preservation and common sense planning and development. She applied that tenacity to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, preventing the Torpedo Factory from becoming a condominium, and the efforts to close Mirant's Potomac River Generating Station, just to mention a few of her causes.
As the Reverend Father Matthew Hillyard, O.S.F.S., stated at her funeral, "The challenge is how we live our lives. It's not the number of years, but how those years are spent." Ellen Pickering was 78 when she died of bone cancer at Inova Alexandria Hospital on April 26.
"Ellen hung in there long after she should have. She was in much pain yet never complained. This walk is to honor Ellen by bringing attention to who she was, what she did, and why Alexandria looks like it does thanks to her preservation efforts," said Elizabeth Wright, an organizer of Sunday's event.
The walk is scheduled to conclude back at the Anthenauem by 6 p.m. where refreshments will be provided. No reservations are necessary to participate.