Tidal Basin
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Cruising the Tidal Basin



Tidal Basin pedal boats, 1501 Maine Ave. S.W., (202) 479-2426. Boats rented daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, 14th Street and East Basin Drive S.W., (202) 426-6841

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, West Basin Drive S.W., (202) 426-6841

By Theodore Fischer, Washington Sidewalk

Runners regard the trail around the Tidal Basin as a good workout, but the 1.8-mile circuit also has appeal to history buffs, horticulturists and pedal pushers.

Starting on Independence Avenue behind the polo grounds and heading clockwise, you quickly come upon the 17th-century granite Japanese lantern presented to the city in 1958 to commemorate Commodore Matthew Perry's cruise to Japan a century earlier. The lantern is lighted to kick off the Cherry Blossom Festival in late March whether or not the blossoms show.

The Kutz Memorial Bridge crosses over the Tidal Basin's northern tip. The bridge is named after D.C. commissioner Brig. Gen. George Kutz but is most renowned as the place where the stripper Fanne Foxe, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills' illicit companion, began her midnight swim.

Just east of the bridge is the National Park Service's Annual Library (above), consisting of 95 flower beds and a box containing, if you're lucky, diagrams to tell you what's in all of them.

Continue on and you can hire a pedal boat two-passenger boats are $7 an hour, four-passenger boats $14 an hour for leg-powered excursions around the historic pond (left). The Tidal Basin was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1897 to make sure that boats in Washington Channel always had plenty of water. Between 1917 and 1925 the Tidal Basin had a popular (whites-only) beach with a bathhouse and a floating diving platform.

Cross the bridge over the channel linking the Tidal Basin and Washington Channel make a side trip under the viaduct to the open-air fish market to reach the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. While the building is part of the capital skyline by now, its construction in the 1930s was opposed by those displeased by its classic Roman design and tree-huggers who chained themselves to the cherry trees the memorial would displace. These days the memorial is again a work in progress, with restrooms, a bookshop (serious stuff only) and a gift shop (tourist tchotchkes and T-shirts) temporarily housed in trailers out back.

When you cross Inlet Bridge over the channel linking the Tidal Basin to the Potomac, take a gander at the ironwork face of a man on the body of a fish in two dry fountains embedded into posts on the east side of the walkway. Who is it? Probably Jack Fish, a former National Park Service Capital Region director, but nobody knows for sure.

Last but most popular in D.C. (with more than 3 million visitors since it opened in May 1997, according to the National Park Service) is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial (left). Those old enough to remember Franklin and Eleanor appreciate the human-scale warmth of the statues and the snippets of inspirational oratory. Those old enough to remember Bert and Ernie appreciate the pools and waterfalls that welcome waders on hot summer days.

About the only negative at the Tidal Basin is the dearth of food options. Guest Services operates concession stands at the Jefferson Memorial, beside the pedal-boat marina and across Independence Avenue near the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Veterans Memorial, but you can't get so much as a crumb at the Roosevelt Memorial. Guest Services facilities are more remarkable for their peculiar prices quarter-pound jumbo hot dog, $2.82; turkey and Swiss on Kaiser, $4.01; bagel and cream cheese, $1.77 than their outstanding food. And forget straws "because they are a litter problem." A tip for polo watchers and Tidal Basin circumnavigators: BYO picnic.

See also: Sunday polo beside the Tidal Basin

Theodore Fischer, 1801 August Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20902, Tel: 301-593-9797, Fax: 301-593-9798, email: tfischer11@hotmail.com