Monticello, Dogs, and the 4th of July

Monticello Thomas Jefferson’s name gets bandied about quite frequently on the fourth of July. Famously linked to this date first for his role in writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson also made history by dying on July 4th fifty years later…the exact same day as his Declaration co-author and former political adversary John Adams.

So, on this our country’s 236th birthday, Intrepid Pup shares a recent visit to Thomas Jefferson’s hilltop home of Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a young nation’s first Secretary of State, second Vice President, and third President…a veritable trifecta that meant he was indeed a busy man whose home—despite being started in 1768—took forty years to complete. Today, the distinctive plantation with its Palladian architectural influences is the only U.S. residence that’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Moniticello

Tavish overlooks Jefferson’s gardens from the airy pavilion, much as Bergère and her progeny might have done more than 200 years ago.

Historians are always quick to cite Jefferson’s intellect and endless fascinations:  natural history, architecture, gardening, cooking, viticulture, farming, literature, politics. But dogs? This founding father seemed to take a purely utilitarian view—not uncommon in late 18th-century America—of the canine species. Jefferson opined that, in general, the dog population should be highly controlled (and even regulated and taxed) as dogs often proved to be carriers of disease and a scourge upon livestock. A comprehensive article on this topic appears in the “Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia” section of Monticello’s website.

That all being said, Jefferson also felt that certain birds and animals from the Old World should be introduced to America. Among these was a “shepherd’s dog,” and Jefferson took it upon himself to import three such dogs from France (a female named Bergère and two puppies she whelped during the trans-Atlantic passage) in 1789. There’s been much speculation as to just what kind of herding dogs these were, since Jefferson’s archival records lack this particular detail. The experts’ best guess? Large Briards. Jefferson’s farm animals included sheep, cows, and various poultry, and it seems that Bergère et al were kept as true working dogs. More of the “chien de berger” came to Monticello in 1790 and 1809, with the latter dogs personally selected by the Marquis de Lafayette! As Albemarle County landowners increasingly acquired sheep, Jefferson’s dogs came into high demand, and correspondence indicates that he carefully bred his dogs and supplied the puppies to relatives, friends and neighbors.

Bergère’s happy—but, presumably, purely coincidental—legacy is that Monticello remains a dog-friendly destination. So long as you keep your dog leashed and outdoors, dogs are welcome to explore Monticello’s historic grounds.

 

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means 38°0′35.34″N,  78°27′9.85″W
Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

For Monticello’s pet-friendly culture and sheer number of things to see and do, this excursion ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter.

Your visit will begin in the parking lot. Don’t miss seeing the African-American graveyard. It’s near the picnic area and entrance to the 2-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail (important note: dogs are permitted only on the section that runs through Kemper Park at the opposite end of the trail). From the parking lot you’ll approach the Visitor Center for your tickets. There’s a theater showing a 20-minute introductory film, an educational center, a cafe, and a well-stocked museum shop (sorry, no dogs in any of the buildings). Though your dog also can’t accompany you into the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Gallery, you’ll want to check this out, too. This compact museum space addresses diverse themes—from slavery to Monticello’s design—and tackles abstract concepts like Jefferson’s words and ideas in a creative way: see for yourself!

Monticello

Dogs can’t take the shuttle (left), but the walking trail (right) begins just across the road from the Visitor Center shuttle stop.

To cover the distance between the Visitor Center and the house with your dog, you won’t be able to ride the courtesy shuttle. Not to worry: there’s a gently sloping, shady 0.6-mile gravel path through the woods that only takes ~20 minutes. Allow more time if you stop to linger en route at Jefferson’s gravesite.

We were pleased to find trash receptacles placed throughout the grounds (though not on the woodland trail), and we were conveniently able to refill water bottles for Tavish from restroom facilities and from the drinking fountain at the Museum Shop adjacent to Jefferson’s extensive vegetable garden.

Monticello beer cellar

Tavish cools off in Monticello’s beer cellar. Jefferson’s wife Martha (1748-1782) oversaw the brewing of 15-gallon batches every two weeks. A British brewer visited Monticello in 1813–due to being detained in the War of 1812!–and, based on his input, the estate switched to producing biannual 100-gallon runs of ale.

Since dogs aren’t allowed inside the main house, Team Tavish took the timed-entry guided tour in consecutive one-hour shifts. This meant that Tavish had a full two hours to explore Jefferson’s estate, and there really was plenty to hold his (and our) interest. We’d been informed that Tavish could accompany us on any of the seasonally-offered “gardens and grounds” tours included in the general admission fee. While we saw many of these in progress, we opted to explore on our own and even encountered a few other visiting dogs. The beautiful flower beds on the west lawn were in full bloom, and from the north terrace we could just make out in the distance the Jefferson-designed rotunda at the University of Virginia. We surveyed the orchards from the vantage point of the garden pavilion. And when we needed some shade, we took a self-guided tour through the cool cellar passage that runs the full width of the main house and terraces and gives you a peek at Monticello’s dependencies .

Plan on spending a minimum of 3 hours at Monticello to savor the history and the views!

 

 

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Outdoors and on the Water

Pohick BayAre you indoors reading this?  If so, take it outside!

Today, June 9th, is officially National Get Outdoors Day (GO!). If you regularly follow Tavish the Intrepid Pup, you already know his affinity for being out and about, and he needs no further invitation to get outside. But the goals of “GO!” are to encourage first-time visitors to public lands and to reconnect youth to nature. “GO!” is one of a growing number of public initiatives in recent years to embrace such themes. Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, sounded the alarm in 2008 about “nature-deficit” and the corollaries with childhood obesity, attention disorders, and more. As we’ve become more plugged in to what’s on a screen than what’s in our backyard, entities as disparate as the U.S. Forest Service (More Kids in the Woods), the NFL (Play60), the National Wildlife Federation (Be Out There), and First Lady Michelle Obama (Let’s Move!) have launched national campaigns to help reverse this trend.

There’s no doubt that Tavish’s own need for exercise and activity has helped members of Team Tavish maintain healthier lifestyles. And while Tavish’s exploits have gotten him outdoors in more than a dozen different states, it’s important to point out that connecting to nature needn’t be complicated nor involve expensive travel plans to far-flung locales. So in that spirit, we’re highlighting below a simple, low-cost excursion that took us to a regional park for an all-new outdoor experience for Tavish. In other words, if you can’t replicate this exact itinerary, we’re pretty sure you can do something similar in most parts of the country. So, hurry outside and enjoy!

Dogging the Details

38°40′25.27″ N, 77°9′55.13″ W
Pohick Bay Regional Park, Lorton, Virginia

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansTavish has been on several boats (car ferries, tour boats, etc.) over the years, but he’d never been on anything of the “personal watercraft” variety… until his visit to Pohick Bay Regional Park. The park is one of 24 administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Its other claim to fame is that it’s the terminus of the Occoquan Water Trail, an extraordinary 40-mile route along two tributary waterways of the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to having woodland hiking paths, a marina, and expansive picnic areas, Pohick Bay Regional Park seasonally offers boat rentals for really reasonable hourly and day rates. If you don’t own a boat, it’s a great way to test out paddle boards, pedal boats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats and jon boats. Better yet, at this particular park you can bring your dog along on the rental! Intrepid Pup has an affinity for the water—ocean, stream, pond, you name it!—but he’s ultimately more of an enthusiastic splasher/wader than an active swimmer. At 45 lbs, a freaked out Tavish scrambling around on a canoe or sit-upon kayak offshore could be problematic. So since we didn’t quite know how he’d react to being out on the water, we opted for the stability of a jon boat. It’s essentially a sturdy, flat-bottomed metal rowboat with a low center of gravity (read: clunky tub really hard to capsize). Turns out we needn’t have worried as Tavish was more than happy to situate himself as close to the edge as possible to take in the scenery while one of us rowed (see photo above).

Clearly this was one outing where we expended way more energy than the Intrepid Pup did, but we got a good workout, saw several osprey and herons, and—perhaps most importantly—happily confirmed that boating with Tavish was something we could do again. We’d dearly love to get the Intrepid Pup out in a kayak, and the top choice (although it’s not among the rentals at Pohick Bay) to try would be Perception Kayaks’ new recreational model, the Prodigy 13.5. Its over-sized cockpit and a second removable half-seat are specifically designed with a “small companion” (be it a child or a dog) in mind. Brilliant!

The combination of a low boat rental rate and a high degree of fun earns this excursion a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s Wag-a-Meter. Key things bring along for yourself include a snack, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. For your dog, keep plenty of water aboard. Tavish’s short coat makes him especially susceptible to sunburn and/or overheating, so we had lots of water available for him to drink out of his collapsible travel bowl, and we made sure we didn’t stay out too long in the heat of day. One final note: Tavish wears a life vest when he’s on the water. Intrepid or no, it’s a wise move and potential life saver for humans and dogs alike.

Turtles, Goslings & Lily Pads, Oh My!

Tavish at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Tavish at the lily ponds. The hardy and tropical water lilies were blooming, little jewels of color amid the emerald green pads. Surrounding many of the ponds are irises, but the yellow variety is invasive. It is still too early for the lotus blossoms that are hallmarks of the summer months.

Even if today wasn’t National Public Gardens Day, we’d be touting Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens. Did you know that it’s the only National Park Service site devoted to the cultivation and care of aquatic plants?

The precise story behind Kenilworth is one you couldn’t make up if you tried. Walter B. Shaw was a Civil War veteran who had lost his right arm in the fighting. He settled in Washington, D.C., securing a job as a Treasury Department clerk after teaching himself to write left-handed. Outside of government work, however, Shaw’s true love was water lilies. Eager to propagate them, he secured a dozen specimens from his home state of Maine and placed them in an unused ice pond on his 30 acres. When his hobby outgrew the one pond, he simply built more ponds until—under the auspices of the newly established W. B. Shaw Lily Ponds—he was successfully collecting exotic varieties, experimenting with hybrids, and commercially shipping plants nationwide. His daughter Helen Shaw Fowler joined him in his business ventures, and together they opened the gardens for the public’s enjoyment. Under Helen’s careful stewardship, the gardens expanded even further after Shaw’s death in 1921, and literally thousands of visitors a day (including President and Mrs. Coolidge!) flocked to marvel at the aquatic blooms during the summer months.

Fast forward to the 1930s and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was faced with dredging the silt-choked Anacostia River, an act that would have signaled the demise of the gardens. Helen fought the plans and an accord was reached in 1938 when Congress allocated $15,000 to purchase eight acres of the gardens for public preservation. Helen continued to live on the property until her death in 1953 but taught Fred Lundy, a gardener with the National Park Service, how to care for the water lilies. The Park Service eventually took over management of the garden and renamed it Kenilworth to reflect the name of the broader community. Today the park consists of 45 ponds of water lilies across 12 acres, enveloped by another 70 acres of freshwater tidal marshlands.

Midday yesterday Tavish the Intrepid Pup was eager to start exploring, and everything about his body language screamed, “What magical place is this, anyway?” Talk about sensory overload! At the lily ponds there were Canada geese (and therefore also a lot of goose droppings). We’d been advised by the park ranger when we arrived that there were several fledglings about, so we kept our distance. Tavish was actually pretty unphased by these tawny goslings paddling by…because there were BUTTERFLIES! And FROGS!  Ok, so technically we never saw a frog, but from the blurs of color and the loud splooshing sounds, we could tell they were big. It was great fun watching Tavish try to anticipate where the next blur and sploosh would come from. Oh, and the TURTLES! There were a few small painted turtles perched on logs, but they had nothing on the dinner platter-sized snapping turtles hanging out sunbathing at the ponds’ edges. These guys were perceptive and before we could come within ten paces it was like those targets in a county fair shooting gallery where each  toppled in succession with an unceremonious plunk. Invariably we were rewarded with a closer look when a few poked their heads back up out of the muddy water.

Tavish at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Though hard to disengage Tavish from the endless fascinations of the lily ponds, we did finally make it onto the River Trail (note: NOT a loop; it’s 0.7 miles each way). It meanders in a northwesterly direction among the thick scent of honeysuckle and then follows the bend of the Anacostia River for a stretch. It ends at the inlet into the marsh itself, which is where you’d enter Kenilworth if coming by kayak or canoe. You never fully escape the incessant thrum of car traffic careening by on Route 50, punctuated by the occasional clatter of an Amtrak train crossing the railroad bridge. Where this might be overtly annoying in another setting, in a strange way, the noise serves notice that this fragile environment struggles to exist in spite of urban encroachment.

Returning to the lily ponds, we set out in the opposite direction onto the extensive boardwalk. Signs along the trail have faded considerably, but on this sunny, breezy afternoon we didn’t exactly need a plaque to tell us that the fish and tadpoles were plentiful. Tavish kept poking his head through the railing to watch them. Red-winged blackbirds darted among the tall grasses, and a great blue heron soared above. Just another spectacular day in the marsh.

Dogging the Details

38°54′45.50″N,  76°56′31.24″W
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
, Washington, DC

Tavish at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means

It can be a little tricky navigating this residential area in northeast Washington to find the proper entrance to the aquatic gardens, so if you have GPS, use it!

Intrepid Pup has been to Kenilworth before, but it really pays to be a repeat visitor. While the walking trails are always nice, the visual appeal of the ponds changes dramatically throughout the seasons.

When we stopped in at the visitor center to snag a map, the Park Service ranger—a helpful young woman who, come to find out, was getting married this weekend at another National Park—was genuinely pleased to see us and remarked, “Kenilworth definitely welcomes leashed dogs!” The dog-friendly trails and scenery earn Kenilworth a “2” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter. Of course, the general courtesy about cleaning up after your dog still very much applies, and there are waste receptacles conveniently located throughout the front section of the gardens (though not so much on the River Trail or boardwalk sections).  Tavish stayed in the vestibule of the Visitor Center as dogs aren’t permitted inside, but there is a small bookshop and a series of compact displays about the importance of the wetlands and the history of Kenilworth—from use as the fishing grounds of the Nacotchtank peoples through to the present day.

Walk every step of the grounds around the various ponds, out-and-back on the River Trail, and along the boardwalk, and you’ll be lucky to have eked out 2 miles. But you’ll easily have whiled away an hour or two, especially if you have a curious pup intently stalking every lily pad fluttering in the breeze!

“…First in the Hearts of his Countrymen….”

 
Tavish at Mount Vernon“First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen….” 
 

When it comes to being truly intrepid, one has to look no further than America’s first president, George Washington. The above words were spoken by Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee in 1799 in a public eulogy upon Washington’s untimely death and have aptly endured for generations.

With George Washington’s 280th birthday approaching on February 22, 2012, Team Tavish figured that Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens would be a fitting topic for the Intrepid Pup’s inaugural blog post.

The extensive grounds are indeed dog-friendly (see “Dogging the Details” below), perhaps in a nod to Washington’s own affinity for dogs. In a tidbit of canine trivia, Washington is credited as being the father of the American Foxhound breed. He imported several hounds from England in 1770 and received more from France’s Marquis de Lafayette in 1785. According to the American Kennel Club, more than 30 hounds are referenced in Washington’s records, and it isn’t difficult to imagine them accompanying Washington as he surveyed, hunted, and managed the 8,000+ acres that once constituted the full extent of his Mount Vernon estate.

Tavish has visited on multiple occasions. He has had to leave touring the meticulously-restored mansion and experiencing the impressive educational complex—which opened in 2006 and comprehensively addresses various aspects of Washington’s public and private persona and legacy through immersive presentations, interpretive exhibitions, and more than 1,000 artifacts—to Team Tavish. But if you think there might not be much else for a dog to do, you’d be wrong. Consider sitting in one of the Windsor chairs on the back porch and admiring the sweeping view of the Potomac River. Explore the treading barn at the Pioneer Farm site and sniff the blooms grown from heirloom seeds in the ever-changing gardens. Walk solemnly past Washington’s tomb and the slave burial ground memorial. Greet visitors arriving by boat down at the dock. Peer through the fences and snuffle at any number of heritage breed animals that include hogs, oxen, and even Liberty (the National Thanksgiving Day turkey officially pardoned by President Obama on November 23, 2011, living out its days at Mount Vernon)! And if it’s the holiday season, follow in Tavish’s paw prints and be sure to check out the live camel. It’s true. During the Christmas season of 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings for the novelty of temporarily boarding a camel to entertain his holiday guests. Mount Vernon keeps with the tradition by having a “Christmas Camel” on site during its annual Christmas at Mount Vernon festivities.

Dogging the Details

38°42′29.65″ N,  77°05′07.67″ W
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, Alexandria, Virginia

wag-a-meter set at 2Bring your annual pass, dog, and a leash! Mount Vernon earns a “2” on the Intrepid Pup Wag-A-Meter for generously giving annual pass holders dog-walking rights on the grounds during regular daytime visitation hours. If you plan to visit Mount Vernon more than once in any given year, then the annual pass is well worth it.  The usual rules apply:  keep your dog on a leash and be sure to clean up. Dogs aren’t allowed in the mansion, outbuildings, Ford Orientation Center, or Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, but with ~500 acres of grounds, gardens, and woodland trails, there’s plenty outside to explore. Mount Vernon has a few strategically-placed water bowls on the grounds for its canine friends, but if you’re planning an extended visit, bring along extra water for your dog. Mount Vernon attracts approximately 1 million visitors annually. On President’s Day, admission to Mount Vernon is free, but be forewarned that it’s also one of the Estate’s busiest days of the year!