Historically, Canal Park draws its name from the Washington City Canal. From 1815 to the 1850s, the historic Washington City Canal connected the Anacostia River and the Potomac via the National Mall. In the early 1900’s, the Washington Canal was paved over to create Canal Street.
Ownership of Canal Street was transferred to the District of Columbia and utilized by the District government for several interim purposes, including a parking lot for DC Public School buses. In 2000, local developer WC Smith formed the nonprofit organization Canal Park Development Association (CPDA) to secure the site and oversee development of the park. WC Smith, along with the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation (AWC) and the District’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) commissioned a design competition that shaped several initial elements of the park. A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the park was held in 2010.
Canal Park’s design evokes the history of the area with a linear rain garden reminiscent of the Washington Canal and three pavilions which recall floating barges that were once common in the canal. The pavilion structures minimize the park’s environmental footprint with geothermal heating and cooling and the use of green roofs and recycled materials. The rain gardens are part of a water filtration system to reduce runoff that would eventually make its way to the river.
Low Impact Design tree pits and bio swales also provide filtration for street-level runoff surrounding the Park. Other park infrastructure allows surrounding buildings to send rainwater into Canal Park’s 80,000 gallon underground cisterns, creating a truly neighborhood scale storm water management system. The water is filtered through a large rain garden along the eastern edge of the Park before reuse. The storm water runoff generated by the park satisfies up to 95% of the park’s water needs for irrigation, fountain water, and ice rink water.
During the winter, the southern block becomes an outdoor skating rink. During the summer, that same block features a 42 jet dancing fountain. Bubbling rain gardens and water scrims in the other blocks call out to the site’s historic canal heritage. Canal Park has hosted festivals as well as corporate picnics and weddings. The neighborhood’s fitness offerings also extend to Canal Park. Canal Park is managed by the non-profit Canal Park Inc. The Capitol Riverfront BID is contracted by Canal Park Inc. to manage park features as well as provide community programming and marketing.