Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title

George Washington

Memorial Parkway

District of Columbia

cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
Photo of George Washington parkway sign
George Washington Memorial Parkway, District of Columbia

George Washington Memorial Parkway connects some of the most important historical sites near Washington, D.C., from Mount Vernon to Great Falls Park. The parkway preserves vital natural habitat in the urbanized metro area along the Potomac River. It reflects a unique geologic history that spans from the ancient Precambrian through the formation of the Appalachian Mountains and the more recent Ice Age events to the modern day. The Potomac River lies within the parkway and is a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay. Significant geologic features along the river include Great Falls, Roosevelt's Island, Dike Marsh, and Mather Gorge.

Each landscape is determined by its past and present underlying rock structure the geology of the historical parkway began with the processes that established the groundwork from which today's environments, history, and scenery arise. Knowledge of the geologic resources will influence resource management decisions. These include air and water quality, urbanization, flood risk, wildlife populations and invasive species, future scientific research projects, interpretive needs, and economic resources associated with the parkway.

Geologic processes give rise to rock formations, hills and valleys, and waterfalls and wetlands. These processes played a prominent role in the history of the Potomac River valley and Washington, D.C. The combination of processes has developed a landscape that either welcomes or discourages our use. The geology- history connection inspires wonder in visitors, and emphasis on geologic resources will enhance visitor experiences.

The rocks present along the Potomac River in the parkway reflect the incredible tectonic forces responsible for the Appalachian Mountains. Precambrian — Cambrian schists, phyllites, and metavolcanic rocks underlie the Potomac River valley in the Piedmont Plateau. The entire region, compressed during three separate tectonic events-- the Taconic, Acadian, and Alleghanian orogenies, -- resulted in a complex deformational history. Following uplift, thousands of meters of sediments were eroded from the mountains and were deposited in a thick wedge toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Potomac River cuts through those sediments within the parkway as it moves toward the Chesapeake Bay.
Humans have significantly modified the landscape surrounding the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The parkway is the most obvious contributor to the modern landscape. This geologic system is dynamic and capable of noticeable change within a human lifespan. Geological processes continue to change the landscape and make both preservation and parkway upkeep challenging.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/gwmp/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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