This Weekend, Take a Walk on the Culture Side

Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:29pm

Locals should lace up their walking shoes, or pull out their biking gear, put on their thinking caps and prepare to explore — WalkingTown DC and BikingTown DC are Saturday and Sunday.

The biannual, two-day events celebrate D.C.’s history and heritage with more than 100 free guided tours on foot and 11 on wheels — all led by volunteer historians, activists or local residents with a passion for D.C.

Organized by Cultural Tourism DC, a coalition of 230 local organizations dedicated to promoting D.C. culture and heritage, the tours cover topics including the history and design of Capitol Hill and Adams Morgan’s development from Native American encampments through the civil rights movement. Some tours give a sneak peek into the lives of the families that lived on Embassy Row, the investigation of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre or local art.

“The tours give people an interesting way to explore their own hometown,” said Linda Harper, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC. “They’re a safe and inexpensive way to see the city.”

Tours span all eight wards of D.C. and, according to Harper, are directed as much — if not more — toward locals as tourists. “I think it’s a safe bet to say that many residents and even visitors are missing out on a wealth of fascinating D.C. information everyday,” she said in a news release. Exit surveys from last year’s event showed that 70 percent of participants had never been to the neighborhood in which they toured before WalkingTown DC. Ninety percent said they’d return to the area that they explored for another visit.

The tours also provide some exercise. Each tour is categorized as low, moderate or high fitness. One biking tour, for example, spans 25 miles of Anacostia’s waterfront.

Harper said these tours are distinct because “a majority of the tours across the city have a price tag attached.” What’s more, most participants walk or bike four to six tours over the course of the weekend. “Most city tours are a one-time thing — you do it and you’re done,” Harper said. “But people often take advantage of this opportunity, explore several tours and return.”

This spring’s tours have a few new perks, including 29 new walking and four new biking tours. Leave the kids at home for “Rowdies, Madams and Painted Women,” an adults-only tour of what was once “the most notorious red light district” at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Mark Herlong, a local historian, will share stories of the infamous women and men who swaggered through D.C.’s brothels. Also new this year, a bike tour of solar homes will feature local “green” houses and their homeowners. Mary Cheh, a D.C. councilmember, will also join this tour.

Last fall, 4,000 people attended WalkingTown DC, and Harper expects just as many this weekend — rain or shine.

Participants can view the schedule of WalkingTown DC and BikingTown DC tours at culturaltourismdc.org. Some tours require registration.