Lessons From Ward 8: Helping the Healing with Nature

Our River: The Anacostia

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Ward 8 Woods Trash Pick-up. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

There are some interesting developments in Ward 8 that will help in the restoration of the Anacostia River and other water bodies.  But first some background.  Ward 8 is the part of the city east of the Anacostia and south of Pennsylvania Avenue except for the part around Branch Avenue, which is in Ward 7.  Most of Ward 8 drains into the Anacostia, but the southwest portion drains to the Potomac via Oxon Run.  There are over 500 acres in forests, most in designated parklands, but very few trails.  While these areas have some streams, when they enter built-up areas they usually join the heavy runoff from apartment complexes and parking lots, and discharge into sewer lines that empty into the two rivers.

Compared to other parts of the City, Ward 8 has had little invested in tying its neighborhoods to its open spaces.  Especially at this time of the year, that is evident by the enormous amount of litter that gathers along the edges of the woodlands, blowing in from the residential areas, thrown down by passersby or brought there and dumped.  That and the absence of trails sends a strong message to residents that these green spaces are not welcoming.  But that is about to change!

Leading the effort to clean up and open up these open spaces is the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy led by Nathan Harrington and a small group of part-time staffers, including a group called the Park Stewards.  They seek to engage youth groups, schools, churches and any other volunteers who wish to help clean up and open up the park areas with trails.  Support for these efforts comes from a variety of places.  The DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) funds the Park Stewards.  The DC Department of Transportation is preparing to fund the repair and building of trails.  The National Park Service owns and manages much of the open space and provides gloves and bags for clean-ups.  Riverkeeper analyzes water samples and provides technical support for reducing pollution.  And George Washington University has an Environmental Justice Group that is preparing to study the streams of Ward 8 – taking water samples, studying erosion and providing recommendations for improvements.  Many of these groups could do more if they could line up and focus funds on these emerging areas to support Ward 8 Woods and the surrounding communities that have been overlooked for many decades. Where that has happened in Ward 8 the results gain community support and use of the open spaces.  Things are getting organized now by Ward 8 Woods for a lot more action along these lines.  More funding from all sources will be needed.

What are some of the places that call out for investment in community open space?   One area where Ward 8 Woods is well along with the City is to plan a hiking trail in the tangled forests that wander along the north side of the Suitland Parkway.   There is already a bike trail along the edge of the right-of–way from the Maryland line to Pomeroy Road; this would be a very different experience – an unpaved walking trail through hills and ravines well hidden back from the road.  The two trails would make an almost six-mile loop.  Many neighborhoods along trails would benefit and help keep the trash and debris under control; folks don’t dump where they think their neighbors want to enjoy nature.

Another project under development is to place a walking trail along the Shepherd Parkway.  This area, which extends for about two miles on hillsides overlooking the Naval Research Laboratory and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, the Potomac and beyond, is not what you think of as a “Parkway.” There are no roads, no cars, not even a trail through the extended deep woods looking out to the west.  But plans are now in the works with Ward 8 Woods and the National Park Service to put in a trail to allow folks to enjoy the spectacular views.

There are many more prospects to work on community gardens, trails, trash removal, rest and picnic areas, you name it!  There are plenty of woods in Ward 8 and most of them need trails and care.  Even in Oxon Run Park in the far southwest of the Ward, the spectacularly beautiful fields and picnic areas and gardens and trails cover only part of the land; there are still many acres of unused forest upstream that could be a source of pleasure for hikers and nature-lovers.

Ward 8 Woods is focused on doing what is working to heal the lands and to empower the residents with the help of agencies and public donations of time and money.  It is a case of healing and empowerment for the land, the forests and the people.  So consider helping out with your time, your money, your ideas and your cheers!  To finish with some words from National Park Service Superintendent of National Capital Parks-East, Tara Morrison:

“Ward 8 Woods helps us better protect park resources and serve park neighbors and visitors.  We’re grateful for Ward 8 Woods and their many committed volunteers.  By cleaning up tons of trash, removing invasive species, and advocating for park improvements, their team is making a big difference and helping the National Park Service better serve the community.  We look forward to continuing to work with them.”

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, and the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  He also serves on the board of Friends of the National Arboretum and on Citizen Advisory Committees for the Chesapeake and the Anacostia.