Our River: The Anacostia

APACC Equity Tour by Brenda Richardson with Government and Non-Profit Representatives. Photo: Brenda Richardson

The Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative (APACC) was founded in 2015 by Phil Pannell of the Anacostia Coordinating Council and Doug Siglin. It has grown and begun to emerge as a major leader of the private sector in efforts to engage the citizens of Wards 7 and 8 in activities related to the Anacostia River and adjacent public lands, and to involve Ward 6 folks as they turn towards an ever more attractive water body and shoreline offering many forms of engagement.

As the leaders of the group would say, their main goal is to make “the River and its park system the best possible resource for residents of Wards 7 and 8”.  But they would like it all to attract and entertain whoever is drawn near.

Last February, the APACC hired Brenda Lee Richardson to the top management post of Coordinator.  She has been President of Chozen Consulting LLC, a company focusing on community engagement and government relations, with much of their work in our area. 

As a former Board member of many local environmental and development volunteer groups, she has already brought a sense of urgency and organization to APACC.  She has her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan and her Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland.

View Upriver from Poplar Point. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

APACC now has 42 member organizations, some local, some regional and some national, but all dedicated to making the River something the local residents will to be drawn to.  Examples from different levels include Zion Baptist Church of Ward 7; Fairlawn Citizen’s Association in Ward 8; Community Preservation and Development Corporation in both Wards 7 and 8; Living Classrooms on Kingman Island in Ward 6; Anacostia Riverkeeper in the entire Anacostia watershed; DC-wide Appleseed Center for Law and Justice; region-wide Casey Trees; and the national office of the Audubon Naturalist Society.  These and the other members bring a wide range of expertise and experience to the table.

As an Anacostia watershed citizen, how do you relate to all this and figure out how to engage?  The best place to start is the Anacostia Parks and Community Collaborative website at http://www.anacostiaparkcommunity.org.  There you will learn of upcoming events affecting the River, the parks along it and the neighborhoods adjacent.  You can share your ideas and build your coalitions to work on a range of projects.

For example, there is a Citizens’ Poplar Point Working Group that is documenting and elevating the stories and dreams of folks who have been working to transform the large vacant area north of the Frederick Douglas South Capitol Street Bridge for thirty years; it is now subject to a wide range of conflicting development plans, although 70 of the 130 acres are allegedly set aside as parkland.

The overall purpose of the APACC effort is to bring the communities along the River into the decisions about the future offerings that it provides to all who live there.  Everyone’s participation is needed. The local focus on priorities and needs and threats to communities and the environment must be available and listened to. The environment should be defined as much broader than what nature and the River bring; it should include ways to take advantage of nature and enjoy its ability to refresh us in all manner of ways. 

APACC can be seen as a forum to work out issues related to changes being proposed.  It provides a source of funds and other support for local projects. Environmental education and projects to improve the communities should also be seen as a source of training and jobs for local talent.

We can make it happen along Our River, and we cannot afford to let the opportunities to work together with APACC pass us by.

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.