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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Our River: The Anacostia

There is a lot planned for the Anacostia and its watershed in 2024. It is important that we be aware of these proposals and their effects on other projects, as well as ongoing management efforts throughout the River to make it fishable and swimmable. There is some evidence that the earlier project advocates are not always taking those effects into account.  Also, there is a concentration of projects between the RFK stadium and New York Avenue; the area above Benning Road is the most natural in the DC watershed with a special feel of wilderness; and some of these projects threaten to upset that rural feeling.

The project perhaps most advanced is the one that appears to be taking the least interest in its surroundings.  This is the proposed bridge over the river connecting Kenilworth Park to the National Arboretum.  It is crossing the river at a point where the landscape is remarkably natural and the bridge will be the only visible intrusion.  However, in addition to the bridge itself, the Park Service appears to want the bridge to carry park vehicles, which would require roads up to the bridge and supports in the river.  These would make the bridge more prominent in the landscape and more dangerous for people learning to control canoes and other vessels coming downstream.  There is also no clear plan for extensions north and south of the bridge on the west side which would have a range of effects on the natural areas north to New York Avenue and south to the golf course and Benning Road.  Perhaps a commitment now to avoid vehicle capacity on the bridge would make the project compatible with a wider range of future options on both sides of the River.

The Fields at Kenilworth Park
That leads to another set of issues related to the future of the fields in Kenilworth Park.  There are differing opinions about where to go with these open acres with remnants of the old soccer fields built over a city dump.  The National Park Service is holding onto the Aquatic Gardens, but preparing to turn over the fields and adjacent lands to the City.  The NPS will also keep the overgrown areas to the south with plans for trails along the water.  The DC Department of Transportation  is working with them on the trails and is planning to connect them up with the new bridge.  If the DC Department of Energy and Environment gets the current Park lands under the contract, they may have different ideas of what to do with them.  Right now it is difficult to see how this will turn out, but citizens may have a role in deciding the ultimate use of the land.  Meanwhile the parklands coming to the City are in need of soil and field upgrades.  It could become a place in Anacostia for folks to gather outdoors or play games or sports.  And it should be the folks in Anacostia who decide what they want.

Moving downstream a bit, the area between the RFK Stadium and Benning Road from the river to the streets of Capitol Hill is about to become an area of considerable conflict.  Some of the nearby areas on both sides of the River are doing well, but the area around the stadium is in a struggle between the Mayor, who wants to bring professional football back to the city with a new stadium, and the neighborhood who want more housing and commercial properties.

RFK Stadium—to be replaced by a new stadium or a new neighborhood.

It would also be nice to celebrate the recovery of the Anacostia with a small museum that shows what has been done to rehabilitate the river and what more is possible; that could be part of whichever group gets their way with football or housing.  The best move would be to start now with the Smithsonian to plan a way to make our museum on Our River part of whichever group eventually gets their way on the stadium.  And we should pursue ways that a museum could join up with those carrying out the variety of recovery programs underway just a short walk down to the islands in the River.

So those are some actions underway or about to start in the areas above. Of course, there are other activities under way or planned along other parts of the river, such as the 11th Street Bridge Project, which can also use volunteers.  But the overlaps and challenges of doing a lot at the same time are most evident up north, where nature is still in control most of the time and we have to set the projects in order to make them work together.

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.

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