A Trip Down Washington’s Forgotten Waterway
The Anacostia River. What thoughts are conjured up when you hear this river’s name mentioned? I guess the best thing that can be said about the Anacostia is that it never caught fire, as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio did back in 1969. However, the Anacostia River has been horribly mistreated as Washington, D.C., and the surrounding beltway suburbs developed.
Recently, I was invited by Jim Foster, the president of the Anacostia Watershed Society (www.anacostiaws.org), to take a tour of the Anacostia River. The AWS is located in a historic tavern in Bladensburg, Maryland, but we met up with Jim at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park’s boathouse on the Anacostia River. Here he gave us a brief introduction on the Anacostia River. He told us that back before roads were prevalent in Maryland, ships would sail up the Anacostia River for trade purposes. Also, he said people traveling would get on boats in Bladensburg and head south to the Potomac River and then out to the Chesapeake Bay. One person who often used this waterway was George Washington, as he traveled from Mount Vernon to Annapolis or other destinations. Years of farming the area around the Anacostia caused a great deal of runoff from farmlands, with silt accumulating in the river. This slow-moving river is now dredged to keep it open and flowing.
We boarded a 25-passenger pontoon boat belonging to the AWS and headed down river. Immediately, we left the congestion and noise of Bladensburg and were on a peaceful river that is a dense wildlife environment. Fish rose, and many birds flew along the riverbanks. We were treated to seeing great blue herons, snowy egrets, kingfishers, mallards, Canada geese, osprey and barn swallows.
The Anacostia belongs to the National Park System, but the park system takes help from groups like the AWS to monitor the river. Jim explained how they are trying to restore the shoreline by planting grasses, as well as aquatic plants, within meshed fenced areas. The resident geese really are a problem, as they have voracious appetites for young plants as they emerge from the riverbank soil. They will eat young sprouts down to nothing, further exposing the fragile banks to river erosion. The AWS has learned that by planting native aquatic plants within this fencing, the plants will grow and thrive, which improves the health of the river.
We ventured south toward Washington, D.C., passing the National Arboretum on the west bank. There is actually a small dock for those in canoes or kayaks that would like to tie up and enter the Arboretum from the Anacostia River. Further downstream, Jim explained an area on the east bank of the river had been used as a dump for the Washington, D.C., area. For decades, garbage was brought to this dump and burned.
This landfill has been closed and the area filled in. Even fill from the building of the Ronald Reagan building in Washington was brought here to cover the waste. It’s still a toxic area, but they are working on recovery of this area next to the river. Past this is an old Pepco Plant. It is closed and being stripped down. Implosion of the plant will happen sometime in the future, and then the land will be cleared. At this time, Pepco has no plans for this land, but the company owns it and could possibly use it for another operation. On the west bank, we moved past RFK Stadium as we started to venture into the District. At this point, we turned the pontoon boat around to head back upstream, but if we had continued downriver, we would have gone through Washington, D.C., and at Buzzards Point entered the Potomac River.
Venturing back upstream was as beautiful as our trip downstream. We even had the pleasure of seeing a bald eagle being chased by an osprey, and we enjoyed the fact that we were in the District of Columbia seeing this site.
The Anacostia is slowly recovering with the help and passion of people like Jim Foster and the Anacostia Watershed Society. Jim’s goal is to have the Anacostia become a clean and healthy river for people to visit and to use. There is still trash and tires visible in the river, and Washington, D.C., sewage still overflows and spills into its waters, but now there are people who are fighting to recover this beautiful waterway. The Anacostia has been known as Washington’s forgotten river. It’s my opinion that the river is Washington’s best-kept secret; it has a future and is waiting to be rediscovered by residents of Maryland and Washington, D.C.