By Emily Wathen
It was one of the hottest July mornings on record in the D.C. Metro area when EarthShare national staff, thoroughly sunscreened and hydrated, climbed aboard with one of our newest member charities for a trip down the historic but often forgotten Anacostia River.
The Anacostia flows from Prince George's County in Maryland into our nation’s capital, where it eventually empties into the Potomac River. Most D.C. area residents only get a glimpse of the Anacostia from the window of their car as they hustle from the busy neighborhoods of Southeast to Northwest D.C. and back.
Our excellent guides from EarthShare Mid-Atlantic member charity Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), including James Foster, President of AWS, pointed to our surroundings to remind us, “Folks, we’re in D.C. right now.”
As we glided along in the pontoon boat, it was often hard to believe it. Blue herons, egrets and stunning kingfishers abounded on the river’s edge, and the shores were teeming with lush plant life. My coworkers and I were thrilled to be taking in the sights and sounds of the river and learning the history and progress of protecting its waters. The smiles on the faces of my overheated colleagues attested to the serene and simple beauty of this 8-mile urban river.
But despite the natural beauty surrounding us, our guides warned us pretty quickly that jumping in for a refreshing dip in the Anacostia wasn't a good idea. They also didn't recommend we go fishing for lunch.
It’s the goal of AWS to make these things possible again one day.
Thanks to increased awareness and action in recent years, the river is beginning to rebound. AWS has helped to restore hundreds of acres of wetlands, add forested buffers, and create a healthier habitat for aquatic grasses, mussels and clams, all of which are beginning to re-emerge. But cleanup challenges on the Anacostia remain daunting after centuries of pollution from industrial, residential and agricultural sources. EarthShare’s CEO Kal Stein recalled, “It was amazing to see how beautiful the river can be despite everything it has endured, and what a treasure it could be if it was cleaned up and made more accessible.”
At the end of our pontoon ride, Erin Castelli of AWS handed me a copy of the State of the Anacostia River Report Card. The very first page has the word FAIL written three times in bold red letters. It was a sobering reminder of just how much work lies ahead.
The good news is that you can help!
Our thanks to AWS for inviting EarthShare staff to see how one of our member charities is achieving such tangible results in our local environment. Visit AWS online at www.anacostiaws.org.