The Man Who Rowed to Work

Photo by Dan Smith


In a region known for its epic traffic problems, Metro-Washington, DC resident Gabriel Horchler has perhaps the best commute in the city. During fair weather months, Gabriel hops in his rowing shell to commute to work down the Anacostia River.

Not only has Gabriel biked and rowed to and from work for 15 years, he’s a steadfast supporter of the nonprofits working to keep the river healthy. We asked Gabriel about his commute, and why he’s so involved in groups like EarthShare member charity Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS).


What would help more people connect to the rivers in their midst?

I think the best way for people to connect to the “rivers in their midst” is to spend as much time as possible on the rivers. Gradually, they will develop an appreciation for these close-at-hand waterways, and an awareness of the problems facing them.


What makes the Anacostia River special?

Many things make the Anacostia special. It has an interesting history and is in the heart of the nation’s capital. Although navigable for less than 10 miles, it is remarkably diverse. The upper portion is a narrow, sheltered stream, which becomes tidal, wider, deeper, and less sheltered as it flows towards the Potomac. While descending the river, one’s awareness of the surrounding flora, fauna, and even water conditions is constantly changing. An added attraction is that it flows by two national treasures - the Aquatic Gardens and the National Arboretum.


How are you involved with the Anacostia Watershed Society?

I have been involved with AWS for many years, as a dues-paying member and a volunteer helping to clear trash traps, lead Earth Day cleanups, and testify on behalf of AWS at hearings. I worked with AWS to have a floating dock installed at the river entrance to the National Arboretum, and while rowing, I regularly stop at that spot to pick up trash. When a bag is full, AWS picks it up.

I am especially grateful to AWS for having made possible my commute by boat. Jim Connolly, the former executive director of AWS and an avid rower, played a critical role in the development of the Bladensburg waterfront and the establishment of a highly successful rowing program there. Jim was also a founding member of the Capital Rowing Club, originally located at the 11th Street Bridge and now at the Anacostia Community Boathouse in DC. Thanks to Jim, I had a secure spot to store my boat at both terminals of my commute.    


Why are advocacy groups like the Anacostia Watershed Society so important to protect the health of our rivers?

Such advocacy groups are very important because they have a strong and long-term commitment to a particular cause. Over the years, the AWS has mobilized citizens and convinced public officials to act on behalf of the Anacostia. Its accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but the more notable ones include: bringing lawsuits against polluters, implementing major wetland restoration projects, monitoring toxics, organizing large scale trash removal events, expanding public access to the river via the Anacostia River pedestrian/bike trail and the Kingfisher canoe trail, and much more.


How have you changed since you began commuting this way?

The water commute has lowered my blood pressure, prevented me from gaining weight, improved my mental outlook, saved me from the agony of overcrowded and unreliable Metro rides, and best of all, connected me with the Anacostia in a way that at times verges on the spiritual.  


What tips do you have for other people thinking of commuting by river?

I would encourage them to try it, not as a great challenge akin to running a marathon but as a practical and very fulfilling alternate mode of transportation. Of course such a commute requires living close to a waterway that happens to flow within a few miles of one’s place of employment, and finding a place to park the boat at both ends can be a challenge, but if these conditions can be met, it’s worth a try.

I would also discourage obsessiveness. If on a particular day, commuting by boat is impractical because of bad weather or some other circumstance, then that should be accepted graciously. And rowing in the winter is not a good idea. In fact, when December arrives, it feels good to take a break and take up another form of exercise until March.


Do you have any other environmental interests?

As a member of the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek, I work on and around small tributaries in Cheverly, MD of this creek that flows into the Anacostia. We installed a trash trap, maintain a nature trail, and are constantly removing invasive plants and reestablishing native plants. Now that I have retired, I plan to spend much more time on these activities.

Do you want to support the Anacostia River like Gabriel? Join EarthShare and the Anacostia Watershed Society on April 23rd for our annual Earth Day Cleanup.


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