On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
For decades, the Anacostia River was a polluted and unsightly tributary with a bad reputation. Today, as pricey condos and offices rise on its banks, a new ballpark draws fans to its shoreline, and kayakers and bikers travel its length, the 8-mile river is in the midst of a makeover. We explore the effort to re-imagine the Anacostia and examine the environmental challenges that persist.
- James Foster President, Anacostia Watershed Society
- Michael Stevens President, Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District
- Aaron Marcavitch Executive Director, Maryland Milestones: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area
Hidden In Plain Sight, The Anacostia River Is A Natural Getaway
Surrounded by acres of lush vegetation on either shore, the Anacostia River is home to plenty of wildlife depending on the time of day and season. Photo credit WAMU 88.5 reporter Armando Trull. Find out more.
Map Of The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
Revitalizing D.C.’s Capitol Riverfront
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The Native Americans who lived on its banks called the river anaquash or village trading center. English settlers pronounced the name Anacostia and set in motion the river's long, slow decline, cutting trees, planting tobacco and watching silt clog the river so ships could no longer pass.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWashingtonians made things worse. They dumped raw sewage and tons of garbage into the river, prompting its long-standing reputation for being dirty and unsafe. But the Anacostia River today is undergoing something of a makeover. Remediation measures are slowly cleaning the water. A 12-mile walking trail is drawing joggers and bikers to the shoreline, and redevelopment projects close by, including the popular Nationals ballpark, are changing the river's image.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's still not safe to swim or fish in the river, but a concerted effort is underway to rebrand the Anacostia as a focal point for outdoor recreation and waterfront urban living. Here to tell us all about that is James Foster. He's president of the Anacostia Watershed Society. Jim Foster, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MR. JAMES FOSTERKojo, great to see you, and thanks for having us this morning.
NNAMDIMichael Stevens is president of Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. Michael Stevens, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL STEVENSKojo, thank you for having me and discussing such an important topic.
NNAMDIAnd Aaron Markavitch is executive director of the -- of Maryland Milestones: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. Aaron, thank you for joining us.
MR. AARON MARCAVITCHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What's your impression of the Anacostia River today? What's your favorite spot on the Anacostia River? 800-433-8850. Jim Foster, one of the earliest reports about the Anacostia River came from the legendary Captain John Smith, the president of Virginia's Jamestown colony who was saved by Pocahontas. What was the river like when he explored it in the early 1600s?
FOSTERKojo, great question. The river was an amazing estuary, about 2,500 acres of tidal wetlands. Today, there's only 120. It was a wonderful habitat for migratory birds, for the fish, for the animals here. And hence it was a place where Native Americans lived and came and traded. So it was a glorious place, as defined by -- you know, one of the best places on Earth, as defined by John Smith.
NNAMDII can't get over the notion that there was so much fish there at the time that his men -- he had 15 men on that open boat with him -- were trying to catch the fish with frying pans?
FOSTERWell, you've -- we've heard those things. We've heard of John Smith running aground on oyster beds and such. Obviously they caught a lot of those fish and lived very well. There's a lot of beaver there. So all that stuff was traded out, but today, most of that's gone.
NNAMDINow, there's a water trail named for John Smith that includes a portion of the Anacostia River?
NNAMDIOK. In Colonial times, the Anacostia River was so deep that the port in Bladensburg was bigger than the one in Baltimore. How long did that last?
FOSTERDidn't last long, Kojo. Like all the rivers of the Chesapeake, the land practices at that time resulted in the river silting in, filling in. So by about 1840, Bladensburg was no longer considered a major port. It was just...
NNAMDIUsed to be 40 feet deep there.
FOSTERAbsolutely. And it was, you know -- because the land was all held together by the incredible ecosystem that we had then -- huge trees. Soil was six feet thick. But as Europeans came and cut down the trees and planted tobacco and other crops, those fields failed, and all that soil washed into the river.
NNAMDIWhen Pierre L'Enfant laid out Washington, he envisioned the Anacostia as a focal point, the capital Central Park, if you will. What happened to that vision?
FOSTERIt just hasn't been completed yet, Kojo. That's our job.
NNAMDIWe're gonna make it the Central Park?
FOSTERAbsolutely. We want the Anacostia to become the destination that L'Enfant envisioned. We want it to be the focal point of Washington, D.C. And I know some people are going, that Jim Foster has lost his mind.
NNAMDINo, he has not.
FOSTERBut we are making great strides towards that, as we'll discuss here today.
NNAMDII thought he lost his mind when I first met him, too, and then I actually started listening to him and realized that I was the one who lost my mind. Aaron, your group tries to promote the Anacostia River's recreation opportunities and its history to residents of the region. But you don't have the word Anacostia actually in your name. Why not, and what does that say about the river's reputation?
MARCAVITCHWell, we are an organization. We're one of 12 heritage areas in the state of Maryland. And one of our big issues whenever I first arrived a few years ago fresh off of the boat from Nantucket Island and parts unknown was people that met me said, oh, Anacostia. What are you doing there? Why are you even going to try to be there? Oh, that river, or -- you know, it came with all of the bad connotations.
MARCAVITCHAnd I said, well, hmm, Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. We're getting confusion as to where we're located -- oh, that part of D.C. -- good or bad. And then trails. Oh, how many miles of trails do you own?
MARCAVITCHSo we started looking at our mission and our goals, and one of the things that we are trying to do is emphasize the American milestones, the amazing moments that have happened in history such as the tobacco port at Bladensburg, the testing of the first telegraph by F. B. Morse in Bladensburg, the War of 1812, the first real flights out of the College Park Aviation Museum, so on and so forth. We exist in sort of the northern end, which is the watershed, if you will, the headwaters. And so then we hand off then once we get to the D.C. line.
NNAMDIMichael, you're marketing the Anacostia River as a lifestyle choice for people who want waterfront urban living. What area does the Capitol Waterfront Business Improvement District cover, and what is your vision for the D.C. Riverfront?
STEVENSWell, Kojo, we cover the area south of the Capitol and south of the southeast-southwest freeway. We're largely between South Capitol Street and 15th Street. We go beyond the 11th Street bridges. We run the river for about two miles, and then pick up an area in southwest called Buzzard Point. And we envision a high-density, mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood that takes advantage of our riverfront and the access provided through Yards Park and the Riverwalk trail system.
STEVENSWhen you think about it, this was an area that really fell off the radar for over seven years since World War II when the Navy Yard was a huge manufacturing center and employed 30,000 people. Since that time, it had evolved to be the light industrial/light manufacturing backyard of the city. Who would have thought, five blocks south of the Capitol with two miles of riverfront, it'd be an undiscovered land?
STEVENSSo part of our mission is to educate and inform people as to the potential of living in a new-growth neighborhood like the Capitol Riverfront, sits on top of the Green Line, has this great riverfront access. People can live, work, play, stay, recreate here and shop. And really our front porch and our -- part of our identity are the parks. They now give you frontage on the riverfront itself.
STEVENSYards Park is a brilliant new park for a new century, 5.5 acres, well designed. Canal Park is another reference to the river and the canal that actually ran from the Anacostia all the way to the United States Capitol Complex. And one is three acres, one is 5.5, and these have really given us a sense of community, identity and place and communal gathering ground for our residents, our employees and visitors to even Nationals Baseball Park.
NNAMDIMichael Stevens is president of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. He mentioned Buzzard Point. That's supposed to be the location for the new soccer stadium for D.C. United coming to that location. He joins us in studio, along with James Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society. Aaron Markavitch is executive director of the -- of Maryland Milestones: the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Have you been kayaking on the Anacostia or biked along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail? What do you think? 800-433-8850. Here's David at the Navy Yard in D.C. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi, Kojo. My name is David Garber. I'm the ANC commissioner for the Navy Yard neighborhood...
DAVID...and I just wanted to make sure that people here listening to this show knew about the new Ballpark Boathouse kayak rental operation, which is right just south of the baseball stadium between the ballpark and Yards Park. And it's really the first kayak rental operation on the Anacostia River and is a way for people who love getting out on the water to do so in their own neck of the woods. We've really had to trek over to Georgetown for most of our history over here, and it's great to have an amenity like this right on the water in southeast.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned that for those people who will be responding by phone to my question about have you been kayaking on the Anacostia. Maybe I should ask, do you want to go kayaking on the Anacostia in the future?
NNAMDI800-433-8850. David, anything else you'd like to share?
DAVIDWell, I mean, I wanted to echo what Michael Stevens have said. This is a growing neighborhood. A lot of people look at it right now and say, what's here? There's a lot of empty lots. There's a lot of empty retail spaces. But I encourage people to just keep coming back to the neighborhood to see what's new. We have grocery stores opening up. We have a lot of restaurants slated to open this year. It's always a good time coming down to the Yards Park riverfront on a Friday night for the concert. The ice skating rink in Canal Park...
NNAMDIYeah, we'll talk about Yards Park in a little while too.
DAVIDYeah, the ice skating rink in Canal Park is gonna open back up again this fall, which is another amenity that we've had in -- on the southeast side of the city that we hadn't had before. So it's really -- I mean, it's a constantly changing neighborhood. It's really exciting. There's a lot of new people moving in.
DAVIDBut it's great to see people from the rest of the city -- from Capitol Hill, from H Street and from places in Greater D.C. -- really coming to explore this side of the city again because, as Michael Stevens said, there hadn't really been a whole lot here that was -- that were drawing people to the neighborhood. So it's a really encouraging place to keep an eye on.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. Of course, Jim Foster, the elephant in the room in any conversation about the Anacostia is water quality. It's still not safe to swim or fish in the river. How did the river get to be so dirty, and where do cleanup efforts stand, especially those related to sewage?
FOSTERGreat. So, Kojo, we have made incredible progress in the last 30 years. The river's so much cleaner. But here, it's 2013, and unfortunately we're still discharging raw sewage into the river from the combined sewers in Washington and from broken pipes upriver in Maryland. Both of the water utilities -- DC Water and WSSC -- are working diligently towards solutions to that, including a huge underground tunnel to store that combined sewage overflow in the Anacostia.
FOSTERBut the reality is, today, you know, if it rains really hard, we're gonna dump a lot of raw sewage in the river. So we have made progress there. I think the -- one of the other key problems with water quality is around stormwater and rainfall in the area, about 43 inches. Most of that rushes off of our hardened surfaces and into the river, washing everything with it.
FOSTERWe are now putting in place, in all the jurisdictions, stormwater utilities and, you know, stronger permits and regulations and focusing on this. I look at it as a behavior change because we really need to embrace this water that's coming down on us.
NNAMDIOne of the things that's helped to get this moving is you guys sued the District and the WSSC to make them pay attention to these sewage problems.
FOSTERWell, it was a different time, you know, Kojo? Sue means to ask and some -- we came to a solution, and they're implementing it. My good friend George Hawkins is working really hard. Jerry Johnson has committed a lot of resources over there. And I think that, you know, if I could say, they're -- become great partners, and they understand that this is part of their mission and critical to their, you know, outperformance, frankly.
NNAMDIMichael, the District has combined stormwater and sanitary sewage systems. So whenever it rains, sewage into that river.
STEVENSAnd I want to echo what Jim was saying. I come in, George Hawkins, at DC Water. It's a $2 billion public works infrastructure project to bore a 28-foot-diameter tunnel from Blue Plains to our neighborhood and also have other diversion tunnels over by RFK. One is proposed up near Rock Creek Park. But some of the things Jim talked about of low-impact development, better run-off control, may mitigate having to have that additional tunnel.
STEVENSBut I think what this does, it really attacks the source, which is the combined sanitary and storm water in our federal city. You can't dig up all the streets and change out that infrastructure. So this big cistern, which will store that combined sanitary and storm water, is the great solution. You have to take the art of the long view where the river like the Anascostia or any other body that you're trying to clean up.
STEVENSAnd may I commend Mayor Williams for setting a vision of cleaning up the river 30 years ago. He and Director of Planning Andy Altman really set the stage, this is a resource. Jim has been doing this work for a long time, so it was great to see the city leaders in Washington say, this is a river we can't turn our back on. We need to engage, embrace and celebrate it and create new opportunities to live there, to recreate there and ultimately to interact with the river in things besides boats where you swim and can eat the fish out of there.
STEVENSSo long-term process, as Jim said, we're, you know, seven, eight years into it, and I think people are working diligently to clean up the river so it becomes what we all envision it to be.
NNAMDIHere's Rebecca in Hyattsville, Md. Rebecca, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
REBECCAHi, Kojo. Shh. Don't tell everybody about how fabulous these trails are. Those of us who live in this part of Prince George's County have been using these trails without lots of traffic on there. We don't want this to become the toe path, please. But seriously, I am glad that...
REBECCAI'm glad that people are cleaning up the water because we would love to be able to actually put our feet in the water. And we've canoed and kayaked and biked on there for many, many, many years, and the paddle boat -- the pumpkin boat rides from Bladensburg marina, which are free, I think it's every day at noon, amazing way to see the -- what lives on the water, and it's beautiful.
NNAMDIRebecca, if you had bribed me 20 minutes ago, we wouldn't have had this broadcast at all, and nobody would've known. But it's too late now. The word is out.
REBECCAThe word is out. And really, we are glad that the word is getting out because it's beautiful, and we love I t. And we've been so pleased that our children have been able to grow and really connect with nature. We've been seeing eagles and herons there for years and years, and it's just beautiful. And we can't wait to be able to ride to Kenilworth Aquatic Garden.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Rebecca. If you have called, and quite a few of you have, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you're trying to get through, the number is 800-433-8850. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or you can ask a question or make a comment at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. For our conversation on the Anacostia River and reimagining the Anacostia River, we're talking with Aaron Marcavitch, executive director of Maryland Milestones: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. Michael Stevens is president of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, and James Foster is president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.
NNAMDIWe mentioned both Buzzard Point, and I mentioned the D.C. United Stadium coming there. But we got a tweet from Jared, Michael, who says, "Does the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District support the proposed D.C. United Stadium on Buzzard Point?"
STEVENSI will answer that as the president of the organization and not -- my board hasn't taken the official position. But I'm excited about the stadium announcement, and I want to change the dialogue a little bit, not talk about dollars and cents and tax impacts but really talk about what that stadium would mean to that section of our city, which is largely an industrial area with the Pepco substation concrete manufacturing plants and super salvage reclamation yards.
STEVENSThat area has struggled a long time for some sense of purpose, and it's an interesting piece of land because it's actually a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water -- the Washington Chanel, the Anacostia and really the beginnings of the Potomac. So I think the stadium and its multipurpose nature and opportunities for collateral development can really change the course for the neighborhood, make it a destination that offers recreational opportunities, entertainment opportunities and additional access to the water.
STEVENSA lot of people criticize Nationals Park for the financial deal, but for me and our neighborhood and our section by the city, that stadium branded an area of the city in a very positive way, in a region of six million people, that I could never have accomplished of any sort of marketing and PR. It mentally mapped the Anacostia River. It mentally mapped our neighborhood. And I believe the soccer stadium has the capacity or the opportunity to do the same thing, to mentally map this section of our city as waterfront friendly, as a destination for sports and family activities and as a place to live.
STEVENSSo I, you know, on a conceptual, theoretical level, I do support that. I really haven't even dove deep into numbers, but it looks, at first glance, like a good deal.
NNAMDIBut, Aaron and Jim, another image of the Anacostia River, one of the more common ones involves bulging trash bags, people wading through muck, pulling out everything from plastic bottles to tires. Why is there still so much trash in the river?
MARCAVITCHI would leave the trash questions to Jim, but, you know, we participated in a lot of these cleanups. We have seen the trash that comes from the Maryland side that washes down into there. It is -- you have to take a perception. And I think the way that I look at this watershed and I look at the river is that it's not just about the river and the watershed. It is about the communities that it is -- it impacts. On my way from home in Greenbelt to here, I had to cross the watershed four or five different times.
MARCAVITCHYou cross Steele Creek and Paint Branch and all these different areas. So it is a very large watershed. It goes all the way up into Montgomery County. And it is something that the communities have to take a part in. They have to realize that whether it is bags or trash, you can't, you know, toss it out the window. And these are communities that are perhaps a bit on the lower income and maybe don't have the connection to the river that they should.
MARCAVITCHYou know, you can do a search on Twitter at any time and look at all the statements that are said about Anacostia, the good, the bad and the ugly, and it takes a little bit of a mind change.
FOSTERSo, Kojo, there's almost a million people that live in our 175-square-mile watershed. It does extend up into Montgomery County, Prince George's County. The reality is is the watershed, the area of drainage for the river is about 80 percent in Maryland. And unfortunately, a lot of people don't have a connection and understand that when trash blows out of their trucks or when they do illegal dumping and such that all that ends up in the river. But it's been a process and it is better. Unfortunately, you know, it still got a ways to go, frankly.
FOSTERWe have worked with the local authorities and MDE to tighten up on inspections, enforcement. We've struggled with that through the time with, you know, bad economies. But we do have a regulatory threshold for trash on the Anacostia River so we can help hold the counties accountable to find some solutions to that.
NNAMDIBack to the phones. Here's Maria in Clifton, Va. Maria, your turn.
MARIAHi. I commend your guests for the work they're doing. I wanted to make a comment that -- just keep on keeping on because it can be very successful. I was born and raised in Waterbury, Conn. in the '50s, and the Naugatuck River was unbelievably polluted. Uniroyal dumped so much of their sewage and runoffs into the Naugatuck River that when you drove to the Naugatuck River Valley, there was a stench that came from the river.
MARIABut I'm happy to say that I have friends that are actually catching salmon in the Naugatuck River now. So, you know, there is hope for people like your guests who are strong and willing to really make this happen because what a wonderful resource we have there at the Anacostia.
NNAMDIMaria, thank you very much for your call. And as we pointed out earlier, progress is being made. How have water quality improvements in recent years, Michael, made new development along the river, possibly including the Nationals ballpark, new condos and offices in the Capitol Riverfront district adjacent to the ballpark?
STEVENSI think it's a couple of things, Kojo. One is the vision laid out by Mayor Williams and Andy Altman and others like Jim that say being on the river is a good thing. And it has been for years and years in our cities. And we've talked a lot about the history of the river. Rivers change over time, just like cities change over time. And they take on or assume different characteristics based on development patterns, agricultural practices. So I think there's been a fundamental, educational turnaround that people understand that the river was polluted here with the reasons.
STEVENSAnd now they understand that there's a cleanup underway. And I think the millions, if not billions of dollars that are -- have been and will be invested by a collaboration between the water authorities and the governments to provide access, to clean up the river, to rebuild infrastructure, has again, really changed the dialogue and the perceptions of this river that anything is possible. And I appreciate the previous caller talking about a river that was highly polluted.
STEVENSI often think of Pittsburgh and what they've done with the three rivers there and how they've extended that city into the river and its edges, from a recreational, entertainment, a convention center or sports. I think our city is in the process of doing the same thing. And I can stand in Yards Park and look across to the National Park Service lands and Anacostia Park, and see the fulfillment of that vision.
STEVENSAnd I was standing on the 11th Street local bridge last night, looking at the river at cruise rowing underneath that bridge as I stood there on a beautiful early fall evening. And the potential is being realized and it's arrived.
MARCAVITCHYeah. I think one of the things, you know, in Michael's statement about money and the money that is going into this, we also have to look at where the funds are being put on the banks of the river, not just into the water quality of the river, but on the banks of the river. I mean, one of the key players here that we have to remember is the federal government, the specifically National Park Service with Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, that's another one of those places that you don't want to tell anybody because it's so absolutely wonderful. You've got to...
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, we got a tweet from somebody in Woodbridge, who says, "I think many people in Washington are missing out on the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and National Arboretum."
STEVENSAnd the National Arboretum.
MARCAVITCHThe National Arboretum.
STEVENSThis is where our power wall exists.
MARCAVITCHExactly. So, I mean, you have these kinds of places. And in Maryland, then you have the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning who operates Bladensburg Waterfront Park but then also operates these trails that go on from there. The federal government has recognized the Anacostia. I know President Obama made this one of his priorities.
MARCAVITCHSo there has been money coming into it and then obviously the money that's coming towards the trails from Maryland's side. It has been a great investment, and I think that, unfortunately, everything has to be about money sometimes.
NNAMDIOn now to Laura in Baltimore, Md. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
LAURAHi. Thank you for taking my call. I know we've talked a lot about the water quality already, but I was a rower in high school in the area in, you know, 2001 to 2005. And I just remember going up to the starting lines of races and having condoms and syringes floating by. And so we're really not too far away from 2005.
LAURAAnd my question is that you're making these beautiful, serene areas in waterfront properties. Are you going to incorporate signage, though, that says do not swim, do not touch water, you will grow a third eyeball? And how do you think does that might interfere with these peaceful places that you're creating?
FOSTERGreat question. So we are in a -- we're working with a strategy of trying to change the dynamic, change the frame of reference of people thinking -- how they think about the river. And that's gonna be a multi-year process. So we are a little bit whiplashed between come back to the river and -- but don't touch the river. You know, we are trying to get the river to a place where we can get into the water on a regular basis.
FOSTERI have no illusions that it's gonna be of quality such as Perry Hay (sp?) or such but, you know, working together, the river should be much cleaner and we should be able to get into it. I want to mention, our friends in -- our cousins in Charles River just announced their river is, you know, they've declared victory. And I fell in the Charles River when I was 10 years old. I know the Charles River. It was bad. So there -- it is possible to do this.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Laura. We move on now to Dan in Cheverly, Md. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
DANHello. Yeah, I'm a resident really near the Anacostia. I've been involved for 20 years with cleaning up -- in going to the cleanups. But one of the things I think is gonna be a game changer is I think we finally have stepped up in Prince George's County, for example, and we are -- got a stormwater utility fee.
DANSo I'm actually one who is happy to do my share to pay, I think it's gonna be 40 bucks a year as a resident, and that's gonna generate, they're telling me, $1.2 billion that's gonna go into cleaning up the river and especially focusing on, like, the green infrastructure project that are gonna reduce the sediment. So I'm thrilled about that, and I just wonder if you can elaborate what we're gonna see there.
STEVENSI think that's a great point he just made that a lot of people are very scared of taxes, but I think it expands the investment of people into the river and its watershed. It just can't be a government solution. It has to be a change in lifestyle of not throwing out trash or letting it blow out of your pickup. But the fact that you are contributing to a water bill to the clean up of the river further vest you in that as your watershed but as this magnificent recreational and riverfront opportunity.
STEVENSWe often talk that this is our opportunity to recreate Rock Creek Park on this side of our city from the District through Maryland, and what an opportunity that is to connect these resources from Bladensburg Park to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, to the National Arboretum, to Kingman Island, to the Tidal Basin, Yards Park, Poplar Point, all of those things, what a string of treasures.
STEVENSAnd I think when you do your research -- if you pay a tax and you do your research, you'll have an aha moment and go, I get it now and I'm further vested. I buy into this. I want to own it, and I want to use it. So it's part of a long-term turnaround that Jim talked about in perceptual changes. And sometimes people think it hurts their pocket, but when they look at what the civic investment is, it really does pay dividends in the long run.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Dan. I have a lot of questions, but I'm being outvoted here by the callers who seem to have more questions than I do. So I'll stay with them. Here's Michael in State College, Pa. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELHi. I moved away from Hyattsville about four years ago and really enjoyed until then taking my kids in the woods, the wild woods of the -- down the northwest branch. And I'm wondering what plans you have for that stretch of the river?
FOSTERMichael, we are Penn State. So there's -- we're really blessed because so much of that land is owned and controlled by Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning up in that region. It's been, you know, it's for the enjoyment of all of us. And yes, it's expensive but, you know, it comes back -- I think the investment that we make comes back to us in, you know, many different forms and fashion. So, you know, Northwest branch, we're between its outfall there in the confluence and back up to the headwaters, and we've struggled with a new highway through there.
FOSTERWe've struggled with road improvements in that. But each time, you know, we need to make sure that we look at the -- a sustainable solution for storm water in all those areas. I think Northwest branch is a beautiful, beautiful tributary that we need to maintain it that way and not lose grip on it.
MARCAVITCHAnd I would then take beyond that again as somebody who isn't necessarily into the water quality and restoring the particulars to the water. I mean, the Northwest branch, if you have ever been to the Trader Joe's on, what is that, 29, you can go kind of behind their parking lot and there's a fantastic place to kind of go bouldering back there. But the -- at least in the Prince George's side, inside our particular heritage area, we're working with Park and Planning to have better connectivity that is not just on the trail.
MARCAVITCHYes, you're on the trail, but where are you on the trail? Where can I go if I want to get off the trail? Where is a place to eat? Where is a restroom? Where are those kinds of places? So not only on the Northwest and the Northeast branch, but on all these small branches, if I am bicycling through College Park, I need to know how do I get to, you know, a pizza joint or something like that.
MARCAVITCHSo there is, in addition to exploring these wild places and enjoying them, then if we are having people come from outside of the area, not just the people that live here, not just the people that love it already, but new people that are coming in, maybe they are down in Yards Park. They rent a bike and they bicycle and they come up to our area or they -- perhaps they rent it at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. How do they then use these places? So that's something that we're working hard on.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. We got this email from Patrice in Southeast Washington, "As a 10-year homeowner in the Anacostia neighborhood east of the river, I find all the hype of the river's development to be bittersweet as the vast majority of the extreme makeover is happening on the river's west side. I'm sorely disappointed to learn about the soccer stadium being situated once again west of the river when it was initially slated for the east bank. With all due respect to the guests, I cannot buy into the vision to fulfill the dream of D.C. Central Park transformation, if only one side receives all upgrades." To which, Michael Stevens, you say?
STEVENSWell, I think that's a very astute comment. As I walked across the bridge last night, I did end up in historic Anacostia, and the development hasn't crossed the river yet. But I think Mayor Gray is leaving several initiatives to bring development to Ward 7 and 8. Some of the most notable are the St. Elizabeths campus, the Skyland project and developments over on East Capitol Gateway estate. So -- and I hope Poplar Point.
STEVENSI'm sorry it has not been realized yet. I felt that was magnificent opportunity for a soccer stadium location and development. Unfortunately, the District's often capped with their debt cap spending or their financial spending due to the debt cap. And I hope Poplar Point will be realized because number one, it will offer, you know, 78 acres of wetlands and parklands directly across from us and become the centerpiece for historic Anacostia in Ward 7 and 8.
STEVENSBut I think it also offers wonderful redevelopment opportunities to bring neighborhood services, to bring cultural amenities, to bring retail that the neighborhoods need, grocery stores. So it's -- again, development is a long-term process. Our neighborhood's only 33 percent built out. It'll take another 20 years. That's just the nature of development cycles.
STEVENSBut I applaud Mayor Gray for looking at Ward 7 and 8 as east, just not east of the river but it's the east opportunity, and I think our city is gonna grow that direction due to the green line, due to the strategic investments they're making. I know developers who are investing and buying up things in Anacostia now because they see the potential there. So it's coming. I know it's hard to wait, and it's been very frustrating.
STEVENSI feel the same way about our neighborhood and what the recession did to us. So I encourage you to be patient and watch. I was sorry too about the Poplar Point project.
NNAMDIThe message is hold, Patrice. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on the Anacostia River. If you have called, we will be getting to your calls. If you're looking to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Does the Anacostia River have the potential to be Washington's central park in your view? Send us an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about reimagining the Anacostia River with James Foster. He is president of the Anacostia Watershed Society. Michael Stevens is president of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, and Aaron Marcavitch is executive director of Maryland Milestones: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWhat's your favorite spot on the Anacostia River, and what's your impression of the Anacostia River today? 800-433-8850. Michael, is it hard -- is it a hard sell to get people to come outdoor concerts at Yards Park, let alone buy upscale homes next to the Anacostia today?
STEVENSNot now. When the park first opened in September of 2010, we were averaging probably between three and 500 people at our Friday night concerts. And what I like about the concerts is they cut across all economic stratus, all ethnicities, races and ages, and it's a very diverse crowd. Three weeks ago, we had over 2,000 people on the banks of the Anacostia listening to music.
NNAMDII saw that.
STEVENSI think this Friday night with the great weather, we have another great band. I think it's the Texas Chainsaw Horn, so it should be interesting music, if not anything. But perceptions are slow to change, and I think people remember this as where they went to go dancing. They remember it was very much crime-ridden. It was dirty. It was industrial. So, again, that's why I say the ballpark has done a lot to change the perceptions of our neighborhood in this section of the city. The cleanup with the Anacostia is doing the same thing.
STEVENSWe're now seeing real estate values. You know, we're in a very hyper real estate market, and values accelerate quickly, but single-family homes have done very well. Our townhouses are all sold, all occupied. Some of my developers, I keep encouraging. You need to build some more for-sale products 'cause people want to be on or close to the river. They want to be on a Metro. They want to be close to the historic part of our city in Capitol Hill in the U.S. Capitol Complex.
STEVENSSo I think we're making headway, and I appreciate that people come from all over the city, all over the region to our concerts. It's very diverse. It's common ground. And as we call it, it's the front porch to our neighborhood that affords you a great view of the river and great music.
NNAMDIYou know, Aaron, one popular selling point you touched on before to get people out to the river is the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. Twelve miles of the walking and biking trail are open. And once the final section is done, the trail would be 20 miles long. Where does it go, and what remains to be finished?
MARCAVITCHWell, the missing component that is vitally important to us is essentially the Kenilworth garden section, and that piece is out for bid and for construction and everything that we all were sort of talking about it ahead of this show. And I think we're -- we've all heard the words that say that it is headed towards construction. Once that piece happens, it will connect the piece that's coming out of Bladensburg Waterfront Park right now down to the existing Riverwalk Trail.
MARCAVITCHThen we need to talk about a little bit of branding with it. You know, whenever you crossed that line from D.C. into Maryland, are you still on the same system? What is that system called? Because right now, the system in Maryland is the Anacostia Tributary Trail System, the ATTS, and how do those pieces. But once that all get put together, you've got over 60 miles of trails -- 60 miles of urban trails, probably the largest such system in the United States.
MARCAVITCHIt is a significant thing and it is a major part. I mean, that's one thing that we're prepping ourselves for. Whenever we're done with this War of 1812 commemoration, we are moving straight into bicycle tourism and how that all works together. Jim has been doing quite a bit with recreation, getting people out there on the boats, on the bike rentals. And I will point out that earlier, we had caller who said something about the first bike -- boat rental on the river.
MARCAVITCHI know that Bladensburg Waterfront Park has been renting kayaks and canoes for quite a while. So you can certainly come out there. There's been some really nice press about it recently. But the trail is important right now. It dead ends at the Maryland Line, and then we're missing this component that is across the National Park Service land.
NNAMDIJim, paddle boats like kayaking and canoeing are increasingly popular. What are the options along the Anacostia River?
FOSTERSo as Aaron just mentioned, Bladensburg Waterfront Park is a great gateway site, part of the water trail that we're helping the Park Service design on the river. They're open. They rent canoes and kayaks there. We lead tours from there as well, for groups and such. People come and fish there. A lot of people don't know that that park is there. And it's inside the levies, and it's just kind of quiet. So -- but it is -- it's an unbelievable place to come.
FOSTERIt's at the confluence of the -- just below the confluence of the northeast and northwest branches. It's height of the tide there. It's where the port used to be, and it's a great place to get out and see the river down from there where most people can't get in. We run a paddle night on Thursdays at different locations on the river to just help get people out there, just have a good time. We had -- I don't know -- 60 or 70 people come out to Bladensburg Waterfront Park last Thursday night. So...
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here's Michael in Capitol Hill -- on Capitol Hill to talk a little bit more about that. Michael, your turn.
NNAMDINo. This Michael on the air.
NNAMDIMichael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELAll right. Do you hear me?
NNAMDIYes. We hear you very well.
MICHAELOh, great. I had the privilege of working with Jim and (unintelligible) and continue lastly over at the Anacostia Community Museum, which is presently having the edge of the river exhibit, which is a very broad, in depth, well-sought out exhibit on the Anacostia River historically, presently, including some fascinating fish that were made out of trash recovered from the river.
FOSTERThose are cool.
NNAMDIIt is my understanding that exhibit runs through Nov. 3.
MICHAELYes. And they have some fantastic outreach for the people in the community to learn about the river and experience the river. And they have classes for kids, for instance, on how to make trash fish.
NNAMDIWell, Michael, thank you very much for your call and for reminding us about that. Jim, of course, already knew about it because everybody who calls, it seems, has worked with Jim at some point or the other. Michael, thank you for your call. We move on to Rachel in Washington. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELHi. Thanks so much for having me on the show, Kojo. As a resident of the Capitol Riverfront BID, I really want to commend the local water authorities and governments for their commitment to cleaning up the river. But I also wanted to mention a really great community initiative that's been spearheaded by David Garber, who's an ANC commissioner...
NNAMDIWho called earlier, yes.
RACHEL...who called earlier, absolutely. He organized a really great river cleanup this past August, on the 17th, in conjunction with the Ball Park Boathouse that he mentioned, the Earth Conservation Corps, Gangplank Marina, as well as Groundwork Anacostia. And they had, including myself, about 50 volunteers out, all residents from the community. We gathered about 45 bags of trash and also filled an entire barged of log debris.
RACHELSo the whole idea was, you know, in promotion of the Ball Park Boathouse in kayaking and utilizing the river to get this wash and trash and debris out of the river and, you know, where it belongs. And it was a really wonderful day. I wanted to note that they're doing it again on Sept. 14 for the Sept. 11th day of service. And as someone who participated last month, I'd really promote people to come on down, and you can visit David Garber's Facebook page to get more information on that.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Rachel. Here's Maryanne in Cheverly, Md. Maryanne, your turn.
MARYANNEHi. Thanks for having me on. I'm a COO coach. I also rode daily on the Anacostia and a member of various stream protection groups. One of the most remarkable things about Anacostia is that despite all the years of abuse, encroachment by development and physical alteration, there are still large stretches that had the natural beauty that once characterized the entire river, in particular the segment from New York Avenue to Benning Road.
MARYANNEIt's sort -- it's an almost undisturbed experience of the river and people I take rowing there cannot believe that they're so close to the city. It would be very unfortunate after all these years if the river was destroyed by a new development. We have to be really careful about what uses are placed next to the river. Also, you...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Michael Stevens address that.
STEVENSWell, in our neighborhood, there are sections that are dedicated to public ownership and public use. Yards Park is one, Diamond Teague Park in Pearce. And I think the Riverwalk Trail creates a buffer between the edge of development. I know there are 75-foot setbacks now for development from the river's edge so that it protects storm water runoff and doesn't encroach. So I think the cities are getting smarter about development.
STEVENSAnd I think the Anacostia has been lucky over time and that they're been -- so much to the land has been held in federal ownership. And we didn't have heavy industry. Unfortunately, the Navy Yard was one of the biggest polluters during their manufacturing days. But now they have gone. They're more clean industry. They are doing more idea generation and procurement. So I think our developers are very mindful. We try to educate them with that.
STEVENSAnd I know our District Office of Planning, headed by Harriet Tregoning, is out there selling the same thing, that we have to be mindful through our development efforts of low impact developments, storm water runoff control, green roofs and not building too close to the river's edge with parking lots or new buildings.
NNAMDIMaryanne, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Jackson in Baltimore, who says, "I proposed to my wife in the Riverfront Park next to the Navy Yard back in 2011. Must have been the perfect setting because amazingly she said yes. When I moved to D.C. in 2000 for college, there was no chance I'd walk in that area, much less take a date. I really appreciate all the effort of people like your guests today in improving the river and its banks. My wife and I hope our kids can one day swim near where I proposed."
NNAMDIJim, you've been a champion of clean Anacostia for two decades. How long will it be before we can swim and fish in the river? And what still has to happen to reach that goal?
FOSTERSure. The goal is moved a little bit. D.C. Department of Environment set out a plan for 2032. The Chesapeake Bay is hoping to see, you know, much more progress by 2025. We are gonna see a lot of things starting to happen in the next three to five years with the tunnel going into the Anacostia and the D.C. park with Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission finishing up repairs to stream crossings. A lot of the implementation of the storm water utility work to manage storm water.
FOSTEROne of the last big remaining pieces is really getting a handle on the contaminated sediment in the river. We know of, you know, several sites that are contaminated. They include from the Navy Yard into the river. Everybody is just still circling the table in trying to figure out how best to accomplish that. But D.C. has started an estuary-wide study to try to determine what the total issue and problem is. And then from there, be able to back out who's assigned what portion of the clean up.
FOSTERWe're looking at probably 10 to 15 years before that is really affected. Now, what's happened is that contamination in the river has caused some of our fish in the river, the resident fish to be contaminated. And we have big concern about subsistent fishing and such, but that is really one of the next big steps.
NNAMDIAnd you've got a meeting coming up with various stakeholders to talk about the bike trails along the Anacostia. What are you hoping to get out of that meeting?
MARCAVITCHWe're hoping to develop a plan of action for way finding, getting people where they need to go. The Washington Area Bicyclists Association has something that's called an ambassador program. We're looking at something like that. There is bike share coming to College Park and perhaps up and down this particular area. So we're looking at kind of laying out these pieces.
MARCAVITCHAnd did want to -- I just quickly mention that if people are trying to reimagine the river, we've got a couple of things. We've got our photo contest that we're running right now. And in addition, there's gonna be a 5K coming up right out of Waterfront Park on the 14th. So there's a couple of different ways to come and experience it and see what's happening now, and then hopefully in two years, we'll have something new.
NNAMDIGloria in Washington has a crucial question that won't take long. We're running out of time, but go ahead, Gloria.
GLORIAThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I just wanted to ask, where is there a directory to talk about all of these fantastic sites that you all have discussed and that are open to the public? I'd love to explore them.
FOSTERIt's a great...
FOSTERIt's a great question. And as a matter of fact, we are preparing a website to launch with a lot of these detail including details on our partners that are working on the river and cleaning it up, so that should be launched in the next 30 to 45 days.
NNAMDIAnd, Gloria, if you go to our website, kojoshow.org, you can find a map of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail right there so you can start at that point.
MARCAVITCHAnd a link to our website. We've got all the links going on to our partners as well.
NNAMDIYou'll find that link at our website, kojoshow.org. Aaron Marcavitch is executive director of Maryland Milestones: Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. Aaron, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIMichael Stevens is president of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. Michael, thank you for joining us.
STEVENSThank you, Kojo. Pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd James Foster is president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, which I'm proud to say I'm now a member. Jim Foster, thank you so much for joining us.
FOSTERKojo, thank you. You rock, buddy.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.