Institutions, agencies, non-governmental organizations, and prominent officials often speak about the need to work collaboratively toward shared goals, particularly when it comes to managing watersheds and public lands. A recent meeting with National Park Service (NPS) Superintendent Tara D. Morrison and over 100 stakeholders was a major step forward in actually setting an action-oriented, community-driven agenda for enhancing Anacostia Park and the river that flows through it.
On March 6, 105 individuals representing 60 organizations gathered in northeast Washington, DC to “Shape the Future of Anacostia Park.” The Anacostia Urban Waters Federal Partnership and members of the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative organized the event with financial support from the Anacostia Waterfront Trust. The meeting created a space for stakeholder organizations to learn how the NPS intends to balance recreational, community, and natural resource management uses and activities within Anacostia Park; voice their priorities for the park; and identify opportunities to work together toward shared goals.
Anacostia Park is long and narrow, its 1,100 acres hugging the shores of the river from the Maryland-District border to the Anacostia’s confluence with the Potomac. It encompasses sections more commonly referred to as Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Kenilworth Park, Langston Golf Course, RFK Stadium, Buzzard Point, and Poplar Point, as well as the areas traditionally known as Anacostia Park along Fairlawn, Twining and River Terrace neighborhoods.
Arrington Dixon, chair of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, called the March 6 meeting to order by proclaiming that Anacostia Park is spiritual and it brings the community together. He argued the NPS alone cannot achieve its vision for the park to improve and protect the resiliency of the Anacostia River ecosystem while providing a wide range of recreational and educational opportunities. A hiring freeze currently prohibits the federal agency from bringing on new staff and its budget may be slashed. Organizations must support NPS and stand up for the park.
Based on attendance and energy, stakeholders are ready.
Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and 11th Street Bridge Park shared different models for working with the National Park Service to run youth programs, fundraise, maintain sections of the park, and host events that draw thousands to the shores of the Anacostia.
Diverse stakeholders including community service providers, faith institutions, environmental organizations, bike advocates, civic associations, small business owners, youth program operators, and neighborhood activists broke into small groups and deliberated top priorities for the park. Each of the thirteen groups presented their top priorities, which boiled down to:
- Better community engagement: Work with nearby residents so that park programming and management can be more responsive to community members’ needs and wants.
- Improve land and water access: Interstate 295 and the freight rail line are major barriers. We need better bridges, overpasses, and/or tunnels to enhance connectivity between the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Also need more and safer ways to access the river from the park.
- Support events: The park needs more facilities that can support educational programming and community events, and a streamlined permitting process would make it easier for groups to host events and programs within the park.
- Attract more people: An enhanced trail network and better maintenance of existing trails and infrastructure plus more amenities will bring more people into the park, making it safer.
- Environmental stewardship: Protect and enhance natural resources and wildlife habitat. Rehabilitate contaminated sites within the park and the river.
In her closing remarks, Superintendent Morrison emphasized the meeting was a valuable opportunity for her to hear so many stakeholders succinctly state their priorities. She is committed to continuing the dialogue and finding ways to move these ideas forward. Members of the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative who planned the March 6 event are sitting down with the Superintendent and NPS staff to discuss next steps and dig into these priorities. Several stakeholder participants are already discussing future meetings, existing initiatives that could support NPS’ and stakeholders’ shared goals, and who else needs to be at the table.
The Urban Waters Federal Partnership is grounded in the premise that when you bring diverse partners together, great initiatives can spring forth that are good for the environment and people. Shape the Future of Anacostia Park provided a space to generate these ideas, and I look forward to working with stakeholders to turn these priorities into on-the-ground improvements. If you want to read more about the March 6 meeting, watch videos from the event, or keep informed about next steps, visit http://www.anacostiaparkcommunity.org/shape-the-future-of-anacostia-park/.