If you haven’t already heard: 2018 is the “Year of the Anacostia.”
What began as a conversation between a few organizations (the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, the National Park Service, the Anacostia Watershed Society and the 11th Street Bridge Park) has grown into a collaborative effort between over 70 different public, private and nonprofit entities.
These groups joined together to create “a yearlong invitation to honor history, celebrate progress, and enjoy the Anacostia River and its surroundings while envisioning an inspiring future.” And it has been a big success.
Through monthly coordinating meetings and three working groups, a broad steering committee of stakeholders created a joint marketing and outreach campaign and a shared calendar of events.
As the effort grew, 2018 became officially designated as the “Year of the Anacostia” by the DC Council, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership — and by the United States House of Representatives!
A Big Year for the River
Throughout the year, DC and Maryland have celebrated major milestones along the Anacostia River:
In January, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced significant funding to improve Kingman Island and designate a portion of it as a State Conservation Area
In February, the National Park Service celebrated Frederick Douglass’ 200th Birthday at his historic house, drawing over 5,000 visitors.
In March, the DC Water Anacostia Tunnel project opened, preventing over 2 billion gallons of overflow from entering the Anacostia River this year.
In April, thousands of visitors came to the Anacostia River Fest, and thousands of volunteers cleaned up the watershed for Earth Day
In June, thousands of people attended the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival
In July, Nationals Park hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and thousands of people ran through Anacostia Park for a 5k “Color Run”
In August, Anacostia Park celebrated its 100th Birthday
In September, thousands of volunteers cleaned up parks on National Public Lands Day and hundreds of people participated in a “Pedal Paddle Palooza”
In October, the Festival del Rio will feature a Spanish language celebration of the Anacostia River
In all, over 50,000 people have attended over 200 Year of the Anacostia events so far. (And even though 2018 is coming closer to its final months, there are still a few events left on the Year of the Anacostia calendar!) Events took place in the neighborhoods near the river, in the parks along the river, and on the water itself.
Considering that it rained on nearly every weekend that a major event was held in the river corridor this year, it was an impressive turnout.
Speaking of rain, the enormous Anacostia Tunnel completed by DC Water has been capturing the stormwater and sewage overflow during all the storms this year. Since its opening in March, this new infrastructure has prevented 2.4 billion gallons of combined overflow and 146 tons of trash from entering the Anacostia River. This has exceeded performance expectations and drastically improved water quality in the river. That improvement to water quality wasn’t included in the 2018 passing grade issued to the Anacostia River by the Anacostia Watershed Society in its annual report card, which means that next year will be even better.
This is a game-changing event for the Anacostia River, and thus part of the inspiration for the Year of the Anacostia is not only to celebrate anniversaries, but also to change perceptions about how the river is doing. Fighting against decades of negative conventional wisdom about a once-abused river is challenging, but as the river and parks improve, neighborhoods along it have a lot to gain from embracing the restored corridor.
Keeping the Momentum Going
There is still a lot of work still to be done to elevate the Anacostia River, but the Year of the Anacostia has made a significant stride forward in highlighting the immense value of the river corridor.
In a watershed with three major jurisdictions, over 800,000 residents, and 70+ agencies, non-profits or businesses working to improve the Anacostia River in some fashion, this kind of coordination is crucial to maximizing our collective impact and reducing redundancies between programs.
I have been helping the National Park Service to host these coordination meetings, and am excited to report that nearly all of the participating organizations look forward to continuing this kind of collaboration even after the end of the Year of the Anacostia.
I once likened the Year of the Anacostia to a “megaphone” that each participating organization could use to elevate its own work to improve the corridor. As the watershed increasingly offers more to its residents and visitors, I look forward to working with these many partners to make the megaphone even bigger.
Erin Garnaas-Holmes is the Ambassador the Anacostia Watershed (DC/MD) Urban Waters Federal Partnership.