Welcome to 2018: The Year of the Anacostia!

Our River: The Anacostia

Aerial View of the Anacostia. Photo: National Park Service

After all the years of work, all the community organizing, and all the progress, we now can celebrate and enjoy 2018 as “The Year of the Anacostia”. How has this come about?

It started with an anniversary – the 100th since the designation by Congress of Anacostia Park in 1918. From there it grew to become a year-long celebration with four purposes: to honor the history, celebrate the progress in its recovery, enjoy the River and its surroundings, and envision the future. Under the leadership of the National Park Service, the partners in the effort include the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the DC City Council, the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), the Prince Georges County Council, the Prince Georges County Department of the Environment, DC Water, the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, the Anacostia Watershed Society, Groundwork DC, Anacostia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Anacostia Waterfront Trust, Earth Conservation Corps and the 11th Street Bridge Project.

Wow! That’s an impressive list of people to lead the effort, but the things to celebrate go far beyond the century of parkland. It is also the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails System Act. Closer to home, the year will signal completion of the DC Water Anacostia River Tunnel, which will nearly eliminate overflow from our combined sewers into the River. In fact, I have been telling folks that starting in March, the cleanest body of water in the metropolitan area after a storm will likely be the Anacostia, because Rock Creek, the Potomac and all the others will still be experiencing the sewage overflows.

Park Service Signs along the River. Photo: National Park Service

Other signs of progress in 2018 include closure on the Proposed Plan for cleanup of the contaminated sediments in and along the River, something in the works for years. It is also the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglas, who lived in Anacostia and crossed the River every day coming to and from work. Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game will be held along the River in National’s Park. And work is likely to begin to convert the old highway piers of the 11th Street Bridge into a multipurpose park and entertainment center running from bank to bank.

Tara Morrison, Superintendent of National Capital Parks – East, sums it all up: “There is great energy and excitement around the Year of the Anacostia, and we are fortunate to have a growing number of organizations and agencies collaborating to offer a year-long celebration in 2018 to connect our communities to the parks, places and endless opportunities that the Anacostia River watershed provides.”

The National Park Service has taken the lead and produced a strategic plan for the Year of the Anacostia. Goal 1 focuses on enjoying the river and its surroundings by calling on the public to revive community events popular in the past and build on events in place now to raise awareness of the Year of the Anacostia. Meanwhile the Park Service commits to improving signage in the park and to use NPS branding to promote the park as of national importance.

Goal 2 is to honor the history that surrounds the river and its use. It calls on community groups metro-wide to provide 100 programs during 2018 for the 100 years, both in and along the river. Working with schools on the river’s history and ecology and celebrating historic moments with diverse programming for all ages are other parts of this goal. Another aspect is to promote the health of the river by increasing litter cleanups and improving community awareness of plans to deal with toxics and other pollutants where they exist in the River and along the shoreline.

Goal 3 is to envision the future Anacostia River and work with groups, especially children, to interest them in volunteer projects, internships and job opportunities to provide education and connections to the river and park. Another part of this goal is to establish “adopt-an-area” programs for existing community groups to help maintain the attractiveness of the park, as well as have them host events or participate in watershed-wide events.

Out for a Paddle. Photo: National Park Service

The strategic plan also proposes sets of projects that groups could organize and carry out along the River. These could include travelling exhibits, bicycle and hiking tours, oral history projects to interview and record memories of long-time Anacostia area residents. Others could focus on the need for equitable development that benefits both sides of the river with parks, housing, transportation, etc., and finding ways to engage communities in upcoming projects. Finally, the plan proposes a process to design and fund pop-up installations to carry information about the history and future of the River and the Park to surrounding communities.

To help organize the participation, the Park Service and other participating organizations have established three working groups which are open to anyone who has an interest in being involved in the Year of the Anacostia. The chairs of the groups will serve on the Steering Committee. The three groups and their lead contacts are:

Events and Programming Group – Organizes and coordinates the calendar of events; reviews and shares event ideas. Lead Contact: Pya Langley (pya_langley@nps.gov), National Park Service.

Youth Engagement Group – Develops creative ways to engage youth, e.g., educational activities, volunteering, internships. Lead Contact: Ronda Chapman (ronda@groundworksdc.org), Groundworks DC.

Marketing and Outreach Group – Implements messaging through strategic placement and outreach to diverse audiences. Lead Contact: Erin Garnaas-Holmes (egh@anacostiatrust.org), Anacostia Trust.

So everything is ready to go! As Superintendent Morrison sums up, “With the centennial of Anacostia Park and the bicentennial of Frederick Douglas’s birth in 2018, the National Park Service extends the invitation to everyone who lives in or visits the District of Columbia to enjoy our parks and become stewards to insure these special places thrive and are here for future generations”.

All you need to do is think about how you want to participate in the Year of the Anacostia, and let the appropriate group or individual know. You will be part of something big, uplifting and probably a lot of fun!


Bill Matuszeski writes monthly about the Anacostia River. He is the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a DC member the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Anacostia River and a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River.