CLEANING UP THE ANACOSTIA
Student A: “Hey, why don’t we get up early during our spring break and put on hipwaders to spend a morning fishing tons of trash out of a freezing river?
Student B: “Cool, I’m in!”
This sounds like a conversation heard only on Mars (if/when they had rivers), but Anacostia Riverkeeper actually makes it happen on a regular basis. Thanks to the organization’s decade-long partnership with Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow, 180 college students from Minnesota, Kentucky and North Dakota sprang out of four buses on a chilly March morning to help clean up Anacostia tributary Lower Beaver Dam Creek. The students joined community partners such as the Anacostia Watershed Society, Friends of Lower Beaver Dam Creek, Friends of Quincy Run, and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake for the first Clean Waterways Cleanup of the season.
Cheverly mayor Michael Callahan (known to constituents simply as “Mayor Mike”) and councilmember Mary Jane Coolen went beyond merely welcoming the volunteers: both officials participated hands-on in the cleanup, proving that Mayor Mike, as Coolen put it, “can work with numbers as well as trash.”
Volunteers extracted cans, bottles, metal beams, a vacuum cleaner, an old computer monitor and a 47-pound tire from the water. Four local children (with adult supervision and excused from school, not to worry) excavated a bicycle that had been completely buried in the riverbank.
ADVOCACY. ACCESS. ACTION
The group’s cleanups have an impact beyond mere beautification. As “Riverkeeper” Mike Bolinder explained, their goal is to provide information policymakers need to make the right environmental decisions for the future: “All of the trash gets sorted and weighed (a process we call characterization) and the data is used for policy making. When somebody asks, ‘how is the 5 cent bag fee working?’ for example, we have data to give an accurate answer.”
Anacostia Riverkeeper is a relatively small group with big goal: a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River. Long-time residents of DC who may be tempted to scoff, take heed: Thursday Night Kayaking and Friday Night Fishing are happening here and now. As of late March, the organization’s Clean Waterways volunteer program has removed 13,696 pounds of trash. Riverkeeper also trains River Watchers, community members who monitor and report pollution in the Anacostia (“River Watcher” superhero suit and cape not included).
The organization’s most striking quality—aside from its cheerful dispatch of endless amounts of garbage—is its collaborative approach. When you speak with anyone from the group, other organizations roll into the conversation like currents in the river: Anacostia Waterkeeper Alliance, Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Earth Conversation Corps and the Cheverly Green Infrastructure Committee to name just a few.
“We work hard to form lasting partnerships with groups that have complimentary skills and assets,” said Bolinder. “The collaborative effect can make one idea grow into literally thousands of volunteers, tens of thousands of hours of sweat equity and millions of pounds of trash being removed from a hurting waterway.”
With its manifold projects, talented staff and committed community partners, Anacostia Riverkeepers is truly living up the mission stated front and center on its website: “Advocacy. Access. Action.”