Rolling on the River

The District promotes community efforts to clean up the Anacostia River.

On a breezy November morning a class of fifth-graders, adults, and environmental wildlife groups made their way up the Anacostia River. Shouts for school mascots (“Let’s go tigers!”) and an impromptu rendition of Tina Turner’s “Rollin’ on the River” filled the air as five canoes traveled along the waterway.

The trip’s purpose: to educate children and adults about how they can help the environment and to empower them to participate in river clean-up efforts.

Throughout the trip, the children alternated between racing one another and enjoying the sights pointed out by guides aboard the canoes and the accompanying pontoon in which the trip’s organizers — the Anacostia Watershed Society and the National Park Services — rode. A counselor at the student’s school, Neval Thomas Elementary, contacted the park services and the watershed organization to arrange taking a class on the river to give students a real-life experience to complement their environmental science lessons.

Wendy Van Norden, an environmental educator at the Anacostia Watershed Society, said that giving students a “meaningful watershed education experience” was exactly part of her group’s purpose.

“The Anacostia River gets a bad rap as the “forgotten river,” she said, “People don’t think about how beautiful it is.”

Giving children and other district residents a chance to get an up-close experience with the Anacostia helps change their attitudes towards the river, according to Norden.

“They start making the link about how litter can hurt the animals they 
see right before their eyes,” she said.

During the trip, a great blue heron made an unexpected cameo as it strolled along the muddy riverbed as the canoes passed by before soaring into the azure sky above the passengers’ heads. Yet, other wildlife dependent on Anacostia River and its wetlands were conspicuously absent as a result of decades of pollution and neglect.

But the beautiful views of the water were not the only sights the Neval Thomas group saw. Trash could still be spotted despite  continuous efforts like the “bag tax” that enacted to help to crease a trash-free river.

Littered plastic bags collected in the branches of the remaining forest buffer alongside the river; Arizona cans bobbed up and down as the group paddled by. One student even spotted a tire snagged on a log.

Still Van Norden says  the river has gotten much cleaner in the last few years.

“Our founder Robert Boone said that about 20 years ago a bird could walk from one side of the river to the other on trash,” she said, “But now, that’s not the case.”

Additional footage: Emily Conrad, AWS’s development coordinator, briefly discusses the organization’s history and future plans in an on-the-spot interview.