Along the Ana­cos­tia, a Cleanup And a Call for Po­lit­i­cal Help

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By Paul Schwartz­man

Car­lyle Howard, a 13-year-old from McLean, spent yes­ter­day af­ter­noon pulling beer bot­tles, plas­tic foam, candy wrap­pers and what seemed like a gazil­lion other bits of garbage from the banks of the Ana­cos­tia River.

If it ap­peared to be a dreary chore, she had com­pany: her pal Emma Leiken, with whom she passed the time talk­ing about things they like (boys), things they hate (math) and es­pe­cially gross things they found.

“A bag of bat­ter­ies cov­ered in ants” was Car­lyle’s nom­i­na­tion.

The girls were among an army of vol­un­teers amassed along the Ana­cos­tia for a ma- jor cleanup spon­sored by the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion. Hun­dreds of vol­un­teers hauled away bags of garbage, clipped dead limbs from trees and yanked out in­va­sive species, such as kudzu and porce­lain­berry vines, that choke trees and crowd out na­tive plant life.

The Ana­cos­tia, which snakes its way through the heart of re­de­vel­op­ment projects in the Dis­trict, in­clud­ing the new Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als sta­dium, has long been rav­aged by a mix of sewage, refuse and toxic chem­i­cals.

An es­ti­mated 20,000 tons of garbage float down­stream an­nu­ally, much of the junk wash­ing up on the river’s banks, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say. An­other ma­jor con­trib-

utor is the Dis­trict’s sewer sys­tem, or­ga­niz­ers said yes­ter­day. It was built more than a cen­tury ago and dumps raw sewage into the river dur­ing mod­er­ate and heavy rain­storms.

Josh Burch, a co­or­di­na­tor for Earth Con­ser­va­tion Corps, which helped or­ga­nize the cleanup, said no amount of garbage pickup will mend the river un­til politi­cians take steps to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Ev­ery­one is very good about say­ing they want to clean up the Ana­cos­tia River, but it’s pol­icy de­ci­sions that will make the dif­fer­ence,” he said.

Yes­ter­day’s ef­fort on the Ana­cos­tia co­in­cided with a cleanup on the Po­tomac River or­ga­nized by the Alice Fer­gu­son Foun­da­tion, in which vol­un­teers fanned out across 359 sites in the Dis­trict, Mary­land, Vir­ginia, Penn­syl­va­nia and West Vir­ginia.

Chad Pre­gracke, 32, trav­eled from his home in Illi­nois to vol­un­teer for the Ana­cos­tia project. He works for Liv­ing Lands and Wa­ters, a non­profit en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion, and spends many week­ends clean­ing such rivers as the Ohio and Mis­souri.

What dis­tin­guishes the Ana­cos­tia, he said, glanc­ing at the Capi­tol dome in the dis­tance, is its prox­im­ity to Congress. “We’re within a mile of the Capi­tol,” he said. “There are a lot of pow­er­ful peo­ple here — they should see it first­hand.”

He and sev­eral other vol­un­teers re­counted what they had pulled from the river­banks: zip-lock bags, lighters, straws, hy­po­der­mic nee­dles, tam­pons, con­doms, two safes and bot­tles — many, many bot­tles.

“Ev­ery­thing you’d see in a garbage can, you see in the river,” said Chris Fen­der­son, 30, who trav­eled from Iowa City for the cleanup.

A cou­ple hun­dred feet away, Leon John­son, 59, a main­te­nance worker who lives in South­east Wash­ing­ton, dipped his fish­ing line into the river, which he de­scribed as “dis­gust­ing, to tell you the truth.”

He was not help­ing with the cleanup, but he said he ap­pre­ci­ated the ef­fort, even if he’s not en­tirely con­vinced that it will make a dif­fer­ence. “It’s great that some­one does it,” he said, empty soda bot­tles at his feet. “But it will last a month and go back to the way it was.”


Adelia Smith, left, and Theresa-Amelia Hils­don, both of Wash­ing­ton, were part of a group of Bank of Amer­ica vol­un­teers. At right is Tammy Becker of Illi­nois.

Vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing David Matyas, left, and Dave Strauss, fo­cused on dead tree limbs, in­va­sive species and trash. Among other junk, they found zip-lock bags, lighters, straws, hy­po­der­mic nee­dles, tam­pons, con­doms, two safes and many, many bot­tles.

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