Earth Day Vol­un­teers Get a Sick­en­ing Feel­ing

Too Few Value Re­sources, Crews Say

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro Week - By Carol D. Leon­nig

The Ana­cos­tia River glis­tened yes­ter­day as it wended past bud­ding wil­lows. Muskrats, beavers and cor­morants basked in the late-morn­ing rays. And along the shore, Earth Day vol­un­teers piled up hun­dreds of black plas­tic bags filled with the un­sightly trash they had col­lected from the river’s ed­dies and banks.

Inside those black bags were end­less num­bers of soda bot­tles, plas­tic foam con­tain­ers and candy wrap­pers, as well as tires, lug­gage and even a shop­ping cart. They of­fered a re­minder that Wash­ing­ton’s “other river” re­mains one of the most threat­ened in the coun­try, with an es­ti­mated 20,000 tons of trash washed into its wa­ters each year. Clean­ing up the river has been the fo­cus of con­sid­er­able en­ergy dur­ing Wash­ing­ton’s an­nual Earth Day events.

“I feel sad to see the wa­ter like this,” said Ma­lik Fitzger­ald, 15, a stu­dent at Mer­ritt Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter in North­east. “The wa­ter is just a re­flec­tion of us. The way we treat it is how it’s go­ing to turn out.”

The vol­un­teers hoped to bur­nish that re­flec­tion, and ev­ery­where on the river­banks — from the Bladens­burg ma­rina down to the site of the fu­ture Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als base­ball sta­dium — peo­ple used nets,

Mem­bers of the Stu­dent Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion clear a por­tion of Ana­cos­tia Park of lit­ter and weeds and add mulch, trees and flow­ers. pitch­forks and bare hands to re­move the garbage. Some said they had come to the river af­ter see­ing signs on the high­way about the cleanup ef­fort. Oth­ers came with or­ga­nized groups from schools, neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions, churches, busi­nesses, and the Mary­land, Prince Ge­orge’s County, Dis­trict and fed­eral gov­ern­ments. Boats on loan helped ferry them to var­i­ous stretches of the river­banks and then hauled the refuse to the Bladens­burg ma­rina.

Along with Ma­lik, Her­bert Ben­jamin, 16, and Don­nell Kie, 15, were pulling junk out of the river yes­ter­day morn­ing, but they were de­ter­mined to turn it into art for a con­test when it hit the dock in Bladens­burg. They are mem­bers of Life Pieces to Mas­ter­pieces, a D.C. pro­gram for bud­ding African Amer­i­can male artists. Equipped with wire cut­ters and work gloves, they made a mod­ern sculp­ture of a fright­ened man us­ing, among other things, a Filet-O-Fish box, the shop­ping cart, a Shop­pers’ Value juice bot­tle, a Citgo oil can and dis­carded clothes.

One crew from Wash­ing­ton Com­mu­nity Fel­low­ship Church on Capi­tol Hill and the city’s Cornell Club worked on a sec­tion of the river un­der the New York Av­enue bridge. They found an old chair, plas­tic toys and a seem­ingly life­time sup­ply of 7Eleven cups and McDon­ald’s con­tain­ers.

“The amount of Sty­ro­foam was amaz­ing,” said Cornell Club mem­ber Ch­eryl Mart­son. “I will never use Sty­ro­foam again.”

The team also spot­ted a Waste Man­age­ment trash truck pass­ing by on the bridge above them with pa­per and plas­tic de­bris fly­ing out of its un­cov­ered top and land­ing in the river.

“In about a sec­ond, they un­did about 2 or 3 bags worth of our work,” said Jim John­ston, also with the Cornell Club. “This river is beau­ti­ful, but also dirty. I don’t think the city ap­pre­ci­ates what it has.”

Yet for all those who treat the river like a land­fill, there are oth­ers re­dis­cov­er­ing its beauty and value.

A bit up­stream, a women’s crew team from the Univer­sity of Mary­land was prac­tic­ing. It was a sign of progress for the river: The grad­ual im­prove­ment of the river means more peo­ple view it as an im­por­tant re­source.

The cleanup was hosted by the Ana­cos­tia Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety, which has spear­headed many ef­forts to re­store the river. Robert Boone, founder of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, said much has im­proved since he first ar­rived to mon­i­tor the Ana­cos­tia about seven years ago. There were no crew teams prac­tic­ing on the river then, but now six do. Vol­un­teers clean up the river eight times a year.

The Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion gave the wa­ter­shed so­ci­ety a $25,000 grant last year to help craft a strat­egy for re­duc­ing and re­mov­ing the trash, and mem­bers cel­e­brated their new plan at a lunchtime party for vol­un­teers af­ter their work. Ken Bar­ton, of NOAA, said get­ting more res­i­dents to care about the river is key to that plan.

“I must have picked up 300 soda bot­tles this morn­ing,” Bar­ton said. “Peo­ple see trees and green and ospreys here and say, ‘Oh, the river’s fine.’ But what they don’t see are the con­tam­i­nants in the sed­i­ments . . . the tu­mors on the fish here. . . . The more peo­ple rec­og­nize what a beau­ti­ful place this can be, the more they’ll be up­set about the trash.”


In Bladens­burg, Alison Spain, left, and Natalie Gril­lon of the Ana­cos­tia Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety help a young mem­ber of the Life Pieces to Mas­ter­pieces group move an en­try in the trash sculp­ture con­test.


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