Con­ser­va­tion­ists De­tail Ini­tia­tive To Re­store a Pair of Ur­ban Oases

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Region - By David A. Fahren­thold

King­man Is­land, a muddy fin­ger of land in the Ana­cos­tia River, was sup­posed to be­come a land­ing strip, a chil­dren’s re­cre­ation cen­ter, then a theme park. In­stead, for many years, it has been used like a land­fill.

Yes­ter­day, a group of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and city de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials an­nounced their am­bi­tion to re­open the is­land and an­other nearby, out­fit­ted with hik­ing trails and an ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter. They said the plan is to cel­e­brate the long- ne­glected is­lands for what they have al­ways been: wooded, wild places hid­den in the mid­dle of the Dis­trict.

“ This is the big­gest new park that the city has had in decades,” Stephen W. Cole­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the group Wash­ing­ton Parks & Peo­ple, said yes­ter­day dur­ing a “ grand open­ing” event on the is­land. “ It wasn’t a park be­fore. It was a dump­ing ground.”

King­man Is­land starts south of RFK Sta­dium and ex­tends north past Ben­ning Road NE. Next to it is Her­itage Is­land, a smaller piece of land vis­i­ble from the sta­dium park­ing lots. To­gether, they cover about 45 acres.

Both is­lands were cre­ated in 1916 with mud the U. S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers dredged from the river bot­tom. Since then, the is­lands have be­come mostly wilder­ness, grown up with trees and thick un­der­brush. And, for al­most as long, peo­ple have been schem­ing about turn­ing them into some­thing else.

In the 1940s, there was a plan to build a private airstrip. In the 1970s, a chil­dren’s re­cre­ation cen­ter was pro­posed. In the 1980s, an In­dian phi­lan­thropist who was also an Ital­ian count­ess sought to build an amuse­ment park. That pro­posal, called “ Chil­dren’s Is­land,” was re­jected by the Dis­trict’s fi­nan­cial con­trol board in 1999.

Dur­ing the wran­gling, the is­land was kept off- lim­its: City of­fi­cials said a fence was put up at least two decades ago. But peo­ple still came. City work­ers dumped leave. Oth­ers dumped bricks, pipes, tree stumps and other waste. Home­less peo­ple camped out. And some na­ture- lovers made ex­cur­sions to see foxes, wa­ter­fowl and other wildlife.

“ It was just amaz­ing to be so close to an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment and be so far away from an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment,” said Alphonso Coles, 50. Once, he spot­ted some­thing in the Ana­cos­tia that looked like the big­gest rat he had ever seen. “ It was a beaver,” Coles said. Now, the Ana­cos­tia Wa­ter­front Corp., a city­char­tered de­vel­op­ment group that con­trols the is­lands, is try­ing to give oth­ers that same kind of ex­pe­ri­ence. At yes­ter­day’s event, of­fi­cials said they plan to clean up the is­land’s trash, clear trails and build a glass- box En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter ex­tend­ing out over the wa­ter.

But of­fi­cials said they do not have the mil­lions of dol­lars needed to build the cen­ter. And, de­spite yes­ter­day’s grand open­ing, the is­land is not yet open to the pub­lic. Peo­ple who want to visit were asked to con­tact the Ana­cos­tia Wa­ter­front Cor­po­ra­tion ( www. ana­cos­ti­awater­front. net) or the Earth Con­ser­va­tion Corps ( www. ecc1. org) about ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams on the is­lands.

Still, peo­ple who know the is­lands said they were hope­ful that this vi­sion would be the one that fi­nally comes true.

“ See­ing this come back again,” said Frazer Wal­ton Jr., 57, who grew up play­ing on the is­land and is now pres­i­dent of the King­man Park Civic As­so­ci­a­tion, “ is re­ally one of the great­est things the city can do.” Staff re­searcher Karl Evanzz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

PHO­TOS BY JAHI CHIKWENDIU — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

From left, Jailan Moore, 4, Thel­ton Franklin, 10, and Tren­ton Franklin, 8, all of Ana­cos­tia, get painted tat­toos from Nico Piro of the Dis­cov­ery Creek Chil­dren’s Mu­seum at the grand open­ing of King­man and Her­itage is­lands.

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