The city will spend nearly $5 mil­lion to re­store two river is­lands in “the Year of the Ana­cos­tia.”

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY RACHEL CHASON rachel.chason@wash­post.com

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) an­nounced Fri­day a $4.7 mil­lion in­vest­ment in two is­lands in the Ana­cos­tia River that have been ne­glected for decades amid stalled plans from de­vel­op­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Bowser, who has de­clared 2018 “the Year of the Ana­cos­tia,” also des­ig­nated por­tions of 45-acre King­man Is­land and five-acre Her­itage Is­land as state con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, which re­stricts their use to en­vi­ron­men­tal, ed­u­ca­tion and recre­ational pur­poses. The funds go to­ward out­door class­rooms, raised walk­ways, a float­ing lab plat­form and bath­rooms.

“Our goal is a fish­able, swimmable Ana­cos­tia River, and over the past few years, we have made tremen­dous progress to­ward that goal,” Bowser said. “How­ever, there is more to do, and th­ese con­ser­va­tion des­ig­na­tions and this new fund­ing will help us get that work done.”

Im­prove­ments to King­man and Her­itage is­lands could mean “a much higher level of out­door en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion” for chil­dren who live east of the Ana­cos­tia in the District’s poor and pre­dom­i­nantly African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods, said Doug Siglin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ana­cos­tia Water­front Trust.

The Rev. Keith D. Kitchen, pas­tor of the Zion Bap­tist Church of East­land Gar­dens in Ward 7, said when young peo­ple see the govern­ment is se­ri­ous about in­vest­ing in the river, “their self-es­teem will rise and their learn­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties will in­crease.”

Stu­dents al­ready ex­plore the is­lands, which can be reached by walk­ways from a park­ing lot at RFK Sta­dium, but are limited by the lack of bath­rooms and shel­ter, said Kitchen, who of­ten walks the trails there be­fore he heads to church. He called the is­lands a re­minder of the nat­u­ral beauty that can ex­ist even when lo­cated “on a river choked with pol­lu­tion.”

The fate of King­man Is­land has long been tied to the sta­dium. When the Redskins left in the mid1990s, so, too, did the is­land be­gin to feel aban­doned. That has changed in re­cent years with in­creased in­vest­ment from ad­vo­cates, who Kitchen said plan to con­tinue rais­ing money to fund an en­vi­ron­men­tal cen­ter, which would prob­a­bly cost an­other $5 mil­lion.

The slow-mov­ing river that di­vides the District has long col­lected trash and sewage. But be­gin­ning this spring, the Ana­cos­tia will be sub­stan­tially cleaner be­cause a mas­sive un­der­ground tun­nel be­ing built by D.C. Wa­ter is ex­pected to di­vert 98 per­cent of waste­water flow.

Once the tun­nel is com­pleted, and as­sum­ing it has not rained re­cently, Siglin said he would “hap­pily jump in” the river — a sug­ges­tion that would have seemed un­think­able not long ago.

The idea that the river was toxic “be­came both a real and sym­bolic thing that spoke to the di­vi­sion in our city,” said D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber David Grosso (I-At Large), who in­tro­duced a bill with coun­cil mem­ber Vin­cent C. Gray (DWard 7) this month to des­ig­nate King­man Is­land a state park.

“If we can do more on both sides of the river, it can be a fo­cus point for bring­ing our city to­gether,” said Grosso, who cred­ited for­mer mayor An­thony A. Wil­liams (D) with pro­mot­ing the Ana­cos­tia River’s health as a way to unify the city.

Wil­liams planned a $9 mil­lion en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter on King­man Is­land in 2005; how­ever, those plans were aban­doned when Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took of­fice. A plan ap­proved by the D.C. Coun­cil in 1997 would have cre­ated an amuse­ment park on the site, but that was shut down by the District’s fed­er­ally ap­pointed con­trol board.

The first at­tempt to de­velop the is­lands, which were cre­ated by the Army Corps of En­gi­neers in 1916 from soil dredged from the river bot­tom, was when Lady Bird John­son re­cruited an ar­chi­tect to de­velop an ed­u­ca­tional cen­ter in 1966, Siglin said. That failed, too.

But Bowser’s com­mit­ment will make a dif­fer­ence, in part be­cause it is “less grandiose” than pre­vi­ous plans and in part be­cause it has sup­port from the com­mu­ni­ties on both sides of the river, Siglin said.

“This is the fifth time we’ve tried to do some­thing good on King­man Is­land, but I’m pretty con­fi­dent we can re­ally get some­thing done this time,” he said.

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