Volunteers bag trash and remove garbage from the Anacostia River. Photo by Lawrence Howard.

Along the river’s edge in Southeast D.C., early on a chilly but beautiful Saturday morning, many people from diverse backgrounds and nonprofit groups gathered with one purpose in mind: to collect trash from the banks of the toxic Anacostia River.  

The annual cleanup, part of the Anacostia Restoration Project, brought a brigade of volunteers armed with plastic gloves, trash bags, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, which removed more than four tons of trash from the river and its banks at Kingman Island, adjacent to RFK Stadium.  

Braced with two wooden bridges spanning sections of the river, idyllic Kingman Island is relatively secluded, and even the most frenetic would find it hard not to be affected by its Zen-like beauty and tranquility.  

Photo by Lawrence Howard.

The volunteers who gathered to help restore that promise removed broken furniture, car parts, bicycle parts and buried trash. Children as young as three years old participated with their parents. Teen groups by the dozen, from Anacostia and other D.C. neighborhoods, picked up garbage from the target area.  

Beth Gunter, an Earth Share organizer, was pleased with the turnout after months of preparation and hard work by other key personnel from various nonprofit organizations.  

“What a way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day!” Gunter said. “Over 400 volunteers from D.C. communities came out here to participate in our Earth Day celebration.”  

Gunter said that more than 250 bags of trash were collected, along with 150 bags of recyclable materials. Other organizations that contributed significantly were AARP DC; Living Classroom DC, Sierra Club, Tommy Wells; State Radio; SRC: Accenture and Dickstein Shapiro.  

Many Earth Day volunteers were concerned by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s recent proposal to divert funds previously earmarked for the Anacostia River’s cleanup. D.C.’s nickel grocery bag tax, which allows a cent or two for the grocery store and the rest for Anacostia River cleanup, generated $150,000 in January.  

Photo by Lawrence Howard.

According to the Mayor’s office, some if not all of these funds may be diverted to street maintenance within the District. Volunteers were particularly concerned that the environmentally conscious appeal of the tax would be undermined.  

But for the volunteers who removed so much trash from the river on Earth Day, their achievement could not be overshadowed. It’s a beautiful thing when a plan comes together, when the accomplishment of a common task prevails over political conflict or hidden agendas. Or maybe not so surprising, given the outcome.  

For those who look forward to a day when people can enjoy nature’s gift after the full restoration of the eight-mile Anacostia River and the Anacostia park, it’s worth the effort. The river that runs through the heart of the District and stretches as far as Prince George’s County is still receiving much local and federal attention.  

More than two billion dollars’ worth of restoration funds are earmarked for the Anacostia Restoration Project via several government agencies and nonprofits.  

The Anacostia may be dwarfed by the 383-mile Potomac River, but as a place of access to one natural special encounter, it’s second to none.