Sunset over the Anacostia River
Sunset over the Anacostia River. Credit: Joseph Gruber via Flickr.

Welcome back, ReLeaf enthusiasts! While it’s been a long road and we’re entering the home stretch, this week’s journey certainly isn’t too far from home for us here at American Forests. In fact, we’re venturing just across D.C. borders to replant with our northern neighbor, Maryland, at the Anacostia River Park!

During this 1991 venture, we partnered with the Prince George’s Departments of Environmental Resources and Public Works, Maryland Forest Park and Wildlife Services, Maryland National Capital Parks and more to plant more than 760 trees within 1,000 feet of the tidal waters of the Anacostia River, which flows from Prince George’s County, through D.C. and into the Potomac River. If there was any river that needed the help, the Anacostia is a worthy contender. Undoubtedly, the Anacostia is both ecologically and historically valuable: John Smith once recorded in his journal that he sailed up the “Eastern Branch” of the river in 1608 while searching for the Potomac, lending it to be called the “Eastern Branch of the Potomac River” in primitive U.S. maps.

In addition to the historical significance of the river’s ties with John Smith and the native Anacostan tribe, the waterway provides crucial habitat source for dozens of species — including Great Egret, Eastern Red-backed Salamander, White perch, Blackburnian warbler, Greater yellowlegs and more.

Despite the waterway’s heritage and refuge for wildlife, rampant pollution and deforestation of areas flanking the river have given it an undesirable name in the last several hundred years — D.C.’s “Forgotten River.” Raw sewage from antiquated sewer systems has spewed billions of gallons of pollution into the river. Coupled with deforestation — approximately 70 percent of the original forest coverage around the river has been removed — and we have a massive problem on our hands.

However, efforts have been made to help clean the river in the last two decades or so — and American Forests is proud to have been part of that effort. By planting more than 760 trees directly by the river, we helped provide additional wildlife habitat and provided an area of buffer for the river, as trees are excellent pollution interceptors and natural filters. In addition, pump station rehabilitation, stormwater management and the Bandalong Litter Trap have all been implemented since our planting to further remove floatable litter, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants from the river.

Undoubtedly, there’s still work to be done to help the Anacostia. That’s why now — 24 years and nearly 1,000 restoration projects later — we’re still replanting in our own backyard with Anacostia watershed tributaries. In fact, we partnered with the Anacostia Watershed Society and Alcoa Foundation just this year to plant 110 trees along Wells Run, a tributary of the Anacostia. Such efforts will further reduce stormwater volume and contaminant levels, helping to return the Anacostia to more habitable, swimmable and cleaner conditions.