Sneak Peek at the Missing Link

Our River: The Anacostia
Photograph By
Bill Matuszeski

The bridge at Beaverdam Creek

By the time you read this, the last major link in the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail system should be open to the public. Rumor had it the opening ceremony would be on Oct. 3. In mid-September I got on my bike with my camera to see what there was to see.

Arriving at the south end of the new stretch on the east bank of the river at Benning Road, I encountered barriers and signs and a gravel path with no final paving. Discouraging! But after passing under the bridge and going about 300 feet I popped up on new pavement and had a glorious, trouble-free ride on a beautiful trail all the way to Bladensburg Marina, the terminus of dozens of miles of trails along the upper tributaries. Frankly, I think that unfinished stretch at the start was a way of keeping folks away until everything was ready. But the word was out that the trail was essentially passable.

Hikers and bikers have long been frustrated by the end of the trails, at Bladensburg Park and Marina in Maryland on the north and at Benning Road in DC, for those coming north on the riverwalk. After biking the trails along the upper streams down to the Marina, DC neighborhoods west of the river were reachable by either biking the very congested Bladensburg Road or by cutting all the way over to Catholic University and coming down the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Those heading to neighborhoods east of the river had an even rougher time – taking Kenilworth Avenue to Tuxedo Road and around the Cheverly Metro through industrial areas to Sheriff Road. All that is now history.

Completion of the trail was stymied for a long time by a set of tough issues – how to deal with the old DC dump under the Kenilworth Athletic Fields; how to assure both access and security at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens; and how to get a path under the Amtrak and New York Avenue bridges over the river. A solution has been found for each of these.

Starting at the south end, once you get through the initial gravel stretch and reach the pavement, the trail curves up around the site of the old Pepco plant and into the Mayfair/Parkside neighborhood, where it runs with light traffic for a few blocks on Anacostia Avenue, then turns left into its own protected bike lanes along Hayes Street. After a few more blocks the trail goes left on its own and crosses Watts Branch on a beautiful new hiker/biker bridge, entering the edge of Kenilworth Park. Much of the park is unused as it awaits a toxic cleanup to deal with remnants of the dumpsite. The trail sweeps the edge of the old playing fields on one side and a new stadium on the other, curving back toward the river and downhill. Eventually, after the fields are recovered from the toxics, the idea is to relocate the trail down along the river, but for now it avoids the area. It enters deep woods, and you encounter the first major bridge, over the inlet to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

The next stretch is especially beautiful because the trail runs along a spit of land between the river and the ponds of the Aquatic Gardens, eventually reaching the next bridge, over Beaverdam Creek. Then things get dramatic as the trail moves out onto a concrete deck in the river that runs under the Amtrak and New York Avenue bridges, emerging to give great views of the wild stretch between here and Bladensburg – a part of the river seldom seen except by boat until now. The view upstream shows not a single manmade structure. You could be off in a wilderness area if not for the sound of traffic behind you.

At the end of the deck, which must run for 500 feet, you arrive in a wetland area that is being extensively replanted with hundreds of trees along the trail. The tree-planting was literally the only construction activity I saw on my trip, although there are a few places in this stretch where the trail is on an old roadbed and still needs paving.

After passing through the wetlands, the trail approaches its end by dropping down into deep woods filled with wild native clematis, which filled the air with powerful perfume, as if it was part of a dramatic finale, as I pedaled into the marina and park. This last stretch was filled with young people on school teams practicing running on the trail and crew competition with shells on the water.

The trip home was just as delightful. I stayed on the east side of the river below Benning Road, where there is more parkland and less disruption than on the west side.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this trail link to the watershed. For the first time you can walk from Maryland to DC along the river, or from the tidal river upstream to the free-flowing streams. For bikers the new possibilities are endless with more than 80 miles of trails now linked. You can take the Metro Red or Green lines to Glenmont or Greenbelt or any of a number of intermediate stations and return along Paint Branch, Sligo Creek, the Northwest Branch, Indian Creek, or the Northeast Branch to the confluence at Bladensburg and then home to the city along the tidal river.

It’s a whole new experience, and we can thank the National Park Service and authorities in Maryland, Prince Georges, and DC, as well as numerous citizen activist groups, for making it happen. At long last we are all joined together along the Anacostia!

The pier under the New York Avenue and Amtrak bridges.
The signposts along the trail are in place and detailed.
The new trailhead at Benning Road in DC.
Tree-planting along the new trail.
View upstream from the pier above New York Avenue.

Bill Matuszeski writes monthly about the Anacostia River. He is the retired director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, DC vice-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Anacostia River, and a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River.

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