On Friday, January 12, in honor of the Year of the Anacostia, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that portions of both Kingman and Heritage Islands have been designated a State Conservation Area, and the southern portion of Kingman Island a Critical Wildlife Area.
The Mayor also announced that the District would invest $4.7 million in educational and recreational improvements to the island, to include outdoor classrooms, bathrooms and accessible routes and pathways for visitors.
Noting that the Anacostia River is a place where the District comes together, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) said he was excited about what the future holds for the area and grateful for the day’s declaration.
“This is a special, special place in our city where you forget the hustle and the bustle and you realize you are right on the river,” he said. “The steps that are being taken today I think are just phenomenal for the future of this space.”
“This is legacy type stuff. This is the type of thing to make sure this is here for my kids, my grandkids and generations to come.”
Mayor Bowser and Allen joined Department of Energy and Environment Director Tommy Wells, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) Commissioner Bob Coomber (7D01), Doug Siglin of the Anacostia Watershed Trust, Director of Living Classrooms at Kingman Islands Lee Cain as well as President of the River Terrace Community Organization and member of Friends of Heritage and Kingman Island, Melissa Freese.
Wells agreed with Allen, saying that it was the many people and organization who had worked for years to bring the moment to fruition. He noted that after fifty years of absence, the fourth generation of eagles was now nesting in the District. “The ones in Arboretum, they feed solely off the Anacostia River,” he said. “We have been making progress.”
National Park Service (NPS) Ranger Vince Vaise took advantage of a break in the rain and brought the thunder when, during his remarks, he said that the importance of a centennial celebration such as that for the Year of the Anacostia was that it wakes people from what he called their “historical amnesia.” Reminding the assembled of the important events that had taken place along the shores, from the naturalist collecting of noted statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to the Great Pool Integration Riots of 1949, which broke down the final barriers of recreational segregation in the District, Vaise said that the designation of the area as a conservation area helped wake residents up to the importance of the river.
“The health of the people is linked to the health of the river. It is that simple,” he said. “Maybe we’re going to wake up from that historical amnesia,” he said.
“What’s glorious about today,” he said, noting the groups that paved the way for the announcement, “is that we are making history today.”
River Terrace Community Organization President Melissa Freese acknowledged the work of many of those groups, noting that many people who fought for the preservation of the islands came from the River Terrace neighborhood. In particular she remembered George Gurley, a River Terrace resident, former ANC Commissioner, activist and self-described “urban protector” who fought to protect Kingman Island.
She noted that Kingman Island has been a part of River Terrace since the development was completed, with residents cleaning and working with the island. “They were around the island when it wasn’t in great shape,” she said, “so it is really wonderful to have the Mayor and the administration decide to commit and to invest in this island.”
“For too long, the Anacostia River has been defined by what it separates,” she added. “The time has come for us to change the narrative, and focus on what the Anacostia River can do and how it will bring us together.”