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Vacation on the Anacostia this year!

This month’s entire issue is devoted to travel and vacation. For many this means seeking out exotic or famous places to visit. But in fact, there are many things you can do this summer on or along the Anacostia River that are difficult to match wherever you might end up going. Here are some examples of what our river offers.

The put-in at Kingman Island. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

Out on the Water
If your interest is rowing or paddling, I suppose you could try the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris, the Tiber in Rome, San Francisco Bay or the Hudson in New York. But you will not find much peace and quiet, and other vessels will be threatening, to say the least. Seeking out smaller rivers may be a solution, but I’m not sure the East River is much quieter than the Hudson. Plus, you have to learn where to rent your boat or where to launch your own.

Back on the friendly Anacostia, you have many options. You can rent canoes and kayaks and launch them or your own vessels at the new Wharf development in Southwest or in the Yards Park near the baseball stadium, as well as in Bladensburg. You can launch your own vessel at Kingman Island, and other put-ins are in the planning stage. Now, you might be interested in more of a wilderness paddle, far from any of the above cities, but have you seen the Anacostia above the New York Avenue bridge? Not a sign of humanity in sight! At least for a while.

The other boating experience on the Anacostia involves motor power. The CSX railroad bridge above Pennsylvania Avenue prevents most motor craft, most of the time, from moving further north, so the river from there to Bladensburg is pretty much a haven for rowers and paddlers. The DC government, however, has supplied the Anacostia Watershed Society and Riverkeeper with boats to provide free group tours up and down the river, and they have some capacity to get under the railroad bridge, depending on the tide. Organize a group for a tour and call them!

Visiting Gardens
If you travel the world to see gardens, as many do, there are many cities to inspire you. London has great displays in Chelsea, Kensington, Buckingham Palace and the Kew Gardens. Vienna offers the Universitat Botanical Garden, the Volksgarten and Schonbrunn. Even Chicago has a wide variety, including the Chicago Botanical Garden, the Ginkgo Organic Gardens and the Morton Arboretum.

But not many places can match the offerings right along our river. There is the incredibly beautiful Brookside Gardens, off Glenallan Avenue below Randolph Road east of Georgia Avenue; it is adjacent to the Northwest Branch, and the Sligo Creek Trail begins just to the south.

Along the tidal river we have two amazing places, the US National Arboretum with 445 acres of open space and extensive experimental gardens of all types; and right across the river the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a special set of ponds and lakes featuring plants of all kinds that thrive in that environment. All three of these gardens provide not only respite; they are active scientific study centers, offering their new discoveries and plants to the world. All offer pleasure and learning to visitors.

The wilderness upstream of New York Avenue. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

Walking in the Wild
Lots of folks take trips to escape the city in summer, and the residents of the Washington, DC, area are no different. Many seek out wilderness experiences far from crowds and built-up areas. The nearby Appalachians offer respite for hikers and campers, but others go west, or north to Canada or overseas for more exotic trails and natural beauty.

The Anacostia is known as an urban river and it can never compare to a wild and scenic river through wilderness. But there are many places where you can seek out isolation from others and be enveloped by nature. These are readily accessible by trails that you can often reach by walking from your house. In other cases, you need to drive a bit or take the Metro.

One of the more distant places to consider is Sandy Spring, a town in eastern Montgomery County where the farthest branch of the Anacostia begins. Turn south off Md. 108 on Meetinghouse Road and park at the old Quaker Church, which was a station on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves. Walk down the road and through a couple of gates until you see a cluster of trees and bushes ahead of you. That is where the Sandy Spring emerges from the ground and our river begins. You can spend hours walking the fields and woods of the area before returning to the city.

Another special wild place is the Northwest Branch Trail between the Adelphi Mill Historic Site on Riggs Road and the Beltway. This is a five-mile roundtrip walk in a deep ravine with hardly a building in sight. The only sound is the stream alongside you rushing over rocks. Although the trail gets rough, you can continue on foot under the Beltway and up the stream for miles.

Biking on Trails
Riding a bicycle is a great way to learn about new places and people, and there are tours taking you all over the world. I have just returned from an amazing trip through Puglia, the heel of Italy. The great advantage of biking along the Anacostia is the extensive network of 85 miles of trails – you don’t have to share the road with cars and trucks. You can choose trails through deep woods carpeted in wildflowers, quiet neighborhoods, open parklands or along rushing streams. An added bonus is that you can take your bike on Metro at no extra charge (except before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. on weekdays) out to the end of a trail and ride home.

Dining al Fresco
One of the pleasantest things to do on vacation is to dine out of doors at great restaurants. It is a major drawing point for visitors to cities like Paris, along the Amalfi coast and throughout the Caribbean. But dining en plein air has come to the Anacostia! It seems like every month a new restaurant opens with outdoor seating at The Wharf in Southwest or in Yards Park. More are sure to come for such newly developing areas as Buzzard Point and Poplar Point. It is not just great food – there are at least three top seafood restaurants with outdoor seating in Yards Park alone. You have the added bonus of river views.

Sometimes we all need to get away – far away to a different land. But it’s nice to know that many of the things we are looking for have popped up in recent years on and along our river, and they are here year-round whenever you want to escape.


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

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