On a frigid, windy Saturday afternoon, 12 hikers bundled up and picked their way along the unblazed route of the newly proposed Suitland Parkway Northside Trail.
Led by Nathan Harrington of Ward 8 Woods Conservancy, the group began their hike along the original Carver Trail, which begins at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. The Carver Trail, which commemorates famed naturalist Washington Carver, offers a gentle .4-mile loop through oak forest and mountain laurel.
Harrington then led the group to bushwhack along the route of the proposed new trail, maneuvering the top of the steep, trash-strewn ridge above Suitland Parkway between Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road.
The new trail is proposed to run just below the fence-line for apartment buildings and condos that face Gainsville Street SE. This “no man’s land” is a frequent site for illegal dumping and littering. Broken bottles, food containers, abandoned household items, and other detritus marred the winter forest, as hikers climbed over fallen logs, balanced on the steep slope.
At key locations, Harrington stopped the group and described the challenges and expenses of routing a new trail, including the removal of soil required to provide a flat surface for the trail, and other strategies of runoff management that creates a sustainable trail.
Ward 8 Woods Conservancy, a small, community-engaged nonprofit, has been working to remove trash and raise awareness about the ecological issues that impact residents of southeast neighborhoods for ten years. Led by Harrington, the organization hires people who live in the neighborhoods they serve and organizes volunteers to clean-up and restore the wooded areas of Ward 8. Harrington and others see this community-engaged work as a means to heal and empower people who have experienced oppression and trauma.
Harrington and other naturalists have argued that developing trails through wooded areas has a number of important benefits. Obvious benefits include being outside, exercising and spending time in natural environments. But, cultivating a sense that others are present and value the woods (“eyes on the ground,” Harrington calls this) also decreases the chances of illegal dumping and littering. Developed trails better facilitate the removal of invasive species and allow for management of the deer population, as more people and civic organizations have access to and a sense of investment in these natural areas.
The new trail would extend the Fort Circle Hiker-Biker Trail which begins across from the Anacostia Museum at Battery Rickets/Fort Stanton Park. The six-mile Fort Circle Hiker-Biker trail weaves through the varied terrain of Fort Stanton Park and ends at 42nd and Grant Streets NE in Ward 7.
Donations to support the develop of the Suitland Parkway Northside Trail or other Ward 8 Woods activities can be arranged via www.ward8woods.org. Ward 8 Woods Conservancy is a grassroots nonprofit organization. All donations are tax deductible.
Michelle LaFrance is an English Professor, writer, and writing teacher living in SW.