Water Ways, Our Watershed

Water finds a way. We find a way. This is a love letter for what could be and also what is…"our" watershed, the Anacostia Watershed. We live in a series of connected cities and towns, i.e. urban sprawl, radiating out from Washington, D.C. The sprawl (buildings, roads, side walks, etc.) stops in long slices of greenery and adventure along the tributaries feeding the Anacostia. The Northwest Branch, Sligo Creek, and Long Branch are all in the neighborhood and run/tumble to the Anacostia River. The Anacostia itself is a grand tidal river and the view of it through the interlaced branches of dogwoods at the National Arboretum is one that cannot easily be forgotten. Other views of the River include smoke stacks, concrete walls, and parts squeezed between highways and bridges roaring with commuter traffic.

Each of these waterways holds obvious and sad evidence of human habitation: tires, cans, not to mention profound chemical imbalance. Once I even saw two guys washing a truck parked in the middle of Sligo Creek. On the other hand, these treasures of nature have become much improved and are improving every day through the care and attention of individuals and organizations (see below).

Anacostia translates to “village trading center” from the Nacotchtank Indian word, anaquash.  I imagine it as the center of our natural world. One of my favorite blogs, let the children play, shows a photo of young children wading barefoot into a stream in Australia. If only. Our Sligo Creek is so filled with shenanigans, children and pets should simply keep out unless they are looking forward to a Silkwood shower.

So how do we reclaim our village center? Of course we can support the organizations listed below through hard work or donations. We can become active and loving caretakers of our watershed. We can make the human “presence” different from discarded tires and carryout containers.

We can start from square one.

The Association for Childhood Education International has just published The Earth Is Our Home:  Children Caring for the Environment.

If we are to create a brighter future, the world’s children must understand their role in safeguarding and improving an environment that is being increasingly desecrated by global greed. Teachers have the potential to create future generations of responsible citizens.

Our future begins by introducing children to our watershed. This is reshaping the way I think that introduction should play out. With young children, experiential learning is key and in this case and at this time, this does not necessarily mean experiencing just the water and the environment around the water in a casual, walk-through kind of way. Through onsite visits, we experience the proximity of human habitation. We see the beauty that is so obviously present at every turn, but we also can focus on the damage inflicted.

Cavalier splashing in the water washes away the very real negative impact humans have had on the waterways. Quite the opposite, prohibiting splashing may actually have greater impact. Children NEED water. If they are taught that the creek is “sick” and cannot be played in, that might truly “land” and build a profound appreciation resulting in future action. We can place value on plants by allowing these to hold on in natural surroundings rather than picking flowers, gathering leaves, collecting acorns, and dragging them back for artificial displays in classrooms. The National Parks out west take great care in alerting visitors to a small but critical life force--the soil crust--underfoot. Walk around, step gently, leave no marks!

Seeing how waterfowl nest amid floating plastic bags and bottles would change how a child views waste management. A sort and match activity of found plastics to ones we find in our own homes reinforces recycling. Finding feral dog tracks in the mud and evidence of a recent kill along the marsh points out the real impact abandoned pets have on native species. Small activities that really only scratch the surface, but send big messages.

In the meantime, I want to revisit my favorite parts of the watershed and give the creeks, banks, marshes, and river some much-needed love. I encourage you to do the same. Then we will work together to find a way to create future caretakers.

Watershed Organizations:

Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership

Anacostia Watershed Society

Friends of Sligo Creek

Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Places to Visit:

To find the trails which follow the Paint Branch, Sligo Creek, and with some searching parts of Long Branch, visit Montgomery Parks. You can pick up more of the Paint Branch on Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation.

To see the Anacostia from the up close to the scenic views, visit the National Arboretum, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and back to Prince George's County for a collection of river views and activities.