Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Volunteers continue to step up. When will the Park Service?

Despite the often rainy weather, April was a huge volunteer month at the Parkway.

On Friday, April 22, 20 staff from the U.S. Coast Guard's Personnel Service Center cleaned the beautiful but heavily polluted area behind Brother Place SE.

The next day, April 23, nearly 100 volunteers braved a cool rain at Shepherd Parkway as part of the Anacostia Watershed Society's annual Earth Day Clean-Up.  Work sites included the foot of Malcolm X Avenue, 2nd Street, the Lebaum Street.

Over the two days, we removed over 300 bags full of trash, 112 tires, and untold thousands of pounds of car parts, carpets, furniture, and other large items.

Areas of the park where you could not see the ground when we began are starting to look like healthy forests again. New dumping continues to occur but is less frequent than in the past, and we strive to undo it as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, our heroic volunteer efforts have yet to be matched by any serious action on the part of the parks "managers" at National Capital Parks-East. After five years of clean-ups and nearly two years of meetings, Shepherd Parkway still has

-No signage
-No public programming
-No trail access
-No anti-dumping enforcement
-No historical interpretation, save for one sign
-No serious plan for its future

NPS sites in the whiter, more affluent parts of DC have all of these. The neglect of Shepherd Parkway is a classic case of environmental racism, and it must end.

Please sign the Shepherd Parkway Call to Action to let NPS leaders know that Ward 8 deserves better.

Our next Community Clean-Up will be on Saturday, May 14 from 11 to 1. Meet at the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE.

While supplies last, all volunteers will receive a bright yellow Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day t-shirt.

Monday, March 28, 2016

An Interview with Jim Foster, President of the Anacostia Watershed Society

Nathan: What makes the Anacostia River unique?

Jim: It’s the river that flows through the nation’s capital. It is certainly an urban river and has been the recipient of much abuse, like other rivers. What really sets it apart is the federal government’s influence and impact on this river compared to other rivers in the county. That’s really unique.

Nathan: Of all the work you’ve done to restore the river and the watershed, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

Jim: I think we’re most proud of raising the awareness of this river after generations of telling people, “Don’t go there, that river’s dirty.” We’ve worked really hard to reconnect people to the river and weave the river back into the fabric of the communities. Is it done? Heck no. Is it better than it was? Heck yes. Mission accomplished? No.

Nathan: One of the things that I deal with a lot as a Ward 8 resident and leader Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway is illegal dumping. We spent a lot of time removing trash that other people have thrown, but I’ve yet to glean much insight into how we might change people’s mindset or behavior.

Jim: I have a very literal approach to that- no pun intended. The reality is that people take care of the space when they feel connected to it and they feel part of the community. The people who are doing the dumping are coming from somewhere else for the most part.The people that are doing the littering in their communities want their space to be clean, but they disassociate themselves from the particular place where they are littering.  

We are working hard to change some of that behavior: witness the bag fee and the polystyrene container ban in DC. We’ve been working this year on bottle deposit legislation in Maryland. It is really about behavior change: “Hey, I own this place, and I respect it.”

Home ownership is 27 percent east of the river and 75 percent west of the river. How do we change that dynamic so more people are invested in their communities and want to help take of them?

Nathan: I get the impression that Prince George’s County lags behind the District and Montgomery County when it comes to environment laws to benefit the watershed. Is that correct? If so, why do you think that is?

Jim: In many respects they do lag far behind. It was run a fiefdom for many years. There were ten families that kind of ran the place, and it was all about them and development.

Montgomery County has been a little bit more progressive in their approach to the environment, but they’ve also done a lot of damage upfront, so they have a long way to go.

What we are seeing in Prince George’s is a sea change in the leadership. County Executive Baker has really worked hard to change things. Can you do it in eight years after 400 years of abuse? No. But he has been able to bring some progressive leadership in: witness Adam Ortiz, director of the Department of the Environment.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

March Madnesss

Steve Coleman, founder and director of Washington Parks and People once told me, "Backsliding is the kiss of death."

He was talking out illegal dumping and his experience leading the epic restoration of Watts Branch (AKA Marvin Gaye) Park in Ward 7. As important as it is to tackle trash that's been there for many years, he said, it's even more important to make sure that the areas that have already been cleaned stay clean. Undoing new dumping as soon as possible sends a message to the community that times have changed and the dumpers will not win.

With that in mind, the Saturday, March 12 clean-up focused in the vicinity of  249 Newcomb Street SE, where it seems an entire apartment- rugs, furniture, mattresses, clothes, shoes, food- was dumped in December.  

Fifteen Cub Scouts from Pack 1657 at First Baptist Church of Glenarden were there, as were stalwarts Ellen Williams, Jonathan Taylor, Erick Whitaker and John Leach.

We removed an estimated 2,000 pounds (one ton) of man-made crap from the woods.

April is going to be a huge month at Shepherd Parkway. Join us on Saturday, April 2 from 11 am to 2 pm for a special work day with students Georgetown University.  Meet at the grassy area opposite 439 Lebaum Street SE.

The following Saturday, April 9, is our regular Community Clean-Up from 11 to 1 at our usual meeting place at the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE.

On Friday, April 22 U.S. Coast Guard personnel will be working from 8 am to noon at a sight to be

The grant finale will be the Anacostia Watershed Society Earth Day Clean-Up on Saturday, April 23 from 9am to noon, meeting at the corner of 2nd Street and Malcolm X Avenue SE.

For more information on any of these events, contact Nathan at nathanbharrington@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shepherd Parkway needs your help this Spring

Here are three things you can do:
1Sign the Shepherd Parkway Call to Action

We've accomplished a great deal through the labors of our incredible volunteers, but Shepherd Parkway cannot realize its potential as a community asset without major investments by National Capital Parks-East (NACE), and it's up to us to create the political will.

The Call to Action, started in July 2014, lays out our vision for the park and calls on NACE and other decision makers to do their part. Please sign if you have not already. 

2. Donate to our Go Fund Me Campaign

This is a labor of love for a us, but we also need money to sustain and build on our efforts.

Your gift will help us provide small perks like coffee and donuts to our volunteers, tools and equipment to keep them working, and handbills and lawn signs to spread the word.

We are a grassroots, shoestring operation. Making a little bit go a long way is what we do.

Give $5, $10, or whatever you can afford.

The residents, volunteers, plants, animals, and river will thank you. 

3. Attend a Community Clean-Up

There is still far too much trash and invasive species in the park.

Join us from 11 am to 1 pm on 

          Saturday, March 12
          Saturday, April 9
          Saturday, May 14
We meet in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE.

Wear boots, long sleeves, and clothes you don't mind getting dirty.

Gloves, bags, and refreshments will be provided.

Questions? Contact Nathan Harrington 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Battling styrofoam with the law on our side

Since it's invention by Dow Chemical in 1941, extruded polystyene, better known by the brand name Styrofoam, has been a menace to soil and water around the world. 

Although its mass is 98% air, the beads which contain the air are not biodegradable or recyclable and have been designated by the EPA as a possible carcinogen.
Because it is extremely lightweight, foam is easily blown by wind and washed by rain. Styrofoam plates, cups and boxes brake up into tiny pieces as they age, fouling soil and the water and poisoning animals that ingest them. 
Their glossy white color stands out against earth tones. 
As of January 1, 2016, it in unlawful for restaurants, carry outs, food trucks and cafeterias in the District of Columbia to use foam containers. 

Your coffee, curry or fish sandwich should be served in a paper or plastic container. If it does come in styrofoam do your part by submitting a tip to the DC Department of Energy and Environment. 

Unfortunately, use of styrofoam remains legal in the following cases:
  • Food containers (such as egg cartons) packaged outside of the District but sold within
  •  Raw meat, fish, poultry, or seafood sold at markets
  • Foam products purchased at stores for home use
Montgomery County, Maryland has a ban similar to DC's but foam containers are still ubiquitous throughout the rest of Maryland and Virginia. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Freedom Lays an Egg

Freedom, one of the American Bald Eagles nesting in the southern part of Shepherd Parkway, has just laid an egg.

Check out shots from the Eaglecam courtesy of our friends at Earth Conservation Corps.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Park Service evades questions about mitigation, commits to nothing

We at the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway knew something was wrong when officials at National Capital Parks-East (NACE), the park's  federal overseer, wouldn't tell us anything about the mitigation funds they would be receiving in compensation for the loss to eight acres of the park to a road  leading to the adjacent U.S. Department of Homeland Security campus.  

It took a Freedom of Information Act request for us to ascertain the amount: $431,000. This is a lot compared to what is spent on Shepherd Parkway in a normal year, but a relative pittance when one considers the millions the land is worth.   

On January 20, members of the Committee meet with Deputy Superintendent Ann Honious and Acting Director of Maintenance Dana Bramble at NACE headquarters in Anacostia Park to discuss the use of these funds. 

We presented them with the same wish list we've been pushing for since we launched the Shepherd Parkway Call to Action in July 2014:
  • The development and execution of a comprehensive signage plan to identify Shepherd Parkway and its boundaries and deter dumping

  • Replacement of the kiosk in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues
  • A summer youth work crew to assist with trash and invasive species removal and community education

  • A series of free ranger-led programs in the park, including urban wildlife, Civil War history, National Night Out, and concerts
  • Initial research for a possible hiking trail 

To our astonishment, they rebuffed each these ideas and continued to cite lack of funds and bureaucratic obstacles as excuses for inaction.  

In past meetings with the Committee, Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail, Deputy Superintendent Elisa Kunz and Ms. Honious had each in turn expressed conditional support for these projects and promised to at least look into them.   

Those were the good old days. Instead of moving forward, they are now backsliding, saying that they cannot commit to doing anything specific at Shepherd Parkway. 

Ms. Honious stated that a decision had been made -without consulting the Committee- to spend the mitigation funds on improvements to the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues. 

When asked for details on what kinds of improvements were being considered, she became evasive, saying only "Something to make people feel safe." She alluded discussions with of "other stakeholders" but refused to elaborate or explain why the Committee should be kept in the dark.

We do not necessarily object to spending the funds on that area which, unlike the vast wooded areas of park, is heavily used by residents. But we emphasized that the decision-making process must be transparent and include community and Committee input.  We also argued that any effort to enhance the space should include a new kiosk and public programs. The NACE response amounted to "maybe," which almost always means "no." 

We are deeply disappointed that, despite our sustained a large-scale volunteer mobilization to clean-up Shepherd Parkway over the past four years, those whose job it is to protect the park and serve the public seem to have other priorities. 

They show little interest in remedying the gross disparity between Shepherd Parkway and parks in more affluent parts of DC when it comes to accessibility, interpretation, and recreational opportunities. They have recently conducted themselves in a secretive and unaccountable manner all too familiar to Ward 8 residents.

To break the current impasse and advance environmental justice east of the river, we need to educate and organize residents to generate enough political pressure that the Park Service can longer ignore us. 

If you have not already, please sign the Call to Action. Doing so will generate emails to key decision makers. We are reaching out to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and member of the DC Council who share our vision of Shepherd Parkway as a special place where residents can learn, exercise, and experience nature. 

We are in this for the long haul. As Fredrick Douglas famously said, power concedes nothing without demand.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Year in Review and GoFundMe Appeal

Dear Friends,

As 2015 draws to a close, the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway reflects with pride on a year of steady progress.

We held 20 volunteer events, with 422 volunteers logging 815 hours of work. We hosted groups from John Hopkins University, Catholic University, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Energy, Sandy Spring Friends School, and others.

After four years of sustained effort, we have removed more than 90% of the trash that had built up over decades in the area north of Malcolm X Avenue. When we started, you couldn't see the ground in some places; now, almost no trash is visible from the street.

We hope to remove the last remaining deposits in the north section by the middle of 2016 and then shift our trash removal efforts south to the area between Malcolm X Avenue and South Capitol Street, where we focused during 2013 but still have a ways to go.

On the invasive species front, we made significant headway against the massive infestation of English ivy that threatens hundreds of trees in central part of the park. With the continued help of our volunteers, we aim cut the vines from the remaining trees by the end of 2016.

In an unfortunate but long-expected development, Shepherd Parkway shrank from 205 acres to 197 when eight acres were transferred to the General Services Administration for construction of a roadway and bike path leading to the Homeland Security campus.

We recently learned of the silver lining: the National Park Service has received $431,000 in mitigation funds which will be spent to improve Shepherd Parkway. We are thrilled that the park will finally be receiving the resources it deserves, and are in dialogue with our colleagues at the Park Service on how to make the best strategic use of the funds.

The Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway is a labor of love for us, but we also need money to sustain and build on our efforts.

Please consider making a year end gift to the Committee. 

Your gift will help us provide small perks like coffee and donuts to our volunteers, tools and equipment to keep them working, and handbills and lawn signs to spread the word.

NPS rules prevent them from paying for these things, and we value our independence. We are a grassroots, shoestring operation. Making a little bit go a long way is what we do.

Please click here to give $5, $10, or whatever you can afford through 

The residents, volunteers, plants, animals, and river thank you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Nathan Harrington
Chair, Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

High hopes for roadway mitigation

Shepherd Parkway has some interesting neighbors. To the west, the traffic of I-295 and Joint Base Anacostia Bolling. To the eat, the residential streets of Congress Heights and Bellevue. To the south, DC Village and two other parks, Oxon Cove and Oxon Run.

To the north is the former St. Elizabeths Hospital, a federal institution for the mentally ill established in 1855. The West Campus's 176 acres and 61 buildings are a National Historic Landmark. When construction is complete they will house offices for more than 14,000 employees of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In 2013 the U.S. Coast Guard became the first DHS agency to move in.

To prevent all those commuters from wrecking havoc on Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues, the General Services Administration (GSA) concluded that a new access road going through Shepherd Parkway from I-295 onto the campus was necessary. 

After years of wrangling between the National Park Service (which fought unsuccessfully to to preserve the park land) eight acres of Shepherd Parkway have been transferred to the GSA to make way for the road ans a parallel bike path. For more info, see the April 2015 post "Road and bike path construction to begin soon." Six months later, for reasons unknown, construction has yet to begin. We are not complaining.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) "mitigation" must be undertaken to compensate for federal projects that have a significant impact on the environment. In this case, the mitigation involves GSA transferring funds to the Park Service. This is a tremendous opportunity to invest in the remaining 197 acres of Shepherd Parkway the resources they have been denied for too long. 

The process has been opaque, and our inquiries about the status of the funds went unanswered until today. According to National Capital Parks-East (NACE) Deputy Superintendent Ann Honious:

"The NPS did receive mitigation funds for the transfer of Shepherd Parkway acreage to the GSA.  These funds are currently in a reimbursable account and need to be obligated by the end of this fiscal year.  The funds will be used to improve Shepherd Parkway, not another national park, and we are working to develop the specific projects. We are evaluating the suggestion...to use some of the funds to rent large equipment to assist in cleaning up decades old dumping as well as other suggested projects. All proposed project ideas are being prioritized based on the ability to obligate the funds this year.  Obligating funds is contingent upon being able to complete planning, design and required compliance." 

In the category of "other suggested projects," the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway advocates:

-The development and execution of a comprehensive signage plan to identify Shepherd Parkway and its boundaries

-A series of free ranger-led programs in the park, including urban wildlife, Civil War history, National Night Out, and concerts

-Summer youth work crews to assist with trash and invasive species removal
-Replacement of the kiosk in the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues

-Initial research for a possible hiking trail

We still don't know the amount of the mitigation funds or how much time and effort NACE will put into the aforementioned planning, design and compliance necessary to move these projects, given limited staffing and demands of managing many other parks. 

The requirement that funds be "obligated" by the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) may present a problem, since the Park Service is notoriously low moving.
Stay tuned for updates on our ongoing discussions with NACE.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saturday, October 17 was a spectacular day in a month full of them. 

Students from Sandy Spring Friends School , led by my former tennis coach and family friend Bim Shauffler, joined Congress Heights residents Erick Whitaker, Tristan Dewar, Jonathan Taylor, and Ellen Williams on the hillside below Lebaum Street, where we removed 40 bags of trash.   

Mark your calendars now for the second Saturday or every month in 2016. We need all hands on deck from 11 am to 1 pm on

Saturday, January 9
Saturday, February 13
Saturday, March 12
Saturday, April 9
Saturday, May 14
Saturday, June 11
Saturday, July 9
Saturday, August 13
Saturday, September 10
Saturday, October 15
Saturday, November 12
Saturday, December 10

We are still meeting at the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues SE. For your GPS, you can use the address 555 Newcomb Street SE.

We will be working on rugged, uneven terrain in the woods. All volunteers should wear boots, full-length pants, and clothes that can get dirty.

Monday, October 5, 2015

How many of these native animals have you seen?

After years of displaying limited and out-of-date information, National Capital Parks-East has finally begun to update its official Shepherd Parkway website. Although some of the links lead to blank pages, there are two exciting new features: a 1,700 word historical narrative and an excellent 29-page wildlife guide

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing selections of this new content.

The following is a list of the species featured in the wildlife guide. How many of them have you seen?

Eastern Worm Snake
Northern Copperhead Snake
Northern Scarlet Snake (rare)
Northern Black Racer

Eastern Rattlesnake
Red Corn Snake
Eastern Garter Snake
Rough Green Snake
Five-Lined Skinky
Eastern Box Turtle

Northern Red Salamander
Three-Lined Salamander

Virginia Opossum
White Footed Mouse
White-Tailed Deer
Eastern Gray Fox

Wild Turkey
Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Wood Thrush
Bald Eagle

Friday, September 18, 2015

Serving with Francis, Heeding his Words

Pope Francis is coming to DC in a few days, and its kind of big deal.  The new pontiff's inclusive, nonjudgmental tone  has energized  American Catholics after a decade of child sex abuse scandals and declining church attendance.  

As the 2016 election season heats up, Liberals are eager for Francis to speak boldly on immigration, income inequality, and the environment. Conservatives, though increasingly uneasy with what they see as his leftward bent, are still counting on Francis to stick with them in opposing abortion, birth control and same sex marriage. 

Francis caused a stir in June with the long awaited publication of his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, in which he write, "The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish." 

In anticipation of the Pope's visit, the Archdioceses of Washington launched Walk with Francis to encourage 
Washingtonians to  welcome the Pope by following his examples of prayer and service. 

On Sunday, September 13, 50 students from Catholic University of America heeded the words of  Laudato Si quite literally, removing over a thousands pounds of"filth"and "rubbish" from the " beautiful landscape" of Shepherd Parkway. 

The hillside along Lebaum Street has long been one of the most polluted areas of Shepherd Parkway, and we've focused more time there than anywhere else over the past four years. It is also one of the steepest, most treacherous areas to work, but the CUA students scaled the incline fearlessly. 

At the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, being "protectors of God's creation" is what we are all about. We pray that the Pope's historic visit to the United States will inspire many others to take up the call.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

There's a New Time for Everything

Most of those who come to our community clean-ups work 40 hours a week or more, and Saturday is often the only they get to sleep in. Ten in the morning is perfect for some, but a challenge for the Friday night partiers and those trying to catch up on sleep.  

I've also noticed that, given the physical demands of working in the park, three hours is a long time to expect people to keep at it. I've noticed a lot of people coming late and leaving early. 

So we've decided that for the rest of 2015, our community clean-ups will run from 11 am to 1 pm instead of 10 am to 1 pm. We hope that this change will enhance both our numbers and the experience of those who attend.   

If you have questions or comments about the change, feel free to email me at nbharrington at yahoo.com.

We hope to see you next Saturday, September 12 at 11 am!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August and Everything After

It's been a beautiful summer at Shepherd Parkway. A dozen shades of green give the lush foliage a sub-tropical feel to match the hot, humid weather.  Abundant rains in June and July have caused groundcover, vines, and bushes to grow larger and denser than in recent years.

Thanks for our efforts, there is less trash in these woods than there has been in many years. In most areas, Mother Nature reigns supreme, the occasional tire or rusting piece of metal scarcely notable. A few steeply sloping areas, mostly north of Malcolm X Avenue, are still partially covered with decades of trash, and volunteers continue to chip away at these problem areas.    

On June 13, 60 volunteers, many of them from the Fund for American Studies, worked for an hour and a half removing trash from the woods alongside the 300 block of Newbcomb Street. The haul included 53 bags and 15 tires.

The very next day, we welcomed for the InterVarsityChristian Fellowship’s DC Urban Program for the third year in a row. Program Director Kate Denson brings together a diverse group of college students from around the country for a seven week experience exploring “the intersections of poverty, wealth, power and disenfranchisement.” This year they cut ivy from more than 50 trees in the heavily infested areas between 295, South Capitol Street, and Xenia Street, at the north end of Bellevue.

As is typical, our July and August volunteers made up in grit and productivity what they lacked in numbers.  On August 15 just three people- Ellen, Tristan and Nathan- were able to rescue 50 trees from the clutches of English ivy.

If you are reading this, please plan on attending our remaining upcoming Community Clean-Up days for 2015:

Saturday, September 12
Saturday, October 17
Saturday, November 14
Saturday, December 12

Please note the change in start time: all of the above events will from 11 am to 1 pm.
We continue to meet at the picnic area near the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Avenues in southeast DC. 

Gloves, bags, tools, and water are provided. Come prepared to work in the woods; that means boots, full-length pants, and clothes you don’t mind getting filthy dirty.

No reservations are not necessary unless you’re are bringing a group larger than ten.

For questions, contact Nathan Harrington at nbharrington at yahoo.com or 301-758-5892. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

All Out at Atlas Manufacturing

Atlas Manufacturing Inc, one of the DC area's leading structural steel fabricators, occupies an unassuming property at 3707 Martin Luther King Avenue SE, just north of the earthwork remains of Fort Carroll. It shares a commercial strip with the Unity of Love Praise Temple, the Fort Carroll Deli, and the Opportunities Industrialization Center.  

While Atlas proprietor Calvin L. Reid has worked to clean-up the woods behind his building, the rest of the block has one of the largest concentrations of man-made debris in all of Shepherd Parkway.

After three years of focusing our trash removal efforts further north, this area remained untouched, in part because it is difficult to access from the street.

When I asked Mr. Reid to open up his property to assist in getting the junk out of the woods, knew he would be supportive, but I was not expecting him bring six workers and his granddaughter, nor was I expecting him to offer us the use of his flatbed truck.

On Saturday, May 2, the whole Atlas team worked alongside ten alumni from John's Hopkins University to carry debris through a back gate into the Atlas facility, where it was loaded onto the truck. After an hour and a half the truck was full, but a continuous flow of tires, mattresses, car parts, construction materials and trash bags full of clothing and beer bottles continued through the gate. Soon the mountain of trash next to the truck was larger than the truck.

We estimate the weight of trash removed at three tons, or 6,000 pounds. It was the second largest single-day haul in the history of the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, surpassed only by the  heroics of the April 2012 of the We Love You Foundation, which number over 200. On a per person basis, it was by far our most productive clean-up ever.

Reid has vowed to continue cleaning the area until only soil, rocks, plants, and animal remain.