By Becki Young

Becki 2020 Headshot cropped 2
Becki Young

As a longtime resident of Hyattsville, I am embarrassed to admit I always thought the Anacostia River was located in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  And I never connected the “creek” where I sometimes walk my dogs with that river.  

In fact, the main stem of the Anacostia starts where the Northwest and Northeast branches meet, just a few hundred feet south of the city’s southernmost point.  

What I thought was a creek is the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia, a 19-mile stream that starts in Montgomery County, near Sandy Spring, and flows south and finally through Hyattsville, passing alongside the University Hills Duck Pond Park, the Kirkwood Neighborhood Park, the West Hyattsville Metro, the 38th Avenue Neighborhood Park, Driskell Park and the Melrose Skatepark, before converging with the Northeast Branch.  

One of the dedicated groups working to protect and restore the 176-square mile geographic area that makes up the Anacostia River Watershed (in other words, the area of land that ultimately drains into the Anacostia) is the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), located less than a quarter-mile from Hyattsville, at the George Washington House historic site, in Bladensburg.

The fact that all of Hyattsville is within the Anacostia River Watershed, and that the confluence of this historic river is nearby, has important implications for Hyattsville residents both in terms of recreation and conservation.  

Recreation-wise, the 7-mile Northwest Branch Trail, a paved trail for walkers, bikers, inline skaters and even horseback riders, starts near the head of the Anacostia River, at Baltimore Avenue (U.S. Route 1) and Charles Armentrout Drive in Hyattsville, and runs along the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia to Silver Spring.   

The 1-mile (0.9 mile to be precise) Levee Trail is a lesser known trail following the levee on the south side of the Northwest Branch. The trail starts in the 38th Avenue neighborhood in Hyattsville and stops abruptly, just short of Route 1 (Rhode Island Avenue). The east end of the trail is not accessible; to get to Route 1, you must walk over a small grassy area and cross a guardrail.  

The Bladensburg Waterfront Park offers hiking and biking trails, a boat ramp and a fishing pier.  To really explore the Anacostia, visitors can rent kayaks and canoes April through October.

On the topic of conservation, the Anacostia sometimes seems to be the stepchild of D.C.-area rivers. The watershed was originally inhabited by the Nacotchtank people (from whom the river gets its name); the arrival of European settlers in the 17th century signaled the gradual decline of the river and its watershed, due to development and pollution.  

With the help of committed environmental organizations such as AWS, the river has started to make a comeback. A recent inventory of species, called a BioBlitz, counted over 500 unique wild species, including numerous rare and endangered species. The river hosts bald eagles, beavers, ospreys, cormorants, white perch, striped bass, crayfish, herons, turtles, egrets, otters, red fox, shad, kingfishers, catfish and even mussels! One species of particular interest is the acuminate crayfish (Cambarus acuminatus), a species of crayfish whose stronghold in the State of Maryland is our very own Northwest Branch.

The AWS has as its goal the restoration of the Anacostia to “a swimmable and fishable river by 2025.” The organization is working to preserve this precious local resource with a variety of initiatives.  

The City of Hyattsville and local environmental groups are also hard at work to keep the river clean and safe. In September 2019, the city commissioned a stormwater management study to address the issue of untreated stormwater runoff from Lower Ward 1 making its way directly into the Anacostia River.  At least one of the recommended improvements, the City of Hyattsville 42nd Place Green Infrastructure Pilot Project, is in progress with the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville.  

Local residents play a crucial role in preserving the river through actions that promote stormwater management. Homeowners can make a huge difference in helping to achieve the goal of a swimmable and fishable Anacostia River by installing projects on their properties that filter, capture and reuse stormwater. Examples of such green infrastructure projects include green roofs, rain gardens, rain barrels and pervious pavement (pervious asphalt, pervious concrete, interlocking pavers and plastic grid pavers that allow rain and snowmelt to seep through the surface down to underlying layers of soil and gravel). Residents can have a large impact with the seemingly simple act of planting a garden, or by replacing lawns with native plants and mini-meadows. Sensible use of road salt is also a critical issue.

Hyattsville residents can receive technical assistance and funding for green infrastructure projects through the Prince George’s County Rain Check Rebate program.

Becki Young is a resident of Hyattsville who recently joined a master naturalist program sponsored by the Anacostia Watershed Society.