More and more people are learning how much fun there is to be had on the Anacostia River. That could mean a cleaner future for the local waterway.

A view of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens from the water. Photo by the author.

On any given weekend, paddlers and rowers are speckled along the water—all in brightly colored watercraft looking like a pack of Skittles that was spilled. The recreationalists are typically spotted around the Georgetown waterfront on the Potomac River. Many are seeking an escape from the city or trying their balancing skills as they attempt yoga on a stand-up paddle board.

However, the Potomac isn’t the only river people turn to; the Anacostia is making a comeback.

In the summer of 2013, Ballpark Boathouse opened by Yards Park, the first kayak rental business along the Anacostia River in the District. The Boathouse offers both kayaks and canoes to the adventure seekers.

A little further upriver, the Anacostia Community Boathouse has been around for over two decades. This member-driven facility offers numerous community activities, from learning to paddle a kayak or row a Dragon boat to competitive regattas.

There’s lots to see when you paddle up the Anacostia

What’s an outdoor recreationalist to do once they find themselves floating on top of the Anacostia River? There are few interesting sites to see via watercraft.

Tucked on the eastern shore of the Anacostia River and on the border between DC and Maryland, sits a 700-acre National Park called the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. A maze of coves and inlets steers you through a rich landscape of cattails, water lilies, and other aquatic flora. Calm waters of these wetlands let you linger.

And although the carefully planned and maintained paths around the ponds by foot are exciting, especially when the lotus are in bloom, exploring the Gardens by kayak or canoe is a whole other world.

A blue heron stalks its next meal in the Aquatic Gardens. Photo by the author.

Downstream from the Aquatic Gardens, and a little closer if you are paddling from downtown, is a small dock for landing at the National Arboretum. Here, you can pull your watercraft ashore and explore the 446 acres or just take a break.

Landmarks, like the old columns from the Capitol building that stand erect resembling relics from an ancient civilization, are one of many things to see. Plus the extensive tree canopy keeps the temperatures cooler.

For those who don’t have the stamina or the time to venture far upriver, Kingman Island is a nice reprieve that is inhabited with herons and turtles. Or just trolling around Yards Park will provide some interesting sites like the decommissioned Navy ship USS Barry, which will be dismantled and removed by next summer.

A waterfront renaissance is stirring up attention

Revitalization along DC’s shoreline is gaining speed. The Georgetown Waterfront Park final phase was completed in 2010, providing a welcome outdoor space along the Potomac. Now a national park, the waterfront serves as a starting point for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal—a 184-mile landmark that follows the river and serves as a popular biking, running, and hiking destination.

Also, just a few weeks ago the Southwest Waterfront redevelopment project hit a milestone by completing the digging phase. The developers, PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, have begun building what will be a 25-acre wharf and 3.5-acre waterfront park, when complete.

Development along the Anacostia River is also picking up. The Navy Yard neighborhood has been growing swiftly, with the now completed Yards Park an attractive place to sit on a chaise lounge and stare at the river or wade in the waterfall.

However, there are still areas along the Anacostia waterfront that are overlooked, like RFK stadium and parking lot, or the slow development of the Hill East District Waterfront.

Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

All of this redevelopment along the rivers draws attention to them-and hopefully, their rehabilitation. But redevelopment needs to be done with a focus on equity, sustainability, and reducing environmental impact.

Creating a healthy river for people to enjoy is not easy

District residents realizing how much more they could get out of their shoreline means more opportunities for communities to connect with waterways and take pride in wanting to clean them up.

Trash, a visible pollutant, is still prevalent along the Anacostia. There are local and federal efforts underway to start removing it, like the EPA using the Clean Water Act to establish a total maximum amount of trash that can enter the waterway. To keep trash under the limit, the EPA estimates that 1.2 million pounds of trash needs to be removed annually from the watershed.

In 2009, the 5-cent bag fee was implemented. Since then, the revenue has been spent on tools to clean up the Anacostia such as education, grants to communities to install rain gardens or impermeable surfaces, and trash traps installed in key locations along the Anacostia watershed.

But trash is still quite visible along the river. And whether it’s trash or invisible pollutants, the District’s rivers still have a ways to go until they are swimmable.

Investments along the waterfront, especially in parks and other multifunctional spaces, bring people to the river’s banks. Increasingly, recreationalists are venturing onto the water. And more recreation along the river is a sign that we are on a trajectory to restoring them to a more healthy state.

Correction: A previous version of this post named Ballpark Boathouse as the first kayak rental business along the Anacostia River. Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Maryland has actually been renting boats for longer, so we updated the post to clarify that the nod to Ballpark Boathouse is specific to the District.