A new segment of the Anacostia River Trail takes a long route through the Kenilworth area. A second segment will go straight up the river, but work on it can’t start until the National Park Service cleans up the land, where illegal dumping was once allowed. People are using a shortcut in the meantime, and there are ways to make it shorter and easier to use.

New segment of the Anacostia River Trail. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The new, four-mile long segment will create the first connection between two key trail systems: Maryland’s Anacostia Tributary Trail System, which is a 24-mile-long network of six trails that connects Silver Spring, Greenebelt, College Park, Bladensburg, Adelphi Park, and the District; and the District’s Anacostia River Trail, which runs along both banks of the Anacostia River, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Benning Road.

South of Pennsylvania Avenue, the trail connects to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which runs along both banks all the way to South Capitol Street, with a connection to the Southwest Waterfront. This new segment finally creates a continuous trail the length of the Anacostia to the river’s source in Hyattsville.

Since early 2014, construction crews have been working on on the new segment that will create a connected network of nearly 70 miles of trail. The project has been broken up into two phases. The first phase, which is the purple dotted line on the map below, connects Benning Road with Bladensburg but uses the longer eastern route, meant to connect the Mayfair nieghborhood (which is located between the river and the Anacostia Freeway) to the trail and the river.

The second phase, which is the the white line, will create an alternative route along the river in DC’s Kenilworth Park, with a connection to a new bike and pedestrian bridge across the river to the National Arboretum. Work on the second phase will start once part of Kenilworth Park gets cleaned up. In the meantime, many trail users have been taking the shortcut illustrated by the green line.

Kenilworth Trail Segment Map from of DDOT.

Kenilworth Park, which sits between the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and an old power plant, started out as a tidal marsh that the Army Corps of Engineers later filled in. It served for decades as the Kenilworth Open Burning Landfill, DC’s principal solid waste dump. Shortly after home rule, it became a sanitary landfill before closing in 1970.  The site was subsequently covered with soil, revegetated, and reclaimed for recreational purposes.

Kenilworth Park Landfill Site from of NPS.

Mystery Mountain

In 1997, the National Park Service (NPS) allowed two contractors to dump an estimated half-million tons of waste on the Kenilworth South site, the portion in the map above that is south of Watts Branch, an Anacostia tributary stream.

So much debris came in that a pile 26 feet high went up on 15 acres of land, and locals dubbed it “Mystery Mountain.” The second phase of the new trail is supposed to run overland impacted by Mystery Mountain.

The cleanup is still years away

Despite an NPS statement that the site would be addressed as early as 2001, it still has not been cleaned up. The agency put together a feasibility study and plan for the cleanup in 2012-2013, but has since indicated that it will restart the process because subsequent studies show that less work is needed. This means that neither the cleanup nor construction of the second phase of the trail will happen any time soon.

In the meantime, people have already started using the new trail segment. Since it doesn’t take a direct route through Kenilworth Park, users have been cutting through a long-closed section of Deane Avenue and a short construction drive to travel directly to where the trail rejoins the river. Unfortunately, Deane, while passable, is significantly degraded, and furthermore, it’s blocked at Watts Branch. The construction road’s surface is even worse.

Construction road connecting Deane Avenue to the Trail.

The District Department of Transportation’s Anacositia Waterfront Initiative project is building the new segment instead of the the usual Bicycle Program staff, and it’s doing so with the approval and partnership of NPS. It is set to officially open soon, and users are likely to keep taking the Deane Avenue route until the second phase is complete. A great next step for DDOT and NPS would be for the agencies to make the shortcut a formal, temporary route.

Until NPS finally cleans the park up and the second phase can go in, there’s a lot that the trail partners can do, if NPS will allow it, to make a shortcut like this more useful for people looking for a direct path. Separating the concrete barriers that block the road at Watts Branch to create a gap large enough for cyclists and pedestrians to pass through would be a great first step.

Barricades on old Deane Avenue over Watts Branch.

Also, paving or repaving an 8-10 foot wide section of Deane Avenue through the park, as well as the construction road, and adding signs along the routes, would make the trail far more useful, especially for those using it for transportation.