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Bike Trail to Connect Anacostia’s ‘Jewels’

In 10 years, Washington, D.C., residents will be able to witness the blooming of dogwoods and roses, learn about the man-made Kingman Island, eat a hot dog while watching a Nationals baseball game and watch wildlife along the Anacostia River — all during one bike ride.

That’s the grandiose vision of the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., the quasi-government agency tasked with responsible development along the river. With more than 20 miles of trail, the Anacostia Riverwalk will connect east bank to west, neighborhood to neighborhood and destination to destination.

At a community meeting Wednesday to update residents on the Riverwalk’s progress, officials from the AWC, the District Department of Transportation and the National Park Service explained the timeline, design and theory behind the joint effort.

“It’s almost like a necklace with some really neat jewels strung along it,” said Allen Miller, a DDOT project manager overseeing the effort. Among the “jewels”: Marvin Gaye Park, Canal Park, Congressional Cemetery, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and a slew of planned retail.

The first section of the trail already is under construction, Miller said, and will be completed by 2008. It stretches from Benning Road to the 11th Street bridges on the west side of the river, stopping just short of the Navy Yard. The corresponding trail on the other side of the river will be completed soon after. And bits and pieces of the trail around the new baseball stadium will be completed by the time the Nationals kick off their first game in 2008 (although those trails won’t yet meet up with the larger loop).

In the end, it will all be one continuous line, with sections reaching out into Maryland and connecting to the Bladensburg trail network.

“What we’re doing is so important on both a small scale but also on a large scale,” said Uwe Brandes, AWC vice president of capital projects and planning. Residents will be able to join the trail from neighborhood streets not only to simply enjoy the river and surrounding parks, but also to commute to everyday activities, he said. To make it more accessible around the clock, some sections of the trail will be lit for nighttime commuters, although whether police or the park service will put special patrols in the area has not yet been worked out.

The trail also will bring together a community often kept apart, Brandes said. The Anacostia neighborhood on the east side of the river is often ignored; now, city officials plan to build several pedestrian bridges across the river and wind the trail throughout the east side.

“The city has a history of just focusing on one side,” Brandes said. “It’s really quite exciting what emerges when you have the opportunity to do loops.”

Some sections also will be made with biocells and bioswales, which control runoff by filtering the water through a series of material. And bridges that will run over railroad tracks and across the river will be made of fiber-reinforced polymer, which has a life span of 100 years, rather than the 40- or 50-year life span of concrete.

“We’re not solving this all at once, but we’re nibbling little bites out of this problem,” Miller said, referring to efforts to clean up the polluted river.

Despite the river’s dismal state, city officials have high hopes for the Riverwalk and its effect on the local economy and environment. Sections will split off into neighborhoods and urban areas, providing easy access to up-and-coming development. Cultural Tourism DC will provide signs throughout the trail, describing the history of the waterfront and the relationship between the river and mankind. And several private landowners have agreed to have the trail cut through their property, bringing pedestrians and bicyclists as close to the waterfront as possible.

The area south of the baseball stadium is a little more difficult — it includes the 47-acre piece of Southwest Waterfront that has taken the AWC two years of negotiations to acquire and is by-and-large undeveloped. But as those properties start to be designed and built, Brandes said he is confident the trail will expand. Developers are beginning to understand that public access helps to increase property values, said Diane Sullivan, the AWC project director for Poplar Point.

“What we’re talking about is a keystone … and a really neat amenity for us,” Miller said. “It’s not just about getting from A to B.”

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