FROM Ward 8 Woods
For immediate release
Thursday, May 23 , 2019
Contact: Nathan Harrington, 301-758-5892, firstname.lastname@example.org Art Slater, 202-765-8245, email@example.com
Washington, DC- Ward 8 Woods, a new environmental justice initiative sponsored by the nonprofit Anacostia Coordinating Council, has removed more than of 55 tons of trash from wooded parkland since it began in July 2018. Five Ward 8 residents who were unemployed or underemployed and faced barriers- such as criminal records, disability, or lack of education or work history- were hired as Park Stewards to take on the epic task of undoing decades of illegal dumping and littering, and growth of invasives species.
During a typical three hours shift, the crew removes an average of 1,000 pounds of trash. Robert Carpenter, 32, a father of four who lives in Garfield Heights, serves as the crew’s foreman. “I like that I can clean-up and protect the environment where I live. I’m not in Maryland or Virginia cleaning up their neighborhoods. I’ve been living in Ward 8 my entire life. As I kid I played in these woods.”
Ward 8 may be Washington, DC’s least affluent , but it’s also one of the greenest: interspersed with its residential neighborhoods are more than 500 acres of forested parkland. These include Ft. Stanton Park, Suitland Parkway, and Oxon Run Parkway, all under the jurisdiction of National Capital Parks-East, and Suitland Parkway, controlled by the DC Department of Transportation. Within these “Ward 8 Woods” are streams large and small, massive old trees, a rare magnolia bog, commanding views across the city, and the remains of Civil War fortifications and World War II era military training facilities. Urban forests filter pollution from the air and water, lower summer temperatures, and act as a buffer between neighborhoods and highways.
Sadly, the same systemic racism, disinvestment, and neglect that have made poverty and crime widespread in Ward 8 have also taken their toll on the land. In recent decades millions of pounds of trash - including tires, car parts, furniture, appliances and construction materials- have been dumped in the woods. As if this were not enough, invasive vines from other parts of the world have run roughshod over the forest ecosystem, outcompeting native plants and strangling trees. The parks also lack hiking trails, signage, other features common to parklands in more affluent parts of the District.
“Given the racial and class disparities in DC, it's no coincidence that the parklands in Ward 8 have been abused and neglected. It’s wrong. We can and must do better,” said Art Slater, Director of Operations for the Anacostia Coordinating Council and business manager for Ward 8 Woods.
For Ward 8 Woods project manager Nathan Harrington, the effort is an expansion of the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, which he created in 2011 at the urging of longtime Ward 8 civic leader Philip Pannell. A former Prince George’s County Public Schools teacher and Congress Heights resident since 2009, Harrington had led close to 100 volunteers clean-ups events in park but was troubled by the lack of involvement by residents. “Volunteers were coming from all over the DMV, but residents were always asking if we were hiring, and the answer was always no.”
In 2018, Harrington joined with the Anacostia Coordinating Council and obtained grants from the DC Office of Planning and DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) to finally begin paying residents to clean-up their own communities. Ward 8 Woods recently obtained additional funding from DOEE, the Environment Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative and the Tomberg Family Philanthropies of California.
Harrington and five board members are working to establish the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy as an independent nonprofit organization with a mission to use the restoration of the land as a vehicle for the healing and empowerment residents. Although there are many existing environmental groups in the District, there’s a void when it comes to the forests in Ward 8. Future plans include design and the construction of a network of hiking trails to rival those of Rock Creek Park and education and recreation programs for all ages.
Christopher Williams, young father from Garfield Heights, emphasized the scale of the work ahead. “This is really great work we’re doing. People need to see it. There’s enough work for us to stay busy for years.”