On Saturday, October 15, over 250 people gathered along the shores of the Anacostia River at Bladensburg Waterfront Park for the First Annual Festival del Rio Anacostia. The first of its kind, the Festival was a way to celebrate Hispanic heritage while connecting Latino families with outdoor recreational opportunities and local environmental and watershed groups, as well to empower them to experience and conserve local rivers and streams.
The Festival is the brainchild of the Latino Outreach Subcommittee of the Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee (AWCAC). As conversations about the Festival continued, so did the list of partners. What started as a small AWCAC subcommittee became a planning committee with representatives from the Anacostia Riverkeeper, Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), CHISPA/Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, Friends of Sligo Creek, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).
This year’s Festival was the result of a lot of hard work by some very dedicated partners and a small sponsorship grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Thanks to a significantly larger amount of funding received through a Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship grant, we already know that we can plan a bigger and better 2017 Festival del Rio Anacostia.
It was the perfect sunny and warm day for a fall festival. Over 20 regional environmental organizations and vendors set up tables and displays with hands-on activities and educational information. One of the things that made the Festival so unique and successful was the attention given to bridging the language barrier. While some of the booths were manned by bilingual staff, those that weren’t had volunteer translators available.
The DC Audubon Society and COG provided opportunities to go birding, take Nature walks, and to learn about the fish found in the Anacostia and its tributaries; representatives from the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County were on hand to talk about everything from subsistence fishing to ways to reduce stormwater from your home; TapIt Metro DC was passing out reusable water bottles and talking about the benefits of drinking tap water; and every child received a reusable bag full of goodies from Festival partners including a reusable water bottle, educational coloring books and environmental activity books. In addition to the environmentally focused activities, there was a DJ, live music by Guate Marimba, dancing by Despertar Maya Ma’am, and delicious food by Leyla’s Café.
While we were cleaning up at the end of the day I was talking to one of my co-workers about how the day went. We both agreed that without a doubt that the most popular activities of the day were the boat trips and fishing. All day long there was a line for the free boat trips offered by the Anacostia Riverkeeper, AWS and M-NCPPC. Likewise, partners from COG, AWS, Anacostia Riverkeeper, and the District’s Aquatic Resources Education Center spent the day baiting hooks for kids, and even a few adults. No one caught a single thing, but they stood there for hours and kept coming back. I knew those would be popular activities, but I don’t think I realized just how popular they would be. Only during this conversation did I realize that I take the opportunity go out on a boat or to go fishing for granted because it is something that is always available to me. Through the Festival, we provided these opportunities to hundreds of people that don’t normally have them, or don’t believe they are accessible to them. Hopefully we showed them that they are available, and that they should take advantage of them. It’s with this thought in mind that I’ll end by saying, if you have the opportunity to connect someone to the river, young or old, do it. You’ll be opening their eyes to a whole new world.
Michelle Kokolis (former Anacostia Watershed Manager)