by Will Parson
August 09, 2018
An organization created last year by several young environmental professionals in the Chesapeake region is aiming to provide opportunities for support and growth that are geared toward the unique challenges that women face. HerChesapeake offers monthly activities like learning sessions, guest speakers and field trips.
The field trips offer a chance to connect with other professionals while also appreciating the outdoors. For a recent outing, roughly fifteen participants filled a pontoon boat at sunset to explore the Anacostia River, which joins the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. before it flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
Stephanie Smith, vice president of HerChesapeake, attended the tour along with other members of the organization’s leadership.
“Despite the biases, inequalities and criticism they face, women play a vitally significant role in conserving and restoring the Chesapeake Bay region,” said Smith, who works in science communication and previously served as web content specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
“What if we could break down the barriers standing in the way of these women, so they have the opportunity and resources to make an even greater difference?” Smith said. “The entire ecosystem—and everyone who lives here—would be better off for it.”
On the tour participants listened to Maddie Koenig, an environmental educator with the nonprofit Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), chronicle the history of the Anacostia. Though it is shallow and muddy, the river was once 40 feet deep and harbored large seafaring vessels at what is now Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Today, the river has to be dredged annually just allow canoes to dock at Bladensburg at low tide.
But, the Anacostia has benefitted from intensive restoration efforts in recent years. The District Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) is celebrating this year as the Year of the Anacostia, and AWS recently gave the river its first passing grade on its annual report card. A massive tunnel project that completed its first phase in March has already diverted over a billion gallons of sewage from the Anacostia, leading to further improvements in the health of the waterway and increasing opportunities for recreational use.
Evidence of the recovery is already apparent. Wildlife was on full display during the tour, and the river is becoming more popular with paddlers, runners and cyclists as a green space in the heart of D.C.
“One of the most striking parts of the boat trip was how easy it was to forget we were in the middle of an urban area,” Smith said.
“Anacostia Watershed Society have been working tirelessly for years to help it improve, and the results are there. You just have to get out and experience it.”