Every job comes with its inherent specialities and institutional knowledge, and the Trail Ranger program is no different. As the DC Trail Ranger Coordinator, I’ve spent a lot of time on the trails we maintain and serve – specifically the Marvin Gaye, Anacostia River, Suitland Parkway and Metropolitan Branch trails. I know a lot about how the trails have changed over the last five years of the program and collectively, we’ve spent hundreds of hours on each of the trails. But what is gained is more than knowledge of broken-glass patterns (always an increase after DC United games on the Anacostia River Trail). It is an appreciation of the smaller details of a trail, built up over repeated shifts. Like that one quiet shift when things feel a little boring and you finally stop to actually observe the flowers. There are special attributes to all of the trails but on the Marvin Gaye Trail, I’ve particularly come to appreciate:
Trail Rangers do lots of different trail projects: promote trails, answer questions, clip back vegetation, ride trails (and write the word “trails” a lot). Why do Trail Rangers spend some of their time removing trash? We want more folks wanting to feel trails are welcoming and use trails. People don’t like walking or biking through trash – it’s not fun to look at or be around. Studies have found that litter on trail decreased trail use by 20%. Trails are appealing for a number of reasons but being outside in the natural world is a common one – does this look appealing to you? Another study found that how folks perceive safety is influenced by trash – eliminating litter from an image increased the perception of safety 30%. It’s hard to encourage more folks to enjoy trails if they feel unsafe or that it’s not a pleasant place to spend their time. Trash can cause problems. It’s much easier to pick up a whole glass bottle just off the trail now before it breaks and causes flat tires. And it’s no fun to fall because you hit a carryout container just right and then–whee, sideways! We want a healthy environment. All of our trails are part of the Anacostia River watershed, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Trash in the river has been so bad in recent years that the Anacostia River was declared “impaired by trash” by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act. Whatever we don’t pick up will eventually likely go into the bay and from there into the ocean (unless it’s picked up by a few trash traps or the DC Water skimmer but they only make a dent). Plastic and manmade materials are not part of the ocean ecology – let’s keep them out!Also lots of other organizations are involved in trash reduction efforts so if you’re not near a Trail Ranger trail, there is probably something going on close to you!
So how do you help the team and encourage more folks to be on the trails?Don’t litter. We’d rather be doing something else! Save us a step. Request a trash can! There are definitely places along the trails and roads that have higher incidence of litter because people expect there to be a trash can (ex: Stanton Rd and Suitland Parkway). There is a whole category in the city 311 reporting system on requesting new trash cans More info about effective 311 reports here. Join the team for a cleanup! We do public cleanups a few times a year to make a bigger impact. The next one is January 15th for Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. More details and signup here. Get updates for all of cleanups by joining our email list. Yes!
For the second year, there was a bit more green space on Minnesota Ave NE as the WABA Trail Ranger team celebrated Park(ing) Day, part of an international effort to reclaim our public space and think creatively about its best use. In collaboration with DDOT Urban Forestry, Capital Bikeshare, and Anacostia Park & Planning Collaborative, we built a park! Out went parking for one car. Instead the 8′ by 20′ spot was home to tables for eating lunch, trees, a bike fence and native plants. We had a number of pollinators visiting us all afternoon, snacking on the goldenrod, asters and other flowering plants from Urban Forestry. Anacostia Park and Planning brought a satellite map of the river corridor and we had great conversations about the nearby trails and how connectivity or lack thereof affects trail use.
WABA’s Trail Rangers are a near-constant presence on DC’s trails, and they work harder than just about anybody else around here. Here, for the first time, is your chance to experience a day in the life of a Trail Ranger. Enjoy! Interested in keeping in touch with the team? Sign up here! Yes!Photo credit: 501pix Photography here.
The DC Trail Ranger team has been up and running this year since the beginning of April – riding the Metropolitan Branch, Anacostia River, Marvin Gaye and Suitland Parkway trails doing outreach and maintenance with our distinctive green bikes and yellow trailers (say hi if you see us!). We’ve organized guided bike tours, joined massive festivals, popped up with ice water on hot days, and played hundred of games of trail etiquette trivia. But in between the bigger events, the team is out on the trails keeping them safe and passable – glass removed, vegetation trimmed, trash gone. What does 275 hours of trail cleanup look like?
On a Saturday afternoon a couple weekends back, we went for a bike ride in DC’s Ward 7. But it wasn’t just a normal bike ride — it involved splashing, swimming, and a few games of Marco Polo! We rode along the Marvin Gaye Trail and stopped off at the Watts Branch Playground Splash Park, then headed over to the Deanwood Recreation Center Pool (which has an AWESOME slide). Here are some pictures from the day:
What happens when you spend a few hours pulling vegetation? Good plants have an easier chance of growing, you get to know your community better and the trail is a more inviting place to be. Trail Rangers and volunteers had a fabulous time last weekend uncovering a section of Marvin Gaye Park from destructive plants. In the process of removing a massive mound of vines, we saved trees from being choked to death, gave saplings a fighting chance for survival and turned a blanket of green into a healthier habitat. It was incredibly satisfying to give trees new life and find a park. But it was not just the plants that benefited from our efforts – we had the pleasure of introducing the trail to more people and more trail users to the Trail Ranger program. And all before lunch! If you’d like to join us, our next cleanup will be on the Suitland Parkway Trail later this month. Sign up here.
Live anywhere long enough, and sticky habits will develop. We end up at the same grocery stores, weekend hangouts, and parks. One morning’s commute can look just like the rest, and even a fun bike ride can look a little too familiar. We all need to branch out once in a while, so this weekend, our Trail Rangers lead a small community bike ride along the Watts Branch creek on the Marvin Gaye Trail. Starting in Lady Bird Johnson Meadow, near the Minnesota Ave. Metro, we took a relaxed ride along the trail and through the nearby neighborhoods of Deanwood, Lincoln Heights, and Hillbrook towards DC’s Eastern corner. Along the way, we passed a few historical landmarks just blocks from the trail, enjoyed a few hilltop views, and even found the easternmost boundary stone where Eastern Ave. meets Southern Ave just two blocks from the end of the trail. Some of the Marvin Gaye trail’s most enticing features are the tree canopy, restored creek beds, and green space it passes through. Around every corner we found perfect spots for a picnic. It takes constant work, though, to keep all that green in check, so we put on some gloves and grabbed our tools following the ride. With some sweeping here and trimming there, the trail is looking great! here is a map of some of the spots of current and historical significance. We’ll be back for another community ride in a few weeks too! Need convincing, check out some photos.Every bike ride is better when followed by a hearty lunch, and thanks to our friends at Chipotle Mexican Grill, everyone who came on the ride and helped out with the cleanup enjoyed a burrito when we finished. Thanks Chipotle! If you missed out on Sunday’s ride, but want to try it yourself,
Sometimes the best way to get to know a place is to roll up your sleeves, take a look around, and set to work making a small part of it better. This weekend, an intrepid crew of volunteers joined our Trail Ranger team to do just that on the Suitland Parkway Trail. The aging trail – stretching from the Maryland line to near the Anacostia Metro – certainly has its share of difficulties, but after Saturday’s efforts it has a little more spring in its step. Beginning with a short ride from Yards Park near National’s Stadium to the trailhead, the group saw firsthand the somewhat odd route from the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the trail alongside the Suitland Parkway. Seeing it on a map is one thing. Experiencing it from the ground level helps explain why the trail is underutilized. The fact is, it can be hard to find. The recently announced future trail connection will be a huge step forward for mobility on and around the parkway. Once at the trailhead, our focus turned to improving the trail that we have today. Armed with rakes and shovels, loppers and saws, our team dug back over 100 feet of trail edge from an eroding trailside, removed a quarter mile of overgrown branches, and cleared another quarter mile of trail debris, gravel, and trash. Thanks to our volunteers the Suitland Parkway Trail is in better shape than it has been in months!