Kingman Island shoreline.
Out and About – Kingman and Heritage Islands
by Elizabeth Eby
Posted December 14, 2022
In need of post-Thanksgiving exercise my partner and I walked to Kingman Island. We didn’t expect much given the time of year and late afternoon sunlight. But it was fun. It was so quiet we could hear our footsteps as we crossed the wooden bridges. We saw a gigantic beaver, ducks, a variety of grasses, and a splendid Bengal cat wearing a harness and exploring with his human.
It’s a good destination for a winter nature walk suitable for adults and children. If duck and beaver viewing isn’t sufficient incentive for the kids, there is a large playground and restrooms at the nearby Fields at RFK. Checking the tide on a Kingman-tide related websites may add another dimension to further a child’s interest in the hike.
Wide angle view of the bridge.
Getting There. You can park in RFK Lot 6 near the Ethel Kennedy Bridge (AKA Benning Road Bridge). Or take the Metro. Kingman is between the Stadium/Armory and Benning Road stations. A short downhill walk from Lot 6 leads to the road sign in the parking lot that directs you to the Anacostia River Trail. The Trail runs between Kingman and the Wharf . It is designed for bikes, pedestrians and is wheelchair accessible.
The Anacostia River Trail.
A little History. In 1742 the Anacostia was a deep tidal river and wetland with a commercial seaport in Bladensburg. But grasslands and forests were quickly cleared as the populations grew. By 1840 unchecked erosion filled the river bed and closed the port. Eroded soil formed huge mud flats covered with American lotus, lily pads, and wild rice. It sounds ideal but human waste from local sewage systems was drained into the Anacostia and the area became a breeding ground for disease bearing insects. Malaria became so prevalent that the US Surgeon General got involved. With his help civic groups petitioned Congress to fix the situation.
Enter the Army Corps of Engineers. Under the direction Col. Dan Christie Kingman in 1898, the Corps created the recreation area by dredging the Anacostia. Drying out the mud eliminated the public health danger and provided material to create Kingman and Heritage Islands. The restored area is named for Col. Kingman who died before the work was finished. Ideas for developing the island included a major effort to develop a children’s amusement park but money and lack of parking killed those ideas. Ownership was eventually transferred to DC in 2021.
Grasses in ceramic planters.
Grasses have long served humans as food, shelter, vessels, clothing and musical instruments throughout history. Today, one species, phragmites australis, is a case history of how a plant becomes invasive. Stalks are sometimes as thick as 20 stems per foot. You have probably seen their gigantic plume-like blossoms in roadside wetlands. Each plume contains thousands of seeds that sail in the wind. They are rapidly replacing other grasses, native plants and wildlife by absorbing nutrients and space. They pose a fire hazard and block access to the water for wildlife and humans. They are next to impossible to eradicate without chemicals.
DC and the non-profit Living Classrooms together manage on-going conservation efforts on the island. Clearing dense mats of wild honeysuckle and other brush that block access to the river bank for erosion management is an on-going battle.
Living Classrooms (https://livingclassrooms.org/programs/kingman-heritage-island / ) is active in Baltimore and DC. They are a great resource for information, activities and educational programs ranging from job training for adults to watershed and Invertebrate exploration for families. They also host canoes for public use. Volunteers are invited to participate in clean up days posted on the website. Activities include clearing brush and planting seeds in the newly cleaned up areas.
A walk to Kingman might make a good end to a day of holiday excitement. Have a wonderful holiday and may 2023 be packed with happy trails.
Out and About is an occasional photo feature by artist, photographer, gardener, and Capitol Hill resident Elizabeth Eby. She finds vignettes while out and about on or near Capitol Hill.