Saturday, April 6, 2013

Watershed Hero: Nathan Harrington, DC Teacher and Community Activist

      In the spirit of Alima, the watershed hero in Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle, I will highlight the heroic activities of one person who is making a difference to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. One voice, activism and motivation can inspire us all to make a positive impact in our local and global world.

            Shepherd Parkway is a neighborhood in the Congress Heights community. This neighborhood is adjacent to the northern section of 205 acres of National Park land in Washington DC that runs along Interstate 295. The National Park Service acquired it in the 1920’s to protect the Potomac River, the wetlands in its floodplain and two Civil War forts, Fort Carroll and Fort Greble that sit upon the ridge.
            The Shepherd Parkway Community clean-up started in 2010. Since then, the Shepherd Parkway Committee, part of the Congress Heights Community Association, has held 15 clean-ups. We will have 6 more this year. Volunteers are removing trash and invasive species, in particular English Ivy that is strangling the 100-year old tree canopy. Since 2010, we have focused our efforts on 30 acres in the northern section of the National Park, between St. Elizabeth’s hospital and Malcolm X Avenue. Our goal is to finish this section by the end of 2013, then clean-up south of Malcolm X Avenue to South Capitol Street. The ultimate goal is to remove trash and invasive plants like English Ivy and Kudzu from all 205 acres and build a 3-mile hiking trail from LeBaum Street to Oxon Cove and Oxon Run Parks in Maryland.

2. How have you helped your community?
           I love that DC has large tracts of parkland; a lot of which is east of the Anacostia River. When hiking and exploring DC’s parks, I noticed the huge discrepancy between the recreational opportunities, such as trails, and the management of the parks west of the Anacostia versus east of the river.  A majority of these parks have been covered in trash for years, creating a barrier for residents to recreate in their local green spaces.
            After moving into the neighborhood, I began cleaning-up the trash on my own. I also attended community meetings to learn what bothered residents about their parkland. The resounding voices stated trash. Therefore, I was asked to co-chair the Shepherd Parkway Committee to lead the effort to clean-up the National Park land in the Congress Heights community.
            Hundreds of volunteers from DC, the US and Canada have removed 80% of the garbage in between Malcolm X Avenue and St. Elizabeth Hospital, in addition to all of the English Ivy. The Shepherd Parkway committee has partnered with organizations, such as the Luther Place Memorial Church’s Steinbruck Center on Urban Studies, the DC chapter of the Sierra Club, Washington Parks and People and Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. While many young and old from around DC have volunteered, my goal is to engage more residents from the Congress Heights community.

3. What inspired you to start the project?
            I was inspired to start this project by the work that Washington Parks and People has done to restore two major parks, Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park and Watts Branch/Marvin Gaye Park. Both parks were grossly neglected and riddled with crime. Now they are central to the life and recreation of both communities.
            While studying to become a licensed DC tour guide, I became inspired by the history and beauty of the architecture and natural landscapes in Washington. I want to help bring back that natural beauty to the parks east of the Anacostia River.

4. Who inspired you to be a watershed hero?
             I have been inspired by some of my neighbors who have removed trash from parkland across from or adjacent to their homes. In addition, I am deeply inspired by Phillip Pannell, a longtime community leader in DC’s Ward 8. Pannel has been President of the Congress Heights Community Association for many years. He has championed issues such as environmental justice, gay rights and school improvement in Anacostia. Phillip is a shining example that one voice can make a difference. He inspires me to be another voice making a difference in Shepherd Parkway.

Nathan's voice, activism and motivation make him a watershed hero.