by Mark Lieberman
Current Newspapers staff writer
Katrina Weinig of Forest Hills wants to see the Broad Branch stream restored and converted for community use. Steve Dryden of Mount Pleasant has been fighting since 2013 to preserve the woodlands of Rock Creek Park as a habitat for avian wildlife. George Washington University seeks a more frugal irrigation system for its network of community gardens.
These environmental efforts have in common a recent influx of funds, thanks to the new RiverSmart Innovation Grant program from the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment. The agency announced last week that nine proposals from a total of 35 applicants citywide earned the first annual round of grants.
In addition to the three projects in Northwest D.C., recipients include projects at the 8th Street Arts Park and the East Capitol Urban Farm in Northeast; at Sousa Middle School in Southeast; and three at the Anacostia Watershed in Southeast.
Proposals for stormwater-related improvement projects that also contained an educational angle or community involvement earned top priority in the selection process, according to the agency’s Emily Rice. The agency accepted applications for 60 days — twice the length of a normal application process — in order to accommodate as many grant proposals as
A team of six staffers combed through each proposal and assigned ratings in five categories: installing green infrastructure; removing impervious surfaces and planting trees; creating and promoting green jobs; restoring native habitats; cleaning up an area affected by high volumes of litter; and preventing litter. Extra points went to projects that fell within the agency’s priority areas in outer edges of the city. All three of the Northwest projects fall outside of the priority area, which means they were “super stellar” in other components, Rice said.
In Forest Hills, Weinig envisions her group’s $19,650 project creating a park area for families and older people to enjoy, as well as addressing stormwater issues and restoring native habitats for pollinators, amphibians, birds and small mammals. Her team will enlist the nonprofits Rock Creek Conservancy and Casey Trees for volunteer efforts such as planting 100 trees, removing trash and adding seats and pathways to the park area at Broad Branch Road and Linnean Avenue NW. The ultimate goal is to establish the stream area “as the green heart of Forest Hills,” Weinig said.
“What we’re really trying to do is build a culture of stewardship around this site. We really over time would love to see the community take ownership of it and take pride in it,” Weinig said. “The more it’s beautiful, the more it’s inviting, the more people will want to be there and the more they’ll take care of it, and that’s what we’re trying to promote.”
Meanwhile in Ward 1, Steve Dryden of the Endangered Species Coalition plans to extend his three-year initiative in Rock Creek Park, where he hopes to improve the habitat for migratory songbirds that arrive in the District from as far as Latin America. With the help of a previous grant from the National Audubon Society, Dryden and his collaborators planted 100 trees. Now with the RiverSmart grant of $18,500, they’ll plant 100 more and extend outreach to the neighboring Randolph Tower Apartments at 3900 14th St. NW.
“It’s an educational program to talk to folks about how they’re part of this amazing ecological phenomenon and to make a sort of environmental link between two different communities in Washington,” said Dryden.
Dryden is particularly concerned with elevating the park’s reputation, which suffers when users litter and more generally because federal funding for national parks like Rock Creek has declined over the past few decades.
Elsewhere in Northwest, a $5,900 grant for George Washington University will go toward two rain barrels, 200 gallons each, which will collect stormwater from at least three 4-foot-wide rain saucers, according to Rice of the environment agency. That system will irrigate the university’s GroW Community Garden on H Street NW between 23rd and 24th Streets NW, which provides more than 1,000 pounds of produce to the nearby homelessness nonprofit Miriam’s Kitchen, according to Shannon Ross from the university’s Office of Sustainability.
“Even though the amount of water diverted by these rain barrels is small in comparison to DC’s overall numbers, a major value comes from the educational opportunity since the high visibility of this new feature will help education GW students on this issue and show them how they can individually make an impact,” Ross wrote in an email.
The grant program in general represents several years of effort on Rice’s part. She managed a similar program at her old job in Portland, Ore., a little less than a decade ago. When she moved to the D.C. government in 2010, she hoped she’d be able to translate her work to the nation’s capital. But the process took longer than she expected.
“When I managed it in 2008 or so, it was like the 15th consecutive year it had been going on [in Oregon]. It was this wildly successful program that pulled in over 60 applications and was engaging with new community groups,” Rice said. “I thought, ‘This is a thing that DOEE could use.’”
Rice can’t promise the program will return next year, but she hopes it does, since it will likely grow now that environmentalists know about it and have all year to prepare their proposals.
“What’s great about this year is that there’s been so much interest. Even more people were interested in it and didn’t have enough time to get their proposals together,” she said. “Providing the opportunity again will get even better proposals.”
© Current Newspapers. Republished with permission from the June 8th, 2016 issue of the Northwest Current. Download the newspaper here.