On the banks of the Anacostia River today I was reminded of the good work that can be done when government works well. The kind of work that we will need to continue if we are going to fulfill the promise of this iconic river.
At Bladensburg Waterfront Park, a gathering of cabinet secretaries, a governor, a senator, mayors, a county executive, federal agency chiefs and many residents and local river advocates gathered to dedicate the official opening of the Maryland portion of the Anacostia River Trail. This portion of the trail winds through forest and field at the river’s edge, connecting the northwest and northeast branch trails with the main branch trail that will ultimately run through Washington DC.
It may seem like a small, though beautiful thing–the trail at this point is only a few miles long. But really, beauty is never small. And in this case it represents something much larger. A connection–a connection between Maryland, Prince George’s County and Washington D.C. A connection and hopefully a commitment to the promise of the Anacostia. This river has for so long been seen and treated as a failure, or ignored as a problem too big to solve or perhaps not worth solving. But the trail represents in some ways a new day. As Senator Ben Cardin said at the dedication, this is about building a relationship with this river–people are more likely to care for something if they have a relationship with it. This is true for the Anacostia as it is for all rivers, forests, wildlife and wild lands all across the country. For too long we have seen these things as commodities, at best, or not seen them at all. But they are critical to whatever future we may build in this country. As Governor Martin O’Malley said, the trees, the river, the air, they are our allies for the future, and it is time to start building the relationships that will encourage all people to care about what happens to them.
There is much animosity, much maligning of government on the federal level. There are those who hound on the notion that government is bad and only people who complain and criticize the government are to be trusted. But the fact is, some of the greatest things we have accomplished together have been done collectively, through the government.
It is not the idea of government that is the problem, but rather the goals we set for government. Sometime in the recent past a plan was set in motion to connect the Anacostia Watershed and all its jurisdictions and residents with a pathway where nature and humans can walk, ride or rest in balance, connected. This trail and what it represents, and all of those on the local, state and federal level who celebrated the Anacostia Trail today show that when government works well, it can serve the people, respect the natural environment, and rebuild lost connections to benefit our collective quality of life.