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From Bladensburg, Anacostia River Is a Natural Getaway Hidden In Plain Sight

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A couple and their dog kayak down the Anacostia River, a natural getaway hidden in plain sight in the densely populated area between D.C., Prince George's County and Montgomery County.
WAMU/Armando Trull
A couple and their dog kayak down the Anacostia River, a natural getaway hidden in plain sight in the densely populated area between D.C., Prince George's County and Montgomery County.

This weekend the Bladensburg Marina celebrates the 199th anniversary of the Battle of Bladensburg, where a victory over American soldiers allowed the British to land march to Washington, D.C. and burn the White House. 

During colonial times and just prior to the Civil War, the port of Bladensburg was a deep-water port that allowed the passage of tall ships. While more than a century of silt and dirt from runoff, construction projects and even mills have greatly reduced the depth of the Anacostia River at the Bladensburg Marina, it's still a surprisingly pleasant riverside getaway for smaller shallow draft craft.

"This is the widest portion of the Anacostia River coming out of the urban areas of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The river will eventually make its way to the Potomac, which goes out to the Chesapeake and then the Atlantic Ocean", says Park Ranger Tanya Johnson, who guides visitors on pontoon boat rides.

My tour was a bit more private. It's hard to believe we're sailing a small aluminum skiff through such a densely populated portion of Prince George's County. We're surrounded by acres and acres of lush vegetation on either shore. But as we make a turn we see two bridges over the river.

"It's Route 50, New York Avenue taking people to Washington, D.C.," explains Johnson, her voice echoing off the bridge's steel underside. The other bridge is for rail, and as we approach we see an Amtrak train speeding by.

There's plenty of wildlife depending on the time of day and season, says Johnson. "White egrets, great blue herons, ospreys are very common," she says.

We saw plenty of those beautiful birds in flight and on shore. If you're lucky you may see a bald eagle. Beavers come out later in the day along with deer. We spotted terrapins sunning themselves on logs. Visitors can rent gear to fish from the shore, the pier or boats.

Johnson ticks off the list of what you can expect to catch if you go fishing: "Snakehead fish are common right now, the bass both large and small mouth, you have the sunfish."

But fishermen and women have to be aware, says Anthony Nolan, a division chief with Prince George's County Parks Department who accompanied us on the trip. "We have posted fishing advisories to limit the amount of fish that people eat that they catch in the river because of the chemicals in the river." 

Man-made channels off the the main river feed into wetlands. They  help clean the Anacostia and can also be used to access Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. "It's beautiful to navigate. It goes through the wetlands, and so when you're in it, it's almost like being in another world because the aquatic plants are so tall and you're seeing all the cattails," says Johnson.

Swimming is not allowed in this portion of the Anacostia. This past Saturday, a man drowned just feet from the breakwater after being sucked into the silty bottom in relatively shallow water. The use of flotation devices is mandatory. The only exception appears to be a big furry white dog who was riding a kayak with two rowers.

If you're not a fan of being on the water, a lush trail parallels this portion of the Anacostia and by 2015 it will eventually connect all the way to Georgetown. If you don't want to walk, you can rent a bicycle at the marina.

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