Community Renews Commitment To Nearly Forgotten Island (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Community Renews Commitment To Nearly Forgotten Island

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We head south of the national arboretum now to another green corner of the city, known as Kingman Island. This little strip of land was built nearly a century ago, in the middle of the Anacostia River. As Jerad Walker tells us, an unlikely coalition of Washingtonians has committed to introducing the island to a broader public with a little help from Bluegrass and folk music.

MR. JERAD WALKER

00:00:24
In a nondescript parking lot, in the shadow of RFK Stadium sits the entrance to Kingman Island. Trains on an elevated stretch of metro track buzz by every five minutes or so. After leaving that parking lot and crossing a wooden footbridge onto the island itself, the juxtaposition is striking.

MR. JERAD WALKER

00:00:48
And while the island and park provide a rare piece of green space in an otherwise urban environment it's anything but a natural wonder.

MR. MATT BOYER

00:00:57
It actually is manmade. It was built in 1917 as part of a public health project to try to alleviate some mud banks along the Anacostia that were frankly causing a spread of malaria and other infectious diseases around the area.

WALKER

00:01:12
Matt Boyer is director of operations for Living Classrooms of the national capital region, the nonprofit organization that manages Kingman Island.

BOYER

00:01:21
There were a whole bunch of different ideas for reclaiming the island, but the community around it and D.C. community as a whole really felt like the best use for the city for the park would be use as an environmental education center, use as an outdoor park and is making the island the usable, valuable jewel, frankly, in the middle of D.C. that it really can be.

WALKER

00:01:45
In the past few years, Living Classrooms and other organizations have made incremental improvements to the island. And while the land is actively used for hands-on education sessions, convincing people to visit the new park with regularity as proven difficult. Three years ago, one of the island's biggest advocates, D.C. Ward 6 Council member, Tommy Wells, hatched a plot to change that.

MR. TOMMY WELLS

00:02:10
I thought that the way to get more people really to take more ownership for cleaning up the river would be to kind of change the paradigm of how people viewed the Anacostia River. So I thought why not a Bluegrass Festival.

WALKER

00:02:25
Wells had his fair share of skeptics.

WELLS

00:02:28
It seemed really kind of incongruent with -- generally when people say Anacostia, they don't think Bluegrass Festival.

WALKER

00:02:34
But the lifelong Bluegrass fan was undeterred.

WELLS

00:02:37
I'd been to some Bluegrass Festivals over the years and saw that they were held in the countryside and interesting natural areas and Kingman Island really, I thought, could be one of those areas.

WALKER

00:02:49
So Wells went about creating the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival. He had the perfect venue, but he needed musicians and a crowd. Surprisingly, many of them were already in Ward 6.

WELLS

00:03:02
We discovered that the Sova Coffee Shop on 8th Street, they opened a second floor wine bar and they were having a lot of trouble getting customers. So some people approached them and said, hey, what if we played Bluegrass up here on Thursday nights? Would you be open to that?

WALKER

00:03:18
Sova owner, Frank Hankins, says Thursday night Bluegrass is now his most consistent weekly event.

MR. FRANK HANKINS

00:03:25
It's blossomed over the last three and a half to four years to, you know, every single Thursday we get very good crowd.

WALKER

00:03:32
One of Hankins Thursday night regulars is Daniel Conner, Deputy Community Director for Councilmember Wells and the organizer of the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival. Daniel has used Sova as a base to get the word out about both the island and the fledging festival.

MR. DANIEL CONNER

00:03:50
It started out with 500 people on the island, then last year we went to 1500 and this year we're looking for 3,000 plus people. With the thriving Bluegrass community here in D.C., we see it as a way to lure folks out to the Anacostia River and Kingman Island.

WALKER

00:04:08
And if everything goes according to Conner's plan, those 3,000 people will see something more than just a good show. I'm Jerad Walker.

SHEIR

00:04:31
The Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival is this Saturday from 1:00 to 8:00 pm. You can find more information on our website, that's metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:04:47
And that's "Metro's Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jessica Gould, Sabri Ben-Achour, Martin DiCaro, Emily Friedman and Jerad Walker along with Marc Adams. And special thanks to Rachel James for her tape from New York. Our acting news director is Meymo Lyons. Tara Boyle is our managing producer. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Alex Platis. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

00:05:16
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts,'' is from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on an individual story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

00:05:31
Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter link, our Facebook link, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show or you want to listen to any of our recent shows, just click the podcast link up at the top of the page. You also can sign up for our podcasts on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we bring you "Fighting the Odds," inside D.C.'s dropout crisis. It's a special one hour documentary following the District's lowest performing schools as it struggles to improve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ONE

00:06:00
It's amazing if we change one aspect of our school programming, how hard it is just to get everybody to buy in and to understand the rationale. It's just really hard.

SHEIR

00:06:12
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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