“The reclamation of Watts Branch Creek Park is the largest Park reclamation in DC history.This effort has to be comprehensive, with all burners going. If you leave out schools, job training, advocacy, public safety, or transportation you are missing the boat. ”
Steve Coleman, Executive Director of Washington Parks and People
Over three years ago, a walk through Watts Branch Creek Park in Northeast Washington DC would have revealed scenes of abandoned cars and tires, mounds of bulk trash, thousands of syringes, and a site line completely obstructed by overgrown brush. In fact, Watts Branch Creek Park could have been mistaken as a trash dump.
So, when Washington Parks and People – an organization dedicated to reclaiming urban park space and best known for their reclamation of Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights – decided to take on Watts Branch Creek Park as a major reclamation project, they knew they had an immense amount of work ahead of them.
Initially, the community greeted WPP with skepticism and disbelief, and after years of false promises and abandonment, the reaction seems justified. “The community’s response was well placed,” says Steve Coleman Executive Director of WPP, “we found evidence of large dump piles sitting idle for over 18 years.”
To demonstrate their commitment, WPP leased two adjacent commercial buildings directly across from the park at the intersection of Division Avenue and Foote Street to serve as the base of operations for the reclamation effort.
This commitment became permanent in January 2004. Now called the Riverside Park Center, these two buildings were purchased with a $225,000 acquisition loan from LISC.
In just under three years, Washington Parks and People, along with their impressive troop of over 14,000 volunteers, have begun the transformation of Watts Branch Creek Park. Today children ride their bikes, where heroin dealers and drug users used to congregate. Park workers and volunteers offer warm greetings to park guests, and the first public native plant nursery is underway. Now even a
French chef performs cooking demonstrations at a local farmer’s market.
In the near future, WPP plans to offer additional programs using the Riverside Center as a springboard to spark the wider revitalization of the area.