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DC and Prince George’s Collaborate to Restore Watts Branch
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by Linda Fennell | 2006

Local Activists Seek to Expand Watts Branch Subwatershed Group

Dennis Chestnut and James Hunter seem to be running on pure adrenalin. Both are fond of the outdoors; Chestnut is a former Boy Scout and Hunter, an avid boater. Both love the Anacostia River. But Watts Branch is their favorite stream. Their eyes light up when they talk about Watts Branch. Reminiscing on the “good old days,” these two local residents can sit for hours telling interesting stories of their experiences with Watts Branch and the Anacostia River. That is why they are working together to expand an educational and advocacy campaign for Watts Branch. Chestnut and Hunter have partnered with Steve Coleman of Washington Parks and People  to re-energize the Watts Branch Community Alliance.

Formed five years ago by Coleman and led by the late Earl Simpson, the Alliance is housed at the Riverside Center in the Far Northeast Section of Ward 7 in Washington, D.C. The Riverside Center is the focal point of the work that Coleman, Chestnut, Hunter, and other community members are doing to save a wonderful community  asset. Working together with District, Maryland, and federal agencies, the Alliance has produced the largest community park revitalization in D.C. history. The Alliance focuses on bringing together the D.C. and Prince George’s neighborhoods that surround Marvin Gaye Park (formerly Watts Branch Park) and the Watts Branch headwaters on issues relating to the park, the stream, the Anacostia River, and the surrounding communities.

Watts Branch, a tributary of the Anacostia River, begins in Capitol Heights and continues across the District line, flowing through several communities in the Far Northeast section of DC. Marvin Gaye Park is the District’s longest city park. 

The Alliance collaborates with such other watershed groups as the Anacostia Watershed Society, Clean Water Action, The Casey Trees Foundations and the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Program in activities like as tree plantings, stewardship projects and educational programs in the District. In a partnership with the Town of Capitol Heights, there will be a public education campaign in Prince George’s County. 

In March, 2005, these groups, in collaboration with the Town of Capitol Heights, Maryland, kicked off their restoration efforts by sponsoring a massive clean-up in the London Woods subdivision. Hundreds of volunteers, including members of the Sierra Club, staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other Prince George’s County agencies, pulled tires, furniture, and other trash from the headwaters of Watts Branch. Weekly clean-ups continued through the months of April and May. The town has received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Department of the Environment for the Livable Communities and Stream Restoration Project for Watts Branch. The state funds will be matched by Prince George’s County for grading, sediment and erosion control, and storm water management. Just ask Chestnut about his work with communities in this endeavor: “I am very excited about this effort, especially working with Capitol Heights,” says Chestnut. “I have an opportunity to share my experiences with the stream with my neighbors who did not know that it is a tributary to the Anacostia River.” James Hunter, currently the Vice President of the Alliance, agrees with Chestnut. “We want to reach as many people as we can in both DC and Maryland to work together to restore the stream,” says Hunter. “It is a valuable asset to our communities.” Hunter  seems rather quiet, but is just as enthusiastic about the restoration project.


The Alliance has several goals:

1. Make Watts Branch—both the park and creek—safe, clean, attractive, and accessible.

2. Establish a permanent Watts Branch partnership for community-based protection and arts and educational programming along the stream.

3. Provide every resident of the Watts Branch basin with access to information about the stream, its links to the Anacostia River, and how to get involved in reclaiming both the stream and the river.

4. Reach out to every Watts Branch area school, church, and community organization to forge a new commitment to the future of the stream.

5. Promote Watts Branch as a vital link to the Anacostia River, the Fort Circle, the Metro, and beyond.

6. Develop a positive daily relationship between inner-city residents and the Anacostia River.


The Watts Branch Community Alliance Advisory Board meets on the 3rd Thursday of each month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Meetings are held at the Riverside Center, 5200 Foote Street N.E. (Division Ave. & Foote Street).

For more information, contact: Dennis Chestnut (202) 345-5693 or via email

For more information about Marvin Gaye Park, visit the website     

Linda Fennell is an Environmental Justice organizer for the Sierra Club.



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