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Six young people sit in chairs as they fish along the bank of the Anacostia River
Fishing in Anacostia Park
NPS Photo / Claire Hassler
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NPF Grant Supports Community Fishing Programming at Anacostia

By Rebecca Watson

Fishing in the great outdoors has immense flexibility – not only can you try a variety of types of fishing, but you also can fish alone, with a friend, or group of people. At Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C., fishing is bringing the community together by connecting the local residents with the national park site in their backyard. – With support from the National Park Foundation’s (NPF) Junior Ranger Angler program, Friends of Anacostia Park – the park’s philanthropic partner organization – helped the local community of Anacostia connect both with the park and each other.

This in-park programming is particularly significant in its efforts to engage the local community of Anacostia, which has suffered from decades of poor planning and disinvestment that led to the pollution of the Anacostia River and the deterioration of the park’s natural and built environment. Many early efforts to restore the park did not include the input or support from local residents, leading to further inequities. The park, and Friends of Anacostia Park, are working to undo some of this legacy through community engagement efforts – such as this fishing program – that leverage the expertise and passion of Anacostia’s residents.

Casting a New Line

Bruce Holmes grew up in Washington, D.C. and remembers being admonished for going down to the Anacostia River in his youth. In 2019, Holmes joined the Friends of Anacostia Park’s meaningful engagement cohort – focused on activating long-time park users and residents as stewards of the park. Holmes inspired the organization’s Friends Corps program, hiring returning citizens, seniors, and parents to empower them in leading park conservation and community engagement efforts. For the past two years, Holmes has led the park’s Community Fishing program, connecting hundreds of local youth to the park through his angling expertise!

Bruce Holmes works with Anacostia youth and shows her how to cast a rod during Anacostia Park's Community Fishing Program
Bruce Holmes works with Anacostia youth and shows her how to cast a rod during Anacostia Park's Community Fishing Program (Friends of Anacostia Park / Sophie Liebel)

The 2023 program, supported by the grant from NPF, built on the successes of a pilot program in the park, offering local residents the opportunity to join “drop-in” sessions with Holmes and Phyllis Nelson – also hired as part of 2023’s program – or progress through the Anacostia Anglers program with a self-paced lesson plan informed by the Junior Ranger “Let’s Go Fishing” Activity Book. Participants who attended three sessions across the program’s season, running from June to November, as well as completed the Activity Book, were invited with their families to join Friends of Anacostia Park’s boat tours, planned in partnership with Anacostia Watershed Society.

"I didn’t even know this type of thing was down here!"
Thrive teen program participant

Throughout the program, nearly 200 youth were connected to the park through these community engagement efforts, totaling over 900 hours of outdoor angling in the park! Another Friends of Anacostia Park event series – Lake Skates – also brought in large groups of youth participants, with many also opting to enjoy the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Lake Skate boat tours. These in-park programs, integrated together to connect with and inspire community members, demonstrate the cumulative power of repeated engagement. Of those who participated in the 2023 Community Fishing program at Anacostia, 77% were first-time fishers.

Thinking Big Picture

A young girl looks at her friend and laughs after being splashed with water during a boat tour
Boat tour at Anacostia Park (NPS Photo / Claire Hassler)
A man in a bright green shirt that says "STAFF" on the back of it casts a line for a child as several other children fish nearby
Fishing demo at Anacostia Park (NPS Photo / Claire Hassler)

The Community Fishing program has effects beyond getting kids and families fishing. Teen participants in the Thrive respite program, 32 of which took part in the Community Fishing programming, have already begun stepping up as park stewards and community leaders. As for Holmes, he has emerged as a key storyteller and historian for Friends of Anacostia Park, often spotted surrounded by park-goers during his drop-in fishing clinics.

Parents accompanying their children to drop-in clinics have expressed the desire to participate in future park and river clean-ups. Many also filled out comment forms to contribute to the park’s Development Concept Plan, helping shape the future of the park. This Community Fishing program is an investment in the park and the community’s future, growing the base of community members with a personal interest in Anacostia Park’s restoration and success as an urban park.

Generous funding from Outdoor Exploration supporting partners Winnebago and Winnebago Industries Foundation supported the Junor Ranger Angler program.

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