Series of Esri story maps highlight the transformation of Anacostia River in...

Series of Esri story maps highlight the transformation of Anacostia River in the last 2 centuries and its impact


Esri story maps are not only strikingly beautiful but they also immerse into the flow of the story in an effortless manner, while simultaneously delighting the reader with interactive details, trivia, eye-catching graphics and splendid visuals. Be it geopolitics, wildlife, heritage, culture, environment or simply any story that would resonate with the readers, Esri story maps have covered all of these myriad themes.

Recently, Esri collaborated with photographer Krista Schlyer and International League of Conservation Photographers to create a wonderful story map series on Anacostia River. Anacostia is also a neighborhood in Washington DC and the river has a historical significance.

The series is titled ‘Rivers of Resilience’.

Anacostia was once a crucial waterway of the USA whose importance dates back to the 17th century when Captain John Smith sailed at the confluence of Anacostia and the Potomac River.

Henry Fleet, another 17th-century navigator, called the region surrounding Anacostia as “The most pleasant and healthful place in all this country.”

But Alas! In the 20th century, Anacostia transmuted from a bountiful life-giver and a repository of serene calm and picturesque beauty to a clogged ditch and cesspool.

The story is about the various facets of Anacostia, from the days of its majestic glow to the current woeful state and the role of indiscriminate deforestation in this unmitigated hazard.

The first story map in the series is titled ‘Northwest Branch’, and as the name suggests, it focusses on the northwestern region where the river flowed, into the state of Maryland.

The famous American abolitionist and social reformer Fredric Douglass also lived in this region and has written at length about the horrors of slavery and the ordeal of the slaves who risked everything to escape to states where they could be free citizens.

After the Second World War, DDT was sprinkled generously on the forests and croplands along the banks of the river. And this led to a decline in the population of birds and other wildlife in the region.

But its baleful impact wasn’t limited to birds and animals only. Residents of the region also started to suffer from many ailments and exposure to this harmful insecticide increased the risk of genetic mutation and other life-threatening diseases. Have a look at this history in the second story map.

Already excited by now by the captivating imagery and vignettes from history?

The other squeals would further add to your excitement.

The second story map is titled ‘Northeastern Branch’ and it takes you along the meanders.

Much is changing in the Northeast Branch watershed. Over the past decades, residential and commercial development and concomitant infrastructure have been rapidly expanding. The natural landscape in nearby Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have increasingly been converted to impermeable hardscape.

The 3rd part, titled’ Anacostia: Maryland’ shows the terrain in the state of Maryland where the river flowed and the history of the river and the state.

By the early decades of the 20th century, the Anacostia River had become so silted and polluted with sewage and other waste, that it became a breeding ground for disease.

Rather than fix the underlying problem of deforestation, poor sewage infrastructure, and rapid, poorly planned urbanization, the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to engineer a river that would endure the damage we had done without causing us a lot of grief.

The next story map, fourth in the series, highlights the wildlife in the region, how it declined and the steps taken for conservation.

Around 450 acres of land on the Anacostia riverside comprise the National Arboretum. Established in 1927 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Arboretum houses some of the oldest forests in the watershed and its vegetated grounds help protect water flowing through an otherwise impermeable urbanized landscape.

The Arboretum often attracts tourists and many come to see vast collections of non-native and cultivated plants. Native meadows added to the beauty of Anacostia.

The 5th story map, the latest one which has been released so far, shows the extent of the environmental havoc wreaked on the river and adjoining areas and the impact of agriculture, deforestation and destructive urbanization over the course of two centuries.

These lands hold the story of the river’s most daunting challenges. They have been at the recieving end of a society’s indifference and have been pushed to the brink of ecological health disaster. But these communities have not broken, and ultimately may hold the key to fulfilling the promise of this wounded urban watershed.

Anacostia has a universal significance for everyone as a cautionary tale that needs to be retold again and again so that more and more people can understand how reckless human activities have degraded the environment and how eventually it impacts human survival in the most baleful manner. However, it also shows that combining vigorous conservation efforts with a right, timely approach can do wonders.