On June 29, the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC)  held “The 2017 Biennial Appreciation Dinner and Reception for Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners” at the Anacostia Gateway Office Building. One-hundred and fifty people attended the event designed to fete commissioners but Philip Pannell, the interim chairman and executive director of the ACC, had another purpose in mind.

“Each year when we have this event there is a theme,” he said. “Last year, we talked about the Anacostia River and this year we will focus on Anacostia Park.”

Anacostia Park is located in Southeast Washington. (Courtesy Photo)

The ACC is an advocacy group of civic activists whose mission is to support the Anacostia neighborhood in Ward 8 economically, socially and culturally.

Commissioners represent 2,000 District of Columbia residents in single-member districts based on where they live and are elected in the November general election for two-year terms. Commissioners serve as the official voice of the neighborhood to the District government and deal with issues such as trash collection, zoning, recreation, education, social services, public safety, and economic development.

Commissioners are uncompensated. Ward 8 has five commissions with 35 commissioners.

Anacostia Park is along the Anacostia River, with more than 1,200 acres at multiple sites that include the famed Langston Golf Course, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Kenilworth Marsh. The Anacostia Park Pavilion has 3,300 square feet of space for roller skating and special events, and the park consists of three concession-operated marinas, four boat clubs and a public boat ramp for recreational boating.

Pannell said Anacostia Park is larger in size than New York City’s Central Park. The headquarters of National Capital Parks East is located within the park along with “Eagles’ Nest,” the headquarters of the United States Park Police helicopter aviation unit.

Pannell said Blacks in Ward 8 and nationally don’t focus on the environment enough. “If you asked a Ward 8 resident their top 10 priorities, the environment wouldn’t even be 11,” he said. “We need to be river people and work to prepare the park for future development.”

Pannell urged the commissioners to address the trash problem in the ward’s neighborhoods and lift consciousness about the environment.

Doug Siglin, executive director of the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, recited the history of the Anacostia River and Park from pre-historic times to the Indian era, the arrival of the Europeans to the area in the 1600s and to the 1800s when Anacostia region was largely farm land. Siglin talked about the creation of Anacostia Park largely as a result of sewage from the District of Columbia and the integration of engineering techniques in the early 20th century to create most of its river front. He noted that the park is located alongside the river that has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most “endangered waterways” in the country for decades and his organization is committed to cleaning it up. “If we know our history, we can improve our history,” he said.

The keynote speaker for the event was Tara Morrison, the superintendent of the National Park Service Parks East. Morrison said the development of Anacostia Park was part of her agency’s urban agenda that is designed to get more city residents to utilize the parks as a part of their lives and said “healthy parks produce healthy people.”

The event’s welcome was delivered by Polly Donaldson, the District’s director of Housing and Community Development. “I know what it is like to be a commissioner,” Donaldson said. “I was a commissioner in Mount Pleasant and I was elected as the chairman of the commission in my first term. You should be commended for coming together to serve the community.”

The commissioners and members of the ACC were treated to a catered dinner and a reception that took place on the rooftop of the building. Betty Scippio, who represents district 8B05, told the AFRO she appreciates Pannell’s efforts.

“This is a great event and I am honored to be a part of it,” Scippio said. “Philip Pannell has gone above and beyond for some time to recognize us. This gives commissioners a chance to put aside our differences to celebrate our love for this ward.”