River of Resilience: Mapping the Anacostia – A Journey from Headwaters to Confluence on the Anacostia River

By Elsabé Johnson Dixon on June 26, 2018


Make This River Hallowed, Photograph submission by Krista Schlyer.


On April 3, 2018, artist Krista Schlyer released a total of eight online interactive episodes documenting the Anacostia Watershed as a digital exhibition. In this “Story Map,” Schlyer has put the Anacostia River, from headwaters to confluence, under the scrutiny of her photographer’s lens and her practice of journalistic inquiry. She aimed to digitally map, not only the natural river, but also its “harvested histories”[1].

Schlyer worked in collaboration with the Anacostia Waterfront Trust; the Anacostia Watershed Society; the Prince George’s County Department of Energy and Environment; the Earth Conservation Corps: Riverkeeper; Groundworks DC; the International League of Conservation Photographers; and the Esri Story Maps team, to build a multimedia story map that can be accessed by the public, and other artists, who wish to engage in, and contribute to, ecological and political dialogues pertaining to the Anacostia River.[2]

The River of Resilience project is a long-term digital photo documentary with the aim of gathering imagery and other media online to tell the story of the Anacostia River. In 2010, Schlyer says she was asked by the International League of Conservation Photographers to participate in a collaborative photographic project on the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. She chose to photograph the James, Potomac, and Anacostia watersheds. “The Anacostia had been my home watershed for almost a decade and yet I knew almost nothing about it until that project,” said Schlyer. “I knew during my first kayak trip on the river that I had been wrong to overlook the Anacostia.”

Schlyer draws attention to the fact that the Anacostia is no ordinary river and that the communal histories around it are complex and in some instances extremely dark. In Chapter 5 of the online documentation pertaining to the Kenilworth Dump, Schlyer recalls the untimely death of the young Kevin Tyrone Mock. Mock’s death on February 15, 1968 during the routine burning of trash at the Kenilworth Dump along the banks of the Anacostia River in DC, changed this policy after an outcry from the community.


A red fox on a polluted bank of the Anacostia River. 2012 Photo Credit: Krista Schlyer


Maynery Pantaleon looking at a fish caught by a friend of her father, Kenilworth Park, Washington DC. Photo Credit: Krista Schlyer

While utilizing her skills as journalist, photographer and researcher, Schlyer does not document mere facts, but aims instead to conjure up a vivid portrait of a river once forgotten in the development of the nation’s capital. She also illuminates new efforts to resurrect this neglected watershed through sustainable development, “re-wilding,” restoration and public awareness campaigns.

Krista Schlyer’s River of Resilience project not only aims to help local nonprofits and governments build a campaign of community support for the river, but her mapping of harvested histories around this river through photography, video and oral histories, encourages both the public and policy makers to recognize the river as a cultural platform which affects our psychological well-being in this region.

Schlyer’s intimate engagement with the Anacostia River and the Anacostia Watershed communities illuminates regional policies regarding the Anacostia River and its importance, both ecologically and psychologically, to the DC and Maryland region around the capital. She clearly illuminates the waste of a resource neglected for decades and calls for us to take a closer look. In the same way that Gustave Caillebotte’s impressionist painting A Rainy Day isn’t merely a pretty picture of a Parisian couple walking down a Paris boulevard in the rain, but on another level refers to the redesign of Paris under Baron Haussman, Schlyer’s online documentation doesn’t just depict stunning environmental photographs but also implies a new direction and a kind of mindfulness that can and should be applied to thinking about the Anacostia Watershed.

As Schlyer explains, Ecology is a delicate thing. With this in mind I am a constant worrier. Our human ecology and the way it weaves into the natural ecology of this land, both are tremendously vulnerable. We have such an incredible opportunity right now, not just to return the river to a swimmable and fishable condition, but, to actually heal the broken cultural and natural ecology of our home. We can only do that if every step is a mindful one.”[3]

River of Resilience is an adaptation of Krista Schlyer’s forthcoming book, River of Redemption: Almanac of Life on the Anacostia, due out in Fall 2018 from Texas A&M University Press.

River of Resilience, the interactive, online multi-media project can be accessed here: www.anacostiatrust.org/storymap

[1] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED562336.pdf

[2] https://www.anacostiatrust.org/storymap/

[3] Derived from a personal interview with the artist on April 20, 2018 and from her blog https://www.anacostiatrust.org/anacostia-trust/