A Few of My Favorite Things

Every job comes with its inherent specialities and institutional knowledge, and the Trail Ranger program is no different. As the DC Trail Ranger Coordinator, I’ve spent a lot of time on the trails we maintain and serve – specifically the Marvin Gaye, Anacostia River, Suitland Parkway and Metropolitan Branch trails. I know a lot about how the trails have changed over the last five years of the program and collectively, we’ve spent hundreds of hours on each of the trails.

But what is gained is more than knowledge of broken-glass patterns (always an increase after DC United games on the Anacostia River Trail). It is an appreciation of the smaller details of a trail, built up over repeated shifts. Like that one quiet shift when things feel a little boring and you finally stop to actually observe the flowers. There are special attributes to all of the trails but on the Marvin Gaye Trail, I’ve particularly come to appreciate:

Early Mornings in the Spring

Early morning in the spring is an absolutely magical time to be on the trail. The world is quiet except for the chattering of birds. The Marvin Gaye Trail follows the Watts Branch, the largest tributary of the Anacostia River in DC, from the easternmost corner of DC to Minnesota Ave NE. The trail is entirely within the boundaries of a city park.

Marvin Gaye Park and Trail is particularly great for birds because a lot of work has been done to restore native plants and repair the stream corridor – including 10,000 new trees and plants in 2012 alone. A healthier forest and stream ecosystem mean more food, shelter and space for birds. It’s easy to hear which birds have moved in or are visiting during the early mornings when most birds are the most talkative.

Sand and greenery in the foreground, a clear rocky stream is flowing behind it. Everything looks prestine

Herons and Beavers

Well, one heron, one time. Herons are a pretty common sight on the Anacostia River Trail, especially near Kingman Island. But one time – I saw a heron at 42nd St. and Hunt Pl. NE in the stream and it was majestic! Though there is certainly work to be done with trash removal along the stream corridor, the amount of trash surrounding the heron was less inspiring.

A far more common sight are the presence of beavers – especially their tell-tale cut down stumps. They are really good at logging! And the beaver dam is pretty (dam) cool.

Lots of underbrush greenery and dead leaves on the ground. To the right is Watts Branch Stream but the photo is focused on the beaver cut sharp stump in the middle of the photo.

Nannie Helen Burroughs

At one-and-a-half miles long, the trail is in a history-rich environment. A DC boundary stone is just off the eastern end of the trail and the Crystal Room where music legend Marvin Gaye first performed is mid-way through the trail (now Washington Park and People’s Riverside Center). But for historic legacy, it’s hard to beat the campus and gates of the National Training School for Women and Girls on Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave NE.

Founded in 1909 by Nannie Helen Burroughs, the prominent 20th century African-American educator and civil rights activist, the school’s location went against the common thinking of the time that a vocational boarding school was more appropriate in the south. The school proceeded to educate thousands of African-American students with Nannie Helen Burroughs as principal until her death in 1961. Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue is particularly notable since many nearby major roads still honor slave-owning families that used to own much of the land around Deanwood (notable examples include Sheriff and Benning).

Front white gate of a fence with peeling white paint. THere is an gold image of Lincoln on top of the arch and it reads "Progressive National Baptist Convention" in black cursive font.

Playground at Marvin Gaye Recreation Center

Musical-themed splash park and playground at a recreation center named for Marvin Gaye, and the result of hard work by the community for neighborhood amenities. Need I say more?

A playground on a sunny day. there is a giant guitar in front and the slides structure behind has keyboard printed roof. There is a water splash park.


Be A Trail Superstar, Come Join the Trail Ranger Team!

Ever wanted people to enthusiastically shout “Thank you, you’re awesome” to you on the job? Feel like a trail celebrity? (actual quote from a former Trail Ranger) Be part of a dynamic team of outreach trail champions? Get to directly improve your community through events and maintenance? Be paid to be outside on your bike for five months?

If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions, consider applying to be DC’s trail superstars as part of our sixth annual cohort of Trail Rangers. We have a whole host of plans lined up for this season and we are looking for our team. More information and the job description can be found here. Applications are due March 5th 2018 though candidates are strongly encouraged to apply earlier.

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We’re Hiring: Part-Time Trail Rangers

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) is looking for five passionate and energetic trail champions with a wide diversity of skills for our 2018 Trail Ranger Team to serve trails and the people who use them throughout the District of Columbia. Now in our sixth season, the program is a beloved presence on our local trails and has a strong reputation as a great working environment with high job satisfaction.

5 people behind a table with lots of outreach material. There is a WABA logo banner behind them, they are under a tent outside on the grass and three of the people are wearing green Trail Ranger shirts. There are 3 men and 2 women.

WABA’s Trail Ranger program encourages trail use through daily trail presence, improved upkeep, trail user assistance and community engagement. Reporting to our DC Trail Ranger Coordinator, Trail Rangers roam nearly 24 miles of trails within the District by bicycle. Trails included in the program are the Metropolitan Branch Trail, Anacostia River Trail, Suitland Parkway Trail, Marvin Gaye Trail, and connecting street routes. Trail Rangers act as trail ambassadors, offering a consistent and friendly presence April through September to make them more approachable, enjoyable, and dependable for transportation and recreation.

Intangible benefits include: working outside on those perfect spring days, getting to know your city better through talking with neighbors, profussive thanks from fellow trail users from removing glass and working closely with a dynamic and diverse team. The Trail Ranger season begins April 11th and ends on September 5th, 2018. Pay starts at $15.50 an hour.

You can learn more about the Trail Ranger program here.

Roles & Responsibilities

You will:

  • Spend the majority of your work hours outside, biking on or between trails.
  • Work in shifts with a partner riding bikes at a relaxed, conversational pace, up to 25 miles in a 8 hour shift.
  • Support and encourage trail use with friendly and helpful trail presence, regular maintenance efforts and consistent outreach events, including:
    • Morning coffee outreach.
    • Trail rides.
    • Activity days with local organizations.
  • Help lower barriers to bicycling, build community and build a more robust trail network.
    • Develop and maintain relationships with regular trail users and community members.
    • Bring new users to the trail through community outreach and engagement.
    • Individual conversations with trail neighbors and community groups.
  • Plan and lead cleanups and community events alongside the program coordinator.
  • Perform inspections of trail conditions and maintenance of trail corridors including pruning branches, gathering trash, removing obstructions and clearing debris.
  • Make regular reports on daily trail conditions, needs, and trends.
  • Work with the program coordinator and city agencies to respond to recurring or major trail maintenance issues.
  • Document events, trail updates and developments to keep trail users informed.
  • Be outside in all weather, with the exemption of thunderstorms and other hazardous conditions.
  • Each team member will be individually responsible for an operational project, including: team bike maintenance, tools maintenance, and reporting.
  • Assist at other WABA events as needed.


Candidates must have:

  • A proven track record for being dependable, timely, and communicative.
  • The willingness to be positive, engaging, and approachable in a public setting.
  • The willingness and enthusiasm to work in a team setting
  • The ability to thrive in a day-to-day self-supervised work environment.
  • The capacity to be available for 16-24 hours per week in 8 hour shifts,
    • Shifts are 6:30 am – 2:30 pm and 11:00 am – 7:00 pm on weekdays, and
    • 10:00 am – 6:00 pm on weekends.
    • Work weekends approximately every other weekend.
  • A commitment to work April 11th to September 5th, 2018.
  • The ability to ride a bike up to 25 miles in mixed city traffic and off street trails pulling an up to 30 lbs trailer.
  • A commitment to being a safe and exemplary bicyclist.
  • A commitment to respect, include, and be kind to all.

Ideal candidates will have:

  • A proven track record for working collaboratively within a team.
  • A firm commitment to WABA’s mission.
  • Excellent communication skills in informal settings and across lines of difference.
  • Confidence interacting with and serving the public.
  • Creative problem-solving skills and capacity to innovate.
  • The ability to organize time wisely and juggle multiple priorities.

Trail Rangers operate as a team and benefit from the unique skills and talents of each team member. Ideally, one or more team member will have:

  • The knowledge of the principles of safe bicycling and traffic laws in DC.
  • The ability to lift up to 30 lbs.
  • Are competent with basic bicycle maintenance including patching a flat tire and adjusting brakes.
  • Spanish, ASL or Amharic proficiency a strong plus.
  • Previous experience with one of our program trails and the neighborhoods they connect
  • Previous experience as a DC Trail Ranger

WABA is committed to:

  • Providing opportunities to learn new skills.
  • Promoting and building an inclusive, collaborative team environment.
  • Orientation and team management that prioritizes your well-being, including training in preventing common cycling injuries.
  • Doing our best to have a consistent schedule that respects your time and outside obligations.
  • Providing all the tools, bikes and materials needed to perform the job.

This position is part-time from April 11th, 2018 through September 5th, 2018 for approximately 16 – 20 hours per week. Compensation starts at $15.50 per hour.

Please apply by filling out an application here. We strongly prefer that resumes be uploaded through the application portal but if you encounter issues,  resumes can be sent to jobs@waba.org with “Trail Ranger” as the subject line. The Trail Ranger team benefits from a wide range of skills and life experiences, please include what unique skills you would bring to the team. Women and minority candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.

Applications will be accepted until March 5th though candidates are strongly encouraged to apply earlier. Phone interviews will begin March 5th, hiring decisions will be made by March 26th and team orientation will be April 11th – April 13th. Phone calls only if you do not have easy internet access please.

WABA is committed to providing equal employment opportunity for all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, arrest record or criminal convictions, political affiliation, sexual orientation or gender identity, disability, sex, or age.

Very Specific Thoughts on Dustpans, or How to Help Clean a Local Trail

Screen caption of a tweet reading "@WABA's @sobacase "I have very specific thoughts about dustpans." And lots of other advice on how people on bikes can keep trails trash free." There is a photo of a woman in brown workpants overalls talking and leaning up against a wall. Another woman on the left is thinking, a pile of bike gear is on the right with the arm of a person is high visibility jacket on the far right of the frame.

Bothered by the trash on your ride home every day? See something that should not be there? Grabbing a few items on your way home doesn’t take too long, is easy to place in a nearby public trash can and does make an impact. We know there are folks throughout the region doing trash removal on trails already, it is not just you battling it all!

The DC Trail Rangers will certainly be doing more group cleanups in the spring and they have their appeal – more social! free snacks! But you don’t have to wait for us to cleanup your trail.

Two men in Trail Ranger shirts posing looking accomplished with a foot on a large tree branch.

Mission accomplished! (Credit: Thomas Worth, 501pix)

Here are a few tips for cleanup

Start small and easy: Things do add up. You don’t have to tackle what the heck to do with that car bumper that has been there for nine months.

Trash disposal: Solo cleanups are easy because you can dispose of trash in your own home garbage or a public trash can. I’ll often take a random bag from sliced bread or something similar and use that as a trash bag.

Recyclables: Lots of materials on the trails can be recycled. But recycling must be clean so if its covered in weird grease from being outside for 10 months then it is probably best to trash.

Be careful taking gloves off: If you’ve been using work or disposable gloves, they’re probably covered in whatever you didn’t want to touch. So don’t go taking them off by touching them with your bare hands! Handy dandy diagram from the CDC:

1 - With both hands gloves, grasp the outside of one glove at the top of your wrist, being careful not to touch your bare skin. 2 - Peel off this frist glove, peeling away from your body and from wrist to fingertips, turning the glove inside out. 3 - Holding the glove you just removed in your gloved hand. 4 - with your ungloved hand, peel off the second glove by inserting your fingers inside the glove at the top of your wrist. 5 - turn the second glove inside out while tilting it away from your body, leaving teh first glove inside the second. 6 - dispose of the gloves safely. Do not reuse the gloves. 7 - clean your hands immediately after removing gloves and before touching any objects or surfaces.

Credit: Center for Disease Control

Disposable gloves: Carrying disposable plastic gloves can be helpful – not only are they handy for changing flat tires if you don’t want to deal with dirty hands but also for handling potentially harmful materials. I’ve used my pair for tucking dead birds off-trail where dogs won’t find them and removing the occasional dead fish from the Anacostia River Trail.

Be a trail trash trendsetter

Ready to take the next step in your trail cleaning adventures? Read on!

Trash grabbers: Foldable trash grabbers are convenient and will do wonders for your back! They are great for grabbing trash buried in vegetation, reducing your effort and strain, and they can more easily fit in a bike bag without looking like this:

Selfie of a woman in a bike helmet, blue Seattle Sounders jacket and messenger bag. There are handles of four trash grabbers in the lower right sticking out of a bike pannier.

(The trash grabber pictured above is a little more expensive and doesn’t fold, but does have a better spring which reduces the amount of forearm effort)

Removing glass: The best solution is a dustpan and a paper bag. Paper doesn’t get torn as easily with cut glass, reducing the chance of a bag breaking and spilling the glass shards back on the trail after you spent so much time carefully removing it. But glass is much more inert in the environment than plastic so if you don’t want to carry a dustpan, simply a handbroom will do the trick. You can often safely sweep the glass off the trail/bike lane into somewhere less likely to cause flat tires. And I know it’s so tempting but picking up broken shards with your bare hands is not a great idea.

Dustpans: For heavier stuff like glass and gravel, you want a dustpan without a steep lip. The Trail Ranger team has tried a bunch of dustpans over the years and the consensus is that:

Glamor shot of two white dustpans and handbrooms on a white background. Both dustpans are used and dirty though the dustpan on the left is clearly more used.

Trail Ranger dustpans.

the Rubbermaid on left is much better than the Laitner set on right (probably a perfectly adequate dustpan for dust bunnies, just not great for heavy glass and gravel).

Trash hauling: You don’t have to be your own one-person trash hauling service for bigger projects. Doing trash cleanup with a few friends? If you call two weeks in advance, DC DPW Helping Hands program will pick up bags from locations in DC. For large individual items like car bumpers that are dumped on trails, they can be removed by calling your local jurisdiction’s 311 reporting system. For the DC 311 system, items can be reported using the “Street Cleaning” or “Illegal Dumping” category. Both categories have the same end result but the “Illegal Dumping” adds a step at the beginning to determine whether anyone can be cited.  

Special circumstances and things to watch out for

Your personal safety is more important than courting risk – if you don’t feel safe dealing with something, don’t! You are not obligated to put your health and safety at risk.

Medical waste (including syringes, needles + human waste): The typical trash cleanup materials of work gloves and a plastic bag doesn’t cut it for safety with medical waste. If you see hypodermic needles: 

many hypodermic needles in a pile on a concrete floor. Clearly from a cleanup.

Hypodermic needles. Credit: CBS 2

don’t pick them up unless you have the materials to properly dispose of sharps!

BB guns: Not found too often on trails but they certainly are around. Advice from the Metropolitan Police Department is that if they do not have ammunition in them and are disassembled, they can be put directly in the trash. Both complete BB guns and actual guns are not safe to go directly in the trash. If it is safe for you, both can be given to the police.

So how do you know what you found? BB gun ID advice for cyclists: they have a CO2 cartridge in the handle (also they are lighter than real guns which may be a useful comparison for some folks but tells me nothing).

Immediate concerns: If you see something that poses an immediate danger, it is appropriate to give an government agency a call and let them handle it. I’ve had great success in calling Department of Energy and the Environment over a bag of asbestos that flew off a truck on Sousa Bridge and calling Department of Public Works over medical waste that was spilled.

Public and private property: The DC region has a lot of different jurisdictions and responsible agencies. Be aware of whose land you are on (DC property line map is here) and if you’re not sure, err on the side of asking permission before you do anything. It can be a tricky balance between honoring our collective responsibility and not doing things you’re not supposed to do. You should be fine so long as you’re simply removing trash, but any permanent change to public property is a no-go (i.e. don’t be this guy and install your own road signs). When in doubt, don’t do anything. Call and ask questions, or email trailranger@waba.org and we can try to navigate with you.

Poison ivy: Poison ivy is native to the DC region and can be found in many greenspaces throughout the region. Oils throughout the plant, including leaves, bark and roots, can cause severe skin reactions in about 33% of people. The best way to stay safe is to not touch it! Poison ivy can be identified by its leaves and hairy vine but it can be tricky to spot sometime since it easily blends into the canopy. The Trail Ranger team wears gloves and long sleeves whenever we come near vegetation to protect ourselves and all of our work gloves are washed in hot water to wash off any potential poison ivy oils before they are used again.

Closeup shot of a skinny vine with lots of small hairs growing on a black metal wire fence.

Poison ivy growing on the Metropolitan Branch Trail just south of the Rhode Island Pedestrian Bridge.

Reporting issues to the jurisdictions

For maintenance problems, persistent issues, and materials that you cannot or don’t want to handle, the best course of action is to report it to the jurisdiction responsible for maintenance. This is a great choice for that large couch off the side of Suitland Parkway Trail that isn’t going anywhere soon and needs a large truck for removal.

DC: Many issues can be reported through the DC 311 system.  Report through DC’s online 311 system or by giving them a call at 311. If you are calling from outside the district, call 202-737-4404. Department of Parks and Recreation facilities are primarily maintained by Department of General Services, who operate a separate hotlineat (202) 576-7676.

Arlington County: Issues can be reported here.

Prince George’s County: Issues can be reported here. Alternatively call 311 or if you are calling from outside the county, 301-883-4748.

Montgomery County: Call 311. If you are calling from outside of Montgomery County, call 240-777-0311.

Alexandria: Issue can be reported here or by calling 703-746-4357.

Fairfax County: Issues can be reported here.

Join a community!

There are a few great resources to coordinate and ask questions about trails. Regionally the Washington Area Bike Forum covers a lot of trails and the WABA Women & Bicycles group also lots of conversations about trails. Many trails also have local listservs (check Yahoo and Google Groups) and Facebook groups.

Anacostia River Trail
Facebook group

Metropolitan Branch Trail
Facebook group
Yahoo listserv

Capital Crescent Trail
Facebook group

Mt. Vernon Trail
Entire trail Facebook group
South section Facebook group

Four Mile Run Trail
Facebook group

Washington and Old Dominion Trail
Facebook group

Hear about Trail Ranger cleanups! Yes!

Have questions? Ask our coordinator!

In the four years of being involved with the Trail Ranger program, our coordinator Ursula Sandstrom, has well-informed thoughts on trail maintenance, tools and such. She can be reached at ursula.sandstrom@waba.org, (202) 518-0524 x208 or on Twitter at @wabadc.

A Very Busy Trail: MLK Day of Service on the Met Branch

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 180 folks woke up early, layered up, and joined WABA and the Carlos Rosario School for a morning cleanup on the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

Photo: Carlos Rosario School

Volunteers scoured the trail corridor for trash and debris. It warmed my heart to see the trail so alive with people, including many first-time visitors. Even better—by lunchtime, this community treasure was cleaner than it’s been in a long while.

Photo: Carlos Rosario School

In addition to trash removal the full length of the trail, we had three specific project sites tackling some long-standing issues.

Revealing the Mural

Photo: Carlos Rosario School

One of the oldest murals on the trail, Change Gears, has been mostly obscured by climbing vines few years now. We’ve done some work to keep the vegetation in check, but this time we had the people-power, materials, and tools to stem the growth.


Photo: Carlos Rosario School


We suppressed the roots with burlap bags as a weed barrier, downcycled from Swings Coffee, and six-inches of mulch also downcycled from a tree cut down in the District a few days prior. The tree was no longer safe to be on our city streets but it has a new role on the trail.

It took many hands to get the mulch from the drop-off site on a nearby street to its final home on the trail – thank you volunteers!

Emptying the Ravine

Farther north on the trail, we did our annual cleanup of the ravine at Rhode Island Ave NE. In addition to a lot of takeout containers, we found:

  • a tire
  • a porcelain toilet (mercifully empty)
  • a scythe (we’re still pretty confused about this one)

Look at all these bags of trash!

Photo: Carlos Rosario School

Clearing the Hill

And our third major site was trash and vine removal from the hillside between Rhode Island Ave and Edgewood Pl NE.

Photo: Carlos Rosario School

Though the hillside had a lot of native planting when the trail was first unveiled, destructive and invasive porcelain-berry had taken over many trees. Fifteen folks and one dog scoured the hillside to find which trees needed help and cutting a buffer between roots and vine canopy. By cutting off their connection to the ground, the vines will no longer be able to grow and smother the trail-side canopy this spring.

A few more photos of the event can be found here.

Thank you!

It takes a neighborhood to succeed at large events like this cleanup. A huge thank you to our event co-host Carlos Rosario School’s Sonia Gutierrez Campus, particularly the Student Services team and Student Government, and to Whole Foods for sponsoring coffee and breakfast for 180 volunteers. Additional thanks to Community Capital Corporation for space and tools, second year sponsor Career Path DC for trash removal, Treeman Inc for 10 cubic yards of fresh mulch, the District Department of Energy and the Environment for consulting and loaning tools, the District Department of Park and Recreation for loaning tools, to Kevin and Sam for lending their wheelbarrows, and the District Department on Transportation for mulch support and making the DC Trail Ranger team possible.

Photo: Carlos Rosario School

Trash On Trails: More Than An Annoyance

Trail Rangers do lots of different trail projects: promote trails, answer questions, clip back vegetation, ride trails (and write the word “trails” a lot). Why do Trail Rangers spend some of their time removing trash?

We want more folks wanting to feel trails are welcoming and use trails. People don’t like walking or biking through trash – it’s not fun to look at or be around. Studies have found that litter on trail decreased trail use by 20%. Trails are appealing for a number of reasons but being outside in the natural world is a common one – does this look appealing to you?

Another study found that how folks perceive safety is influenced by trash – eliminating litter from an image increased the perception of safety 30%. It’s hard to encourage more folks to enjoy trails if they feel unsafe or that it’s not a pleasant place to spend their time.

Trash can cause problems. It’s much easier to pick up a whole glass bottle just off the trail now before it breaks and causes flat tires. And it’s no fun to fall because you hit a carryout container just right and then–whee, sideways!

We want a healthy environment. All of our trails are part of the Anacostia River watershed, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Trash in the river has been so bad in recent years that the Anacostia River was declared “impaired by trash” by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act. Whatever we don’t pick up will eventually likely go into the bay and from there into the ocean (unless it’s picked up by a few trash traps or the DC Water skimmer but they only make a dent). Plastic and manmade materials are not part of the ocean ecology – let’s keep them out!


So how do you help the team and encourage more folks to be on the trails?

Don’t litter. We’d rather be doing something else! Save us a step.

Request a trash can! There are definitely places along the trails and roads that have higher incidence of litter because people expect there to be a trash can (ex: Stanton Rd and Suitland Parkway). There is a whole category in the city 311 reporting system on requesting new trash cans

More info about effective 311 reports here.

Join the team for a cleanup! We do public cleanups a few times a year to make a bigger impact. The next one is January 15th for Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. More details and signup here.  

Get updates for all of cleanups by joining our email list. Yes!

Also lots of other organizations are involved in trash reduction efforts so if you’re not near a Trail Ranger trail, there is probably something going on close to you!

Cleanup of the Paul Meijer Garden

Fourteen friends of the Metropolitan Branch Trail gathered at the Paul Meijer Garden this Sunday for a short garden cleanup. The garden is filled with tulip bulbs to honor Paul’s Dutch roots but a summer of enthusiastic Bermuda grass growth meant they would be chocked out next spring.

We pulled out as much of the grass and other weeds as we could, spread a light mulch layer and prepped the garden for growth next spring after a dormant winter. And in trail reclamation bonus, the mulch was from a tree on the trail. It was no longer safe as a tree but it has a new life in the garden!

Thanks to everyone who joined us, and to Rich and Dan for going above and beyond with extra supplies!