Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams, announced a new Environmental
Education Program on Tuesday that will serve as a living memorial to the
students, teachers and National Geographic Society staff members who
were killed in a hijacked airliner on September 11.
Three students, three teachers, and two Geographic staff members who were accompanying them on an educational field trip sponsored by the Society were on the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon.
The education program in their memory will center on the revitalization and stewardship of Kingman and Heritage Islands in the Anacostia River, which flows through an area of D.C.
Used for years mainly as a dumping ground, the islands were nearly transferred to entrepreneurs for business development.
The program aims to increase the environmental education of students in grades four through six. It will be run as a joint project of the Mayor, the Public Schools, and the Department of Parks and Recreation of Washington, D.C.; the National Geographic Society; the Anacostia Watershed Society; and the Earth Conservation Corps.
"This is a wonderful way to honor the lives of the D.C. public schoolchildren and teachers and National Geographic staff who were victims of the tragic events of September 11," said Williams. "The Environmental Education Program will not only help to revitalize the Anacostia River, but will teach our young people about the value of our city's natural resources."
Eight evergreen holly trees were planted on the banks of the Anacostia River in memory of the crash victims. Students from the victims' schools attended the ceremony.
The D.C. Parks and Recreation Department was given jurisdiction of Kingman and Heritage Islands a year ago after neighboring communities won a battle to prevent the islands from being commercially developed.
U.S. Navy Seabees paved the way for Tuesday's launching of the Environmental Education Program by reconstructing two long wooden bridges that link the islands to the city's mainland. One of the bridges had burned down in 1998.
After decades of being enveloped in serious pollution, the area around the islands is making a strong comeback as an urban nature park. As officials delivered their speeches during Tuesday's ceremonies, a beaver could be seen swimming toward the bridges while herons and other water birds waded in the shallows.
"These islands are hallowed ground," said Robert Nixon, executive director of the Earth Conservation Corps, a nonprofit organization that gives D.C. children opportunities to participate in environmental programs.
Nixon described the eight people who lost their lives on Flight 77 as "friends who shared strong bonds through their love of nature." Their families, he said, should realize that the islands are more important than Yosemite or Yellowstone parks to the people who live in the neighborhood.
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