A four-mile segment of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail officially opens Monday. (Courtesy of Katie Harris of WABA).

A four-mile segment of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which was a missing link in a network of 60 miles of trail between the District and Maryland, officially opened today.

The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens Segment connects Benning Road in the District with the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, creating a much more pleasant and safe route for cyclists who commute between Prince George’s County and the District.  The trail offers recreational access to the river and its natural resources.

“This trail will mean big things for the Washington region,” said Katie Harris, a trail coordinator with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. It’s only four miles, but it’s a vital connector to the 15 existing miles of [trail] in D.C. and to over 40 miles of trails in Prince George’s County.”

For bike commuters the new segment of trail will shorten travel times by as much as 30 minutes, while giving them the protection to ride off the road. The trail runs along the Anacostia River, passing through developed and undeveloped areas. Within the District, the trail is part of a larger 28-mile system provides access to 16 waterfront communities including Southwest Waterfront, Nationals Park, Washington Navy Yard and the National Arboretum.

Laurie Lemieux, an avid bicyclist from Greenbelt, rode the new trail three times last week for recreation and to get to the Nationals Park area where she met friends for ice cream. Without the trail, she would have to use the street for a big portion of the ride, which can be intimidating and dangerous, she said.

“This really improves our bike infrastructure,” said Lemieux, who owns a bike shop in College Park and give bike lessons through WABA. “It is a whole new avenue for recreation and transportation.”

It’s also a escape from the city noise and a chance to catch some great scenery. The Anacostia River area is home to 43 species of fish and more than 200 species of birds.

“It’s quite pretty,” Lemieux said. “I get to see eagles and beavers and all kinds of beautiful things. It is peaceful.”

Eileen Nivera, a planner with Prince George’s office of parks and planning, said completion of the project ends more than two decades of planning and work to finish this final piece of the trail network. Funding for the construction was secured four years ago, but the original completion date was pushed back about two years. The $22.1-million project was funded with federal, local and state funds.

Transportation officials in Maryland and the District view the project as a critical step to “building a sustainable transportation network” and boosting bike commuting between the two jurisdictions. The Riverwalk Trail connects to work and shopping centers as well as transit stations.

“A lot of people may not be comfortable with the facilities on the road, so it just opens up the opportunity for more of the population to bike,” Nivera said. “You don’t have to worry about the 18-wheeler at your elbow.”