Enthusiasts Go Lapping At Lake

November 24, 1990|By Barbara H. Smith

Alfred M. Strickland is a short, slightly built man of 70 who rides his bicycle between 50 and 100 miles a day -- just to calm his nerves.

When the weather is good and if it is not too windy, Mr. Strickland leaves his home off The Alameda and heads for Lake Montebello, where he can often still be found riding as late as 3 a.m., a yellow light flashing at the back of his bike.

"This track is wonderful," Mr. Strickland said of the paved bicycle lane that runs around the lake.

"It is the only area that is open and is set up so that I can do my laps and not have to travel all over town," Mr. Strickland said.

Mr. Strickland is among a growing number of Baltimoreans who are rediscovering the pleasures of Lake Montebello, once one of the city's best-kept secrets, now a Mecca for cyclists like Mr. Strickland, for walkers and runners, for kite fliers and picnickers, and for people who just like to sit outdoors and enjoy the sunshine.

"It's such an appealing place to come, and I feel safe here," said Kathy Clay of Bolton Hill, who bought herself a set of roller blades for her 40th birthday and has been coming to the lake four times a week since May to indulge her passion for what is known as blade skating.

Ms. Clay said she was attracted to Lake Montebello by the natural setting, the trees, the water and the singing of birds. The fall colors are usually brilliant, and in summer red tea roses and honeysuckle can be found climbing the hedge lining the lake.

To the park's devotees, it all forms a perfect backdrop for exercise.

"The only thing that isn't safe here is that people ignore the lane signs -- both drivers and the recreational users," Mr. Strickland said.

Construction of the man-made lake that forms the center of the park began in 1878 on 60 acres of farm and woodland in what was then bucolic Northeast Baltimore.

The lake was created by damming the Tiffany Run, a small stream that led into Herring Run, as a reservoir for the city water system. The lake still is part of the system, but now the three big reservoirs in Baltimore County provide the city with most of its drinking water.

Uses of the lake and its park have varied over the decades.

During the late 1920s, lovers found the relative seclusion of the lake so attractive that police patrols were dispatched with flashlights to chase off what were then called "petters."

.` The chairman of the park board

at the time, William I. Norris, noted that he found the police action excessive and called it "snooping."

More recently, it has been runners who have found the park a refuge from the traffic and pollution of the city's streets. Twenty-five years ago, one recalled, runners had the park

virtually to themselves. The cyclists, skate boarders, blade skaters and power walkers had not yet found how inviting the lake's flat and smooth track could be.

Physically, the lake and its surroundings have not changed all that much despite the development of Northeast Baltimore.

Area residents have through the years fought off efforts to bring such activities as boating and fishing to Lake Montebello.

For instance, as early as 1921, residents of the nearby Mayfield community blocked recreational boating in the lake; then-Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin again proposed boating in 1966, but again the community groups blocked it before the park board.

In 1984, community pressure killed plans by the city to construct a city-run ice-skating rink near the lake -- not on it -- after the rink at Memorial Stadium closed.

About as organized as things get around Lake Montebello are events such as the weekly bicycle races between May and October, sponsored by a a group of cyclists called The Chesapeake Wheelmen.

Frederick Warwick, 43, says that the Tuesday races are midweek training sessions for major weekend races statewide. The last race of the season, the Bobby Phillips Turkey Day Race, which was held Nov. 4, drew well over a hundred participants.

Beverly Harvey, 39, says she began running around the lake 25 years ago -- after the smoochers were driven off but before the blade skaters had discovered Lake Montebello.

A dedicated runner and member of Road Runners of America, she has found the lake to be one of the best places in the city for serious runners.

"Running the lake in the cold, the snow and slush helps to get through the winter," Ms. Harvey said. "Before you know it, you are looking at spring."

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