A long and winding waterfront walk works wonders

Jacques Kelly

December 20, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

One windy Sunday morning, I discovered an excellent hangover cure: a brisk walk around the Fort McHenry sea wall.

The gusts practically sent my cap into the harbor's waters and somehow cleared my head. The sun worked magic with Baltimore's spectacular waterfront scenery. I was ready for a second ramble around the Inner Harbor after the McHenry leg was completed.

The 1990s are revealing an asset Baltimore possesses -- a long, eminently walkable harbor waterfront, which is rapidly being reclaimed and put into public use. What all began 15 years ago at Pratt and Light streets with a brick-paved "boardwalk" is continuing, thanks to a city policy requiring all developers to maintain an open walkers' right-of-way along the harbor edge.

You now have to search for these unconnected completed esplanades, but whole sections are going in each year. By 1992, some fairly good-sized stretches should be open, even if they are only temporary paths laid in wood chips.

This month, a wooden footbridge is being constructed in Canton, where Harris Creek flows into the Patapsco River. Harris Creek now is buried but flows under a large section of East Baltimore and the Canton-Patterson Park neighborhood. It was the site where the Constellation was built.

The bridge, adjacent to the Anchorage apartment tower in the 2800 block of Boston St., is one more small link in what is being planned as a 7.5-mile walkway around the entire non-working harbor, from Canton to Federal Hill.

When completed -- and that's anybody's guess -- these 7.5 miles of twisty path should have the same effect on harbor redevelopment as the Baltimore Beltway had on county growth in the 1960s. This question mark-shaped route is the thread that will tie the harbor-front developments together.

Thousands of strollers use the completed promenade from the Rusty Scupper near Key Highway to the Columbus Piazza near Little Italy. But imagine that walk being extended, along the water's edge, past Central Avenue, the old City Dock at Lancaster Street, around the Allied Chemical site and into Fells Point.

At the foot of Broadway, a short section of sea wall-walkway is complete. At Brown's Wharf, it's always filled with people.

Another section of walk is complete at the eastern end of Fell Street, on the water side of Henderson's Wharf. The walk here is truly a boardwalk. This is a favorite place to view the unfolding harbor drama.

There's usually some bulk carrier unloading at the Amstar (Domino Sugar) plant and often the Cape Henlopen tugboat floats by. It's also a great way to observe the Federal Hill-Key Highway-South Baltimore scene.

The completed walks show that the best views of Federal Hill are from across the harbor, in Fells Point. In turn, the best views of Fells Point are from a Federal Hill vantage point.

The walks at Fell Street are particularly delightful. When the Belt's Landing development opens in the near future, it will provide a whole chunk of harbor geography to pedestrians at the eastern hook of the Fells Point mini-peninsula.

Large sections of the walk along Boston Street have been completed -- and equally large sections await work. Completion depends on the pace of private development. If hundreds of people decide to move to new harbor condos, the walks will get completed more quickly.

The eastern end of the walk is finished, at roughly the 3000 block of Boston St., at the Korean War Memorial, opposite the new Clarence Du Burns Arena. This spotless waterfront park overlooks Fort McHenry and leads into the Canton Cove, Tin Deco Wharf and Bay Cafe property. It's hard to believe the war memorial site once was an old Pennsylvania Railroad yard.

The walk's greatest advocate is the Baltimore Harbor Endowment, a group of local business people interested in promoting the harbor. The group, with offices at 2809 Boston St., is selling $50 bricks, to be incised with donors' names, and laid in one section of the Fells Point walk. About 800 named bricks have been sold this year.

The endowment also wants to get locater signs and small kiosks installed along the way, to direct strollers to the place where Frederick Douglass caulked schooners or the pier where thousands of German, Polish and Russian immigrants landed.

The old, working waterfront may be gone, but at least there'll be reminders of that past.

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