Gwynns Falls Greenway proposal may turn wasteland to playground

November 08, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

Should you manage to make your way through the tangled mass of brush and overgrown weeds to Baltimore's Gwynns Falls, your reward will be a visual smorgasbord -- of trash.

There, on the stream's banks, you will find an appliance store in rigor mortis: battered and discarded refrigerators, stoves, sewing machines and television sets. In addition, there is hardly a beer company not represented by empty cans strewn about.

Now, the city of Baltimore, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, is attempting to reclaim this urban wasteland and transform it into a recreational, environmental and educational playground.

The Gwynns Falls Greenway proposal calls for building a six-mile trail along the falls from Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park in northwest Baltimore to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

The trail would be suitable for bicyclists, walkers and runners. It would include spurs that would provide access to city attractions along the way, such as the B&O Museum, Hollins Market, the Mount Clare Mansion and even Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Christopher T. Rogers, a field representative with the Trust for Public Lands, a national organization that helps preserve open spaces, said the plan envisions involving the community groups along the greenway in its design. So for example, he said, community organizations might propose picnic tables, flower gardens or fishing piers in their parts of the greenway.

Eventually, Mr. Rogers said, he hopes the neighborhoods, rather than the city government, would become responsible for management of the greenway.

"If the neighborhoods are involved in the use of the greenway," said Mr. Rogers, who led a tour Friday of a portion of the greenway, "we think they will also be involved in stopping the misuse of it."

In other cities, he said, greenways have helped revitalize adjacent neighborhoods and have even led to a rise in housing values.

Schools along the greenway could also make use of the new access to the Gwynns Falls, incorporating it into lessons about the environment and nature. As if on cue, Mr. Rogers pointed to a tree overlooking the Gwynn Falls.

"Look," he said, "there's a downy woodpecker in that tree. The greenway harbors an incredible amount of wildlife that you don't find in the middle of a great city. I've seen deer in here and hawks and red-tailed fox."

The $1.5 million project has been in planning for about two years, but it was the allocation of federal funds recently that finally moved it from the category of pipe dream to likelihood.

MA The state of Maryland has signaled a willingness to designate

about $440,000 in federal highway dollars -- money that is intended for "alternative" transportation projects -- for the Gwynns Falls Greenway. The city would be required to match that grant, although it can count staff time, the donation of office rent and certain land acquisition costs as part of the match.

The Trust for Public Lands is helping to plan the project and acquire the land.

According to Mr. Rogers, there is about one quarter of a mile of the greenway left to be acquired, which, he said, would likely cost about $750,000. Most of the rest of the money will be used in design, cleanup and construction of the trail.

Once completed, the trail would link with those of the state's Patapsco River Greenway, which is under construction, and a planned greenway in western Baltimore County. There could be a 35-mile loop of trails when all the projects are completed.

Mr. Rogers said he hopes the Gwynns Falls trail could be opened by late 1994.

Jeff Barrett, a labor crew chief with the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, drove the van for Friday's tour.

As he drove, he recalled playing along the falls as a child and swimming in its waters, he said. "It would be great to give the kids something like that again," he said. "Something to do other than crimes and drugs."

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