Returning Life to Stream Valleys

November 14, 1992

The harbor is where the earliest entrepreneurial activity of Baltimore began. Fledgling industries and settlements spread to stream valleys along the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, the Gunpowder and other falls, runs and rivers. Subsequent floods and lifestyle changes have obliterated much of that history but the valleys remain an overlooked recreational asset to the city and its residents.

The Trust for Public Land, a nationwide activist organization dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of open space, has come up with a splendid blueprint to recover some of those forgotten stream valleys. The trust wants to build a six-mile trail suitable for bicyclists, walkers and runners along valleys from Gwynns Falls and Leakin parks to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. The trail would provide access to such city attractions as the Mount Clare Mansion, Hollins Market, B&O Railroad Museum and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It would also connect with 35 miles of additional trails in Baltimore and Howard counties.

Over the years, city planners have studied similar proposals. This time, the Schmoke administration has made the Gwynns Falls greenway a priority: The city already owns more than 90 percent of the land and a community task force meets Dec. 2 to map out a plan to implement the project, which is estimated to cost $1.5 million. Much of the money could come from federal matching funds.

Existing greenways are spectacularly successful in the Baltimore region. They include Anne Arundel County's B&A trail, which runs from Glen Burnie to the Severn River, and the trail that follows the old Northern Central rail bed from Ashland to the Pennsylvania line in Baltimore County. Both are heavily patronized by city residents.

A greenway along the Gwynns Falls could undoubtedly be equally popular. It could also strengthen adjoining residential neighborhoods and encourage home ownership in them. Yet many crucial questions need to be answered. Among them would be the security and day-to-day maintenance of the proposed greenway. Could a fiscally strapped city afford even the modest additional expenditure a greenway would require?

The Inner Harbor changed many people's views about one of the city's natural assets, encouraging new commercial and residential development. At a relatively nominal cost, the Gwynns Falls greenway could continue this urban revitalization by inviting residents and visitors to areas of beauty of which most Baltimoreans are not even aware.

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