Druid Hill draws throng for 'good time' at 'best park' Picnic aims to encourage family outings

August 22, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

If only for a day, parts of Druid Hill Park yesterday resembled the way they were when Robert Anthony, now 60, spent much of his weekends there as a boy.

His memories include families sharing a picnic basket and lying on blankets on grassy knolls, couples strolling around the

reservoir, and children kids tossing a football or playing volleyball as the aroma of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs wafted throughout the park.

"But the main thing I'm saying is that we felt safe in coming here back then," said Mr. Anthony, a West Baltimore native. "It hasn't been much like that lately here, but you've got to feel good about the way it is right now."

Mr. Anthony, his wife and their three grandchildren were part of a crowd, estimated by event promoters at more than 30,000, that gathered at Baltimore's largest park for the second annual Stone Soul Picnic.

Whether or not the crowd estimate was accurate, the park was crowded by early afternoon, and more people were on the way. The size of the crowd could not be confirmed, since no tickets were being sold and the park has no gates.

Sponsored by radio stations WWIN-AM and WWIN-FM, the one-day event was designed to encourage family outings at Druid Hill Park and to provide "one big picnic" to anyone interested, said Kole Porter, an on-the-air personality and promotions director at the radio station.

The picnic's main activities -- including local entertainers and the national recording acts War and the Delphonics -- were conducted in the "bowl" section of park, near the basketball courts and reservoir.

Some of the picnickers, including Carolyn Allen and her five children, spread their blankets and set up badminton nets in an area of the park that was only within earshot of the festivities.

"This is the best park in the city, and people just don't use it as they should," said Ms. Allen, 40, who lives in the Mondawmin community ofWest Baltimore. "People should want to come out here, not just for some special event."

As she spoke, a former neighbor she had not seen since the days when she was growing up in the Walbrook neighborhood approached her.

"This is what this is all about, getting together with old friends and having a good time, and not having to worry about crime," Ms. Allen said. "Just going to 'The Park,' as we used to call it."

Last year, the more than $3,000 raised at the Stone Soul Picnic -- through vendors selling such things as T-shirts and jewelry -- was donated to Associated Black Charities, organizers said. This year, the goal was to raise at least $10,000 for the charities. Last year's event drew more than 16,000 people, Mr. Porter said.

Lawrence Bartney, an enterprising 14-year-old West Baltimore youth, offered $1 pony rides yesterday. His business was nearly nonstop all afternoon.

"This is something to keep me busy and making some money, and not doing something I shouldn't be doing," he said, adding that the pony belongs to his uncle. "I come to the park anyhow, because it's close to home."

Some people compared yesterday's event to the city-sponsored AFRAM Expo festival last weekend at Festival Hall.

"Inch for inch, it was just as good. They don't have as many exhibits or booths, but what's here is ripe," said Ron Egles, who walked to the picnic from his home in Reservoir Hill.

"But with AFRAM, you've got to pay to get in. Here, it's free and it's in our community and in our home. Not downtown. This is our community, and we're proud to have something like this here. This is a positive thing for African-Americans."

Anthony Goolesby of West Baltimore brought his mother and his daughter to the picnic with him. Like many others, he came to the park Friday to scout around for the best locations.

"This morning, I got out here at 10 o'clock, and there was already a lot of people here," said Mr. Goolesby, 36, as he sipped a drink and sat back in his lounge chair beneath one of the biggest shade trees at the bowl. "I think I found a good one."

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