People Problems

September 02, 1994|By GEOFFREY FIELDING

Some 10 years ago it was possible to pack a picnic, drive the family to Lake Roland, park the car in the upper of two parking lots which overlooks the water above the dam and spend a delightful summer evening under the trees.

There were picnic tables, and if you wanted hot dogs or burgers there were grills. The grass was kept trimmed and altogether it was a very pleasant spot.

Two years ago, before the dam was rebuilt, it was still possible to drive there and park in the lower parking lot. The upper lot had been closed.

Today both are closed and blocked off. To enjoy the scenic pleasure of Lake Roland for an hour or two, the family must park on Riverside Drive, the access road from Falls Road to the lake, and walk in -- several hundred yards.

The lake is the main attraction of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Park, which is located in Baltimore County, but run by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. The lake, and a margin of land around it, has been owned by the city since 1861, when Baltimore switched to catchments for its water supply rather than rely on springs and wells, many of which were contaminated. A several-hundred-acre addition was deeded to the city in 1947.

The parking lot closings are the work of the Robert E. Lee Park Conservancy, a group of some 300 volunteers formed about 10 years ago to find answers to some of the park's many problems.

Apart from city's usual financial problem, which means that the park has one worker just three mornings a week, the conservancy concluded that people caused most of the problems, according to Louise Hendreth and Jane Lawrence, both very active members of the conservancy.

For instance, the city was advised to close the parking lots to stop partying. They were favorite spots for car-radio blasting and beer-can flying, among other things. Though the park is closed from dusk to dawn, the partying went on late into the night. The drinking has not been stopped -- there were plenty of empties around on a recent visit -- but the situation appears much better.

Another problem, that of motorbikes destroying many of the paths, was practically eliminated, due to difficulty of access, after the light-rail service started.

The Robert E. Lee Park is a favorite spot for dog lovers, many of whom, in the city that reads, seem not to be readers. Dogs are supposed to be on a six-foot leash. And there is a dog-poop law. Signs are posted, but there's nobody to enforce the rules.

When the park was reopened recently after the dam was rebuilt, the Hardy Garden Club landscaped and planted a garden at the entrance to the lake proper.

As two conservancy members admired the garden on a recent afternoon, two dogs, one a greyhound type, the other possibly an English shepherd, bounded into the park. Neither dog was leashed. The greyhound went immediately into the garden and urinated on the plants. Then the other dog ran over to sniff the plants and made a deposit. The greyhound then did likewise. The owner watched and did nothing. Few plants will survive that kind of treatment.

West of the lake a large picnic pavilion is located on a hill caressed by breezes. To get there means navigating a minefield dog droppings.

On the lake shore below the pavilion is a restful garden with benches. This has been newly fenced to keep out the dogs. That same afternoon a couple had taken their dog inside the fence to let it bound around. And so it goes.

And yet the conservancy sees Robert E. Lee as a walk-in park, a spot where urban folks, whether from row houses in the city or housing developments in the county, can enjoy nature almost in the wild. The birders are there quite often, and nature walks are run by the Irvine Nature/Science Center. The mallard ducks are a favorite for children, as is the fishing.

These the conservancy wants to encourage. It wants more trees planted, and the trees labeled with their scientific and common names. It wants dead trees taken out and the old parking lots covered with tanbark and turned into picnic groves. It wants people to appreciate the park as a place for everyone to enjoy, the more the better. And it wants people to curb their dogs.

Geoffrey W. Fielding is a Baltimore writer.

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