A New York-based foundation has given $883,728 to help create the Gwynns Falls Trail, a proposed greenway from Leakin Park in West Baltimore to the Inner Harbor and Cherry Hill Park in South Baltimore.
The gift from the Lila Wallace-Readers' Digest Fund is part of a $14 million initiative by that organization to support expansion of urban parks around the country.
It represents the largest contribution to the Gwynns Falls project, which will cost an estimated $4.5 million and could take three years to complete.
"It's a huge boost," said Christopher Rogers, project manager for the Trust for Public Land.
The trust, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, will receive $463,300 from the fund to support its work along the Gwynns Falls.
"It's a recognition of Baltimore's willingness to look at its natural resources as an opportunity to improve the quality of life in urban neighborhoods, as well as restore the natural environment. It will help us open the first sections of the trail by next summer, and leverage additional funds" to complete the rest, he said.
Parks & People, a Baltimore foundation that promotes public use of parks and open space, will receive $420,428. It will use the grant to involve community members in the design of the project, plan activities along the greenway and maintain the trail.
The 14-mile linear park and recreational trail is being designed to follow the Gwynns Falls valley through the city. It ultimately will link the B&O Railroad Museum, Mount Clare Mansion and Camden Yards with Owings Mills to the north and the Patapsco Valley to the south and west. It will also connect 20 Baltimore neighborhoods to the waterway and to each other.
The grant to the Trust for Public Land will help cover administrative costs of designing the trail, raising funds for improvements and developing a plan for stewardship. It also will enable the trust to help the city acquire, transfer or develop land.
Other partners in the project include the state's natural resources department and Baltimore's planning and recreation and parks departments.
Baltimore's parks department recently acquired three parcels needed to create the trail, using approximately $680,000 from Maryland's Program Open Space.
The 12.9 acres represent about half the private land needed for the trail, Mr. Rogers said.
One 5.4 acre-parcel, formerly owned by an affiliate of the CSX Corp., is where the Gwynns Falls meets the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River -- and where the Maryland Stadium Authority would build a football stadium if Baltimore gets a team in the National Football League.
Once used commercially to transfer products between the port and the railroad, the site has become a roosting spot for a variety of wetland birds, including great blue, green and black-crowned night herons. Ducks, hawks and ring-necked pheasants also frequent the site.
The other two parcels, totaling 7.5 acres, are near Carroll Park and have been zoned for industrial use. They complete public ownership of land required from Leakin and Gwynns Falls parks to Carroll Park.
A design team headed by landscape architect Diana Balmori of New Haven, Conn., and environmental sculptor Meg Webster of New York, was hired this year to develop a master plan for the Gwynns Falls project.
The Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund invests in programs to enhance the cultural life of communities and to encourage people to make the arts and culture part of their lives.
"The aim of our initiative is to increase the quality and quantity of urban parks for public use, especially in low- and middle-income neighborhoods that don't have adequate usable park space," said George V. Grune, fund chairman.
Other cities selected to receive parks-related grants from the fund include Austin, Texas; Boston; Cleveland; Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Providence, R.I.