Two years ago, the Schmoke administration teamed up with a number of private organizations and set about to create a recreational trail along the Gwynns Falls from Leakin Park to the Inner Harbor and Cherry Hill in South Baltimore.
Considering how trash-strewn and polluted that greenway is currently, many residents greeted the idea with skepticism and predicted nothing would come of it. Yet the New York-based Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund late last year gave $883,728 for the implementation of the plan. Further financing is expected from federal funds earmarked for developing alternative transportation modes.
"It's definitely going to happen," declared Chris Rogers of the Trust for Public Land. "You will see trails open this summer, marked with signs."
The trust, working with a 10-year-old local non-profit organization called Parks & People and the city administration, is planning the mile greenway and acquiring land for it. When completed, hikers and bicyclists will be able to traverse on its paths from Catonsville to the Inner Harbor or follow trails along the Middle Branch to the Baltimore Highlands.
Greenways have been around for a long time. Rock Creek Park in Washington is a greenway. So is the Mount Vernon trail along the Potomac. Two successful greenways are closer to home: The 14.5-mile Baltimore & Annapolis trail links Annapolis with Glen Burnie and the Patapsco Valley and the Northern-Central trail winds through Gunpowder State Park in Baltimore County from Hunt Valley to the Pennsylvania line. Both are in heavy use.
Could the Gwynns Falls greenway be as successful? Its proponents think so.
"This could be a form of alternative transportation for people to get from neighborhoods downtown," says Jackie Carrera of Parks & People.
Others wonder whether safety concerns can be addressed on the trails.
The gift by a national foundation shows that people outside Baltimore think the Gwynns Falls greenway offers an exciting prospect for converting what now is an urban wasteland into a recreational asset. We share in this excitement but urge trail planners to make sure that worries about safety are addressed from the beginning in a way that guarantees success.