Building teen unity Boardwalk: Twelve youths are spending their summer constructing a link to the proposed Gwynns Falls Trail -- and learning more about South Baltimore wildlife.

July 20, 1996|By Kaana Smith | Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

For the past two weeks, from early morning until afternoon, city teen-agers have been battling sawdust and enduring splinters for the chance to build something they can call their own and to unite two communities.

They are part of a program sponsored by the city, state and several area nonprofit groups to bring together 12 youths, ages 14 to 17, to construct a 500-foot boardwalk and three observation decks to connect to the future Gwynns Falls Trail. Trail construction is to begin next year.

The work site, behind the 2900 block of Waterview Ave. at Middle Branch Park, adjoins the South Baltimore communities of Westport and Cherry Hill.

"One goal of the project is to bring together communities through the youth," said James P. Bond, president of Living Classrooms Foundation, one of the project's sponsors. He envisions residents of both areas using the boardwalk and enjoying and admiring the environment they live in.

With eager hands and curious eyes, the teen-agers -- selected by program sponsors through interviews -- seemed to follow every move the adult supervisors made as they demonstrated how to drill holes, saw wood and measure the site this week.

While some watched, others marched near the demonstration, armed with safety goggles and utility belts, carrying wooden planks and kicking up dust.

"I don't look at this like a job. I look at it like it's something I want to do," said Timothy Thompson, 15, of Westport. With sawdust sprinkled in his hair and a wide smile, he held a combination square, a leveling gauge he learned to use that day.

The conversations and giggles ended when crew chief Curtis "Cat Daddy" Bell walked nearby. As he passed the youths, wide smiles and handshakes greeted him.

"I'm like one of them but with a few more years," said Bell, 59. He was given the nickname by the youths because of his "slick, relaxed style." Bell, with 34 years of construc-tion experience, makes sure his crew is safe and busy.

The 14-mile Gwynns Falls Trail, a recreational greenway that will cost $7.5 million, is being built as a partnership that includes the Trust for Public Land and the Parks and People Foundation.

It will begin at Leakin and Gwynns Falls parks in West Baltimore and continue to the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch Park, passing through more than 20 Baltimore neighborhoods.

Trail construction will be completed in three phases over a few years.

The first phase, which will take the trail to the old Bloomingdale Oval ball field on Franklintown Road, will start next spring.

The second phase, in which the trail will run through Carroll Park, is scheduled for construction in 1998.

The third phase, following the shoreline of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, will connect with the boardwalk the youths are building this summer. The sum- mer project is expected to be complete by Aug. 19.

When it is done, the teen-agers will be able to educate those who visit the boardwalk.

The project also aims to introduce the youths to the environment.

During one of their morning nature expeditions, the gregarious group -- dressed in hip-hop style with denim shorts worn several inches below their hips -- marched through the tall weeds of Middle Branch Park toward the Patapsco River in search of birds.

With the help of environmental and wildlife experts, a net was set by the river and within an hour seven birds, including a yellow warbler and song sparrow, were caught. Before attaching tracking bands to the birds and releasing them, the teen-agers ++ learned to identify the gender and age, and measure their wings.

It was the first time many of them had handled a bird.

"I thought they were going to bite me," said Anthony Falcon, 15, of Cherry Hill. While he demonstrated how he handled the bird, a growing smile brightened his small face, revealing enthusiasm hidden behind a somewhat tough facade.

Carol Caudill, project director from Living Classrooms, said another goal is to "raise their self-esteem."

In addition to earning a paycheck, students learn carpentry skills and the importance of being professional and doing high-quality work -- values they can use to stay in school and keep a job.

During a short break, Bilal Hobbs, 15, and five other teens squeezed together on a set of wooden planks. They looked at the unfinished boardwalk and laughed.

"It's something I can look back on and say, 'Hey, I built this,' " he said.

Pub Date: 7/20/96

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