Color this park green, thanks to him 'Self-made naturalist' lovingly tends Stoney Run

July 23, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

It seems only natural for Michael Beer to live in a Baltimore neighborhood called Evergreen. Thanks to him, it may forever be just that.

For 10 years, he has ardently tended a secluded, pristine park called Stoney Run that runs a glorious half-mile behind Evergreen and its richer neighbors, Roland Park and Blythewood.

Beer has lured neighbors and schoolchildren to adopt the park, raising money and planting hundreds of shrubs and trees. When he is not planting, he is posting notices extolling the beauty of the cardinal flowers or ruminating over the sad state of global warming.

Less than a block from traffic backing up on Cold Spring Lane to get to Sam's Bagels and Alonso's hefty burgers, the Stoney Run flows clear, and the woods are as quiet as the Catoctin Mountains.

"It's a gem to have a place like this in the city," he says.

It's here, where the elusive Baltimore oriole and pileated woodpecker have been spotted, that the 70-year-old Beer spends most of his time fretting over eroding stream banks and making sure the trees and shrubs continue to thrive.

"He is kind of a self-made naturalist," said city arborist Jim Dicker.

"You could list the number of people on one hand in the city doing this on their own without any support," he said.

Beer, a recently retired Johns Hopkins microbiology professor, moved to his house in Evergreen along the park on Wilmslow Road in 1960, two years after he started teaching at Hopkins' Homewood campus.

"I'm very interested in nature. I love to photograph it and plant it," said Beer as he sat on his deck overlooking the park.

When he realized the trees were dying a natural death, he worried the park would become a meadow someday. So the planting began:

Dogwoods, pines, willows, magnolias, birch, beech, alder and ash. One tree that Beer particularly loves is called a shagbark hickory because of its textured bark.

He has rescued seemingly countless azaleas, including the pinxter azalea that he saved from the construction site of Hopkins' new physics building several years ago.

Beer and his neighbors took over daily maintenance of the park from the city several years ago when they grew exasperated at city grass mowers who cut their newly planted seedlings.

They eventually got their own tractor mower -- donated by the late millionaire Howard Head, who lived across the stream from Beer -- so the community could protect its trees and shrubs.

A native of Hungary who grew up in Canada, Beer said his goal is to inhabit Stoney Run Park only with species native to Maryland.

"We really want to have an environment that is in an American tradition, for the same reason we have Williamsburg," Beer said, noting that he spells Stoney with an "ey" because he saw that spelling on old maps.

While the park is secluded, it's not immune to the vandalism and thievery found in other city parks. Occasionally, plants have been stolen and once, a hose used to water seedlings disappeared.

But the community, he says, "looks at the park as a village green."

The community collects money for the trees and shrubs from the Evergreen Community Association and other community groups. Julius Eldridge, president of the Evergreen Community Association, has worked with Beer for more than a decade to preserve the park and raise money. The work, he says, has been nothing short of a "labor of love."

"We're going to leave the world a little better than we found it."

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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