Uncovering beauty along Jones Falls Cleanup: A retired Johns Hopkins physics professor leads volunteers in an assault on litter in North Baltimore.

January 03, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Michael Beer had his idea of the perfect community service project to start the new year: leading a dozen public-spirited citizens on a cleanup campaign of a long-neglected Baltimore waterway.

"This is the first significant effort, and you are the pioneers," the retired Johns Hopkins University physics professor told the volunteers he had rounded up yesterday morning to tackle the task of picking up litter along the Jones Falls in North Baltimore.

Members of the group donned garden gloves to start their work along Falls Road in a little-traveled part of Hampden near an old brick cotton mill.

All manner of litter -- Pepsi bottles, aluminum siding, a decaying billboard, two children's bikes and an old wooden desk -- made up five truckloads of trash unearthed from the leaves on a steep slope leading to the water's edge.

"Archaeology," said Hungarian-born Beer, a spry 71-year-old wearing a red hat.

Motorists can't see the waterway from the Interstate 83 expressway that bears its name. Below the expressway is another means of man-made transportation, an old railroad track now used by Light Rail.

A juxtaposition of rocks, water, trees and unmistakably urban sights -- such as graffiti and litter -- greeted Beer and his recruits.

Walking along the banks of a beautiful vista of rushing water, he gestured toward the falls and said, "It's really crying to be cleaned up, isn't it?"

Two fresh-faced high school girls, Jill Landefeld, 15, and Dominique Tamburrino, 16, nodded. Neither had seen the view beyond the curve of the rocks before. Both found it hard to believe they were surrounded by such a scene within the city.

Unseen beauty

But Beer knows well that Baltimore is blessed with natural beauty seldom seen by many of its residents. Ten years ago, he began a cleanup and beautification campaign for Stony Run, a waterway near his North Baltimore neighborhood.

Over time, the Stony Run effort garnered enough support -- from nearby schools and residents -- that Beer is now ready to turn to the long-neglected Jones Falls, one of Baltimore's three main waterways. Gwynns Falls and Herring Run are the others.

And once again, Beer found a pool of people of all ages ready to join in if he led the way. He will lead another expedition along the Jones Falls today. The group will gather at 9 a.m. at Boy Scout headquarters at Wyman Park Drive and Keswick Road.

His project has also received outside help in the form of a federal grant of $5,000 administered by the nonprofit Parks and People Foundation, which will go toward producing a brochure to publicize the cleanup.

Two of yesterday's volunteers were environmental ecology teachers Sharon Rule-Agger of the Greenmount School and Marcus Ampadu of the Stadium School.

"We have to do some education to get people to realize this isn't the trash dump," said Rule-Agger.

"It's a good way to start the new year," said Ampadu.

A half-hour after everyone began work in earnest, a city Public Works vehicle pulled up to haul the first load of collected trash to a nearby Dumpster. The transportation supervisor, Nathaniel Jacobs, greeted Beer warmly.

Jacobs said of Beer, "He helps us out a lot."

Uphill effort

Collecting trash on an incline was one thing, but dragging the bags uphill was a different story.

"When I first started, I felt unsure of my footing," said Elspeth Wheeler, 68, of Roland Park. "Now I hold on to saplings."

But still the trash bag proved too heavy for her to manage alone. "Yoo-hoo, young man in the red jacket!" she called for help to someone above.

He turned out to be Charlie Achuff, a 17-year-old junior at Friends School and a member of its environmental PFACT (People for a Cleaner Tomorrow) club.

After huffing up the hill, Achuff said, "Sometimes it's hard to get up and out at 9 in the morning, but I did."

The springlike weather inspired conversations about future rock climbing, canoeing and hiking expeditions along the falls during a break for hot chocolate -- prepared and poured by Beer.

"It will take many activities to give it a personality," the professor said. In the meantime, he said, "There's something very enjoyable about this."

All agreed.

"Here's a toast to the rejuvenation of Jones Falls," said Wheeler.

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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