Blazing a woodsy trail Park: The 4.5 mile path through Gwynns Falls Valley, four years in the conception and planning, is becoming a more visible reality. The worst problem encountered so far: ticks.

June 02, 1998|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

A twisting path, marked by a plastic Day-Glo fence, is being cut through the maples and ash trees of the Gwynns Falls Valley on the west side of the city.

It took four years of planning to conceive the Gwynns Falls Trail, but only four weeks to blaze its route into visibility.

On a spring morning heavy with the scent of honeysuckle, the basic outlines of the 4.5-mile path are clear -- thanks to the construction fence that marks its course through an otherwise thick tangle of growth along the upper Gwynns Falls Valley.

"It's a massive park and a peaceful one," said Gary Anderson, 34, construction chief for Beka Industries of Morrell Park, as he stood in an expansive grassy bowl destined to become a picnic area and outdoor amphitheater, fully accessible off Franklintown Road.

In the past few weeks, his four-man team has chopped a rough path through knotted bittersweet and wild grape vine, brush and trees in the 2,000-acre stream-valley city parks system that few people regularly use except as a traffic shortcut.

The trail, a joint project of the city and the Trust for Public Land, is intended to be a walking, biking, and in-line skating route meandering within one of the most woodsy settings in the city that is bordered by the Rosemont, Windsor Hills, Dickeyville and Hunting Ridge neighborhoods.

"So far, there haven't been any complications, but in the last week, there sure have been plenty of ticks," Anderson said of his crew's worst headache to date.

Neighbors have championed these park improvements as a way to offset a reputation that Leakin Park's dense tree cover was a dumping spot for bodies.

"The worst thing we found was a dead dog," Anderson said.

The path borders both the rocky and picturesque Gwynns Falls and the Dead Run as they course through a bucolic setting dotted with ancient and young oaks, maples, ash and tulip poplars. In the next decade, the plan is to extended the trail south to the harbor's Middle Branch, through various West and Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods that border the Gwynns Falls Valley.

"It's going to be very dramatic," said Julie A. Enger, the Trust for Public Land's project manager. "Once your are in here, there's nothing to indicate you're in the city. There's no traffic -- it's just birds, trees and water."

The urban trail blazers are using heavy construction equipment -- Bob Cats, chain saws, graders and an extra-kick lawn mower known as a bush hog to clear a route designed by Daft McCune Walker, Towson landscape architects. The price for this season's phase of the project is $1.4 million.

Environmental controls

"There are heavy environmental controls here. A lot of people are looking at us on this. It's high profile," Anderson said, referring to city and state environmental officials and private conservation groups.

Throughout June, July and August, an expanded crew of 20 to 30 workers will complete the 10-foot wide path that winds like a wrapping ribbon along Franklintown and Wetheredsville roads. About half the trail will be paved with asphalt, the rest covered in crushed limestone.

A small section will be constructed of wood or recycled plastic imitation planks. There also will be two new, child-safe pedestrian bridges, a picnic pavilion, rest rooms and small parking pads. Franklintown Road will be repaved, and its rusty metal guardrails will be replaced with wood safety barriers.

Make no mistake. This city park is not a manicured garden. While the trail does pass through one grassy meadow near the historic Crimea Mansion, it mostly winds under a dense tree canopy. Portions will follow an old millrace, once a source of water power for the many grist mills and tanneries that used Gwynns Falls as a water source in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

"I'd like to see signs describing what the foundations of the old mills were," said Pamela Woolford of Columbia, an employee of the Trust for Public Land.

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Shortcut to go

Amid the summer's changes, a lengthy stretch of Wetheredsville Road south of Windsor Mill Road will be closed and plowed up permanently, eliminating a traffic shortcut through the park.

"People are really going to be bummed out when this closes," Enger said. "But there's going to be a trail here."

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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