An urban voyager hunts for a wild place to walk

Hiking: The Gwynns Falls Trail, a new hiking and biking path through Leakin Park, might be difficult to find, but it's worth the search.

May 29, 1999|By JACQUES KELLY

In a couple more months, this flat part of the park will be transformed into a baseball-basketball -picnic area.

The Yellow Cab that carried me across Gwynns Falls Parkway encountered an ominous orange detour sign at the entrance to the Windsor Hills neighborhood on the city's western edge. For the next 10 minutes we twisted and turned along gloriously leafy streets.

As the meter ominously clicked into the double-dollar digits, we emerged on West Forest Park Avenue and shot down the hill to Franklintown Road, past local landmarks such the Mill Race Tavern.

I was out in search of the Gwynns Falls Trail, the new urban hiking-biking-strolling path that should open up an amazing chunk of Baltimore.

At the outset, I must say that finding the trail is no easy proposition.

I thought that I knew a thing or two about city geography, but the trail's start tripped me up to the extent that I wound up with a $30 tab on my yellow chariot.

Once located, though, the cost and effort was worth it.

Leakin Park, where much of the Gwynns Falls Trail is located, remains one of the shady urban mysteries of Baltimore. While people say they shun it because of its reputation as a body-dumping site, I think the reason they stay away is ignorance: They might get lost.

Until now -- for the 50 years it's been city property -- the park was left as a semi-wild preserve bordered by populous city neighborhoods -- Rosemont, Hunting Ridge, Windsor Hills, Dickeyville and Rognel Heights.

This park has long needed a proper way through it for those persons who want a change of scenery. Now it has one -- through one of the grandest stream valleys in these parts.

The trail itself is but 10 feet across; much of it is smooth blacktop. It is so encircled by trees and growth that it's difficult to see from Franklintown Road.

It was a fine May Wednesday morning when I set off down the new path (it's due for a public opening next weekend, but Leakin Park's Herb Festival is today), which still has little tufts of construction straw peeping out at its edges.

I was about 30 feet from the parking lot when I heard a voice -- and my mind raced.

Would I be another crime statistic?

A bike and rider darted past me. The rider, a man wearing a safety helmet, called out in a friendly voice, "Wait till you see this when it's finished." He then disappeared behind a stand of ash and tulip poplar trees. I never saw him again.

On a fine May morning, my walk was a revelation -- the scent of wild rose alongside the sound of water splashing over the rocks in the streams (Gwynns Falls and the ominously named Dead Run) here.

I soon forgot about the bicyclist who startled me. Instead, I began to notice some truly amazing growths of poison ivy.

And the people who run the trail told me that permanent marker signs are not ready just yet.

Nor is the old Bloomingdale Oval -- today known as Leon Day Park. In a couple more months, this flat part of the park will be transformed into a baseball-basketball-picnic area. My guess is that it will be the best-used part of the valley and will thereby put the trail on the map.

I thought, what a welcome city amenity this walk will become when visitors discover it, begin hiking its length and smell the sweet wild roses, the rich, pungent scent of trees and grass. Go and enjoy.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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