Event held on highway quite a trip

Road: About 7,500 people got a chance to see the Jones Falls Expressway without being in a car

September 20, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Jasper Chisolm, 6 1/2, sat with his bicycle on a curb of West Cold Spring Lane yesterday morning, waiting to take to the highway.

Peering down the off-ramp from the northbound Jones Falls Expressway, he watched a steady flow of bicyclists, in-line skaters and walkers whizzing by him -- and wondered when it would be his turn.

"He's a little impatient," said his mother, Meg Chisolm of Roland Park, watching her son fidget with his bike helmet. "He can't wait to get on the JFX. Last year, he rode on a bicycle that carried two people -- but this year, he's riding his own."

The Chisolms were among an estimated 7,500 people who took part in the weekend-long Jones Falls Valley Celebration -- an event designed to focus attention on the waterway that runs through the heart of Baltimore. Most of the festival-goers ended up in the northbound lanes of the JFX, which was closed to motorists for four hours yesterday morning.

"We had such a great time last year, that we decided to come back again," Chisolm said. "You really can't see the city's landscape in a car. But if you are riding on a bike, you can slow down and get a better view."

Getting a better view of the Jones Falls -- as well as raising public awareness about the watershed -- is what organizers say they had in mind when they put together the first celebration last year.

"We want people to discover the beauty of the Jones Falls, despite the insults," said Michael Beer, founder of the Jones Falls Watershed Association -- the primary sponsor of the event. "Once they discover it, we believe that they will feel good about it and take a personal interest."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, who rode his bike down the JFX, began yesterday's festivities by telling an assembled crowd that he managed to secure federal transportation funds to create a scenic trail along the Jones Falls that would run from Druid Hill Park to Penn Station.

Activists hope that the trail will one day be extended, stretching from Stony Run to the Inner Harbor.

"The idea will be that parents can get on their bikes with their kids and ride to the Children's Museum and back," said Debbie Diehl, chairman of the Midtown Community Benefits District, a co-sponsor of yesterday's event. "When this happens, it'll be wonderful." Beer and other activists called on city and state officials to allocate more funds to restore Jones Falls Valley.

"The Jones Falls has been neglected," Beer said.

Last year, a crew of volunteers led by Beer's group began hauling garbage and debris from the river every month.

"Our volunteers come with a pair of gloves and we put them to work," said Elspeth Wheeler, a member of the Jones Falls Watershed Association. "We think it's really important to care for our bank and river."

The cleanup suffered a setback last week, when 24 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the waterway -- the result of a power outage brought on by Hurricane Floyd -- before city workers stopped the flow Saturday by repairing a pumping station in Hampden.

The incident did little to dampen the spirits of those who turned out yesterday to celebrate the Jones Falls.

Marlin Ballard, 42, ended up on the expressway yesterday juggling Indian pins while on in-line skates.

"This is just lots of fun," Ballard said. "It's great for the city."

Festivities over and under

Aside from the JFX closure, other activities were set up near the Jones Falls yesterday.

Along parts of Wyman Park Drive, nature walks, a scavenger hunt and rock climbing dominated a slew of activities.

Tony Hairston bought his son Makala, 8, to the festivities to view the exhibits and find a space for him to skate.

"As I learn more, my son learns more," Hairston said. "This event gives us both a chance to learn about the wetlands, the ecosystems, transportation systems -- it's very helpful."

Some motorists say they were upset that closing the northbound lanes of JFX between 8 a.m to noon -- in addition to traffic caused by the Ravens' game -- snarled traffic for miles.

"It makes no sense to close JFX," said Phillip Wallace, a motorist who was turned away by police while trying to enter the expressway from West Cold Spring Lane. "This is a nightmare. No one knows where to go."

But police reported no major problems.

City in favor of event

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said that he didn't hesitate last year when first asked to close the expressway.

"This is really a partnership between the community and the city," Schmoke said. "Working together, we were able to make this day possible."

Area residents say much more needs to be done to protect the river.

"I think the city is reluctantly following the lead of the citizens in supporting this event," said Anneke Davis, 67, a 30-year city resident.

"What I want most is to see city money used to restore stream banks all across the city," Davis said. "You can't just ignore natural forces, and we certainly can't beat them -- we have to join forces with them."

Pub Date: 9/20/99

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