Two dreams diverge in a wood

ON THE BAY

Woodberry: Where neighbors envision lily ponds and nature trails, Loyola College sees a sports complex.

February 08, 2002|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

EVERY TIME I turn around these days, it seems someone is preserving trees -- as in "We're going to preserve what's left after we clear-cut all we need for our development."

It's why, for all our tree laws, tree plantings and forest protection zones, we're still losing trees by the thousands of acres a year across Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region.

The latest reminder was Loyola College's "Fields of Dreams" project, which seems greased by the mayor and City Council to rip the green heart out of Baltimore's Woodberry neighborhood.

Loyola, which says it needs to attract better athletes, plans a 71-acre sports complex that will include two 6,000-seat arenas, numerous practice fields and parking for hundreds of cars.

After paving over dozens of acres of urban forest, the college will generously put what's left into permanent protection.

Such "dreams" are nightmares for Woodberry residents, whose woods form a continuous greenbelt linking Druid Hill Park on the south with Cylburn Arboretum on the north.

The community's dreams, which will clash with Loyola's at a public hearing March 6, run more to lily ponds, hiking and biking trails along the Jones Falls, nature education, and peace and quiet.

Residents there have detailed all this -- part of a plan to revitalize Woodberry -- in an "Urban Forest Initiative." They've held fund-raisers, written letters, led tours of the forest, and had it designated a "Last Chance Landscape" by Scenic America, a national preservation organization.

They've also met for half an hour with Mayor Martin O'Malley, who they say thanked them for their "passion" before abruptly saying he was going with Loyola on this one.

So are the City Council and the city's Planning Commission. It has seemed like a done deal since Loyola responded to the city's solicitations in 1998 to develop the mostly city-owned forest.

For Jan Danforth, 50, a resident who has spearheaded the fight against Loyola, this is part of a pattern for the city: planning for everything in Woodberry but the community.

"In my life, I've seen the quarry, the landfill, the Children's Hospital expansion, the new Northern District police station, the BGE [natural gas storage] tower, billboards ... all cutting into our woods and open spaces," she says.

Woodberry is hardly alone. This winter, I went to a talk by Julia Butterfly Hill. She gained fame for perching in Luna, a huge old California redwood, until loggers agreed not to cut it.

She was aloft for 768 days, on a 6-by-6-foot platform with tarps for walls and roof, through some of the worst winter storms in California's history.

The hardest thing about her ordeal? It was not the shots loggers fired at her, or the helicopters with air horns the timber company hovered over her, or the 90-mile-an-hour winds, or weeks with no food when her ground support was halted.

The hardest thing, she said, was "listening to the literal screams" of the forest giants falling all around her as chainsaws and metal wedges sundered their heartwood.

Trees are screaming all over Maryland. I recognized the couple sitting next to me at her talk from their fight to save a several-hundred-acre forest known as the Riddle Farm near Ocean City. The developers had won, and they were moving.

At the same meeting, a woman two rows back feared for a forest of century-old hardwoods and pines that has been "preserved" with state Open Space money. Its owner, Wicomico County, proposes to clear-cut it for money to operate the nonforested portions of the park.

I have my own tree story. Some neighbors up the street were out chain-sawing their dogwood trees. Why would they cut these springtime crowning glories of the community? Their little chainsaw was not up to taking down the bigger oaks and pines, they said.

Among Baltimore colleges, Loyola is carrying on the great tradition of the Johns Hopkins University, which recently axed a mature beech-hardwood forest to build the ugliest structure on the entire Homewood campus.

Some communities have the will and the means to keep their trees. About 400 homeowners in Bay Ridge near Annapolis are raising three-quarters of a million dollars to ransom 115 acres of fine old hardwoods from a developer. Their county government has helped out with a $140,000 grant.

They are unusual. I know of neighbors in Baltimore County who spent more than Bay Ridge to keep the open space around them. But the limited development rights that remained still allow clear-cutting of 40 forest acres, presumably for another horse pasture in a county rife with them.

We love trees and love to plant them; but even more we love to cut them.

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