Baltimore's reputation as a place to hike and bike promises to grow, now that the second phase of construction of the 14-mile Gwynns Falls Trail is under way.
The official launch of Phase II on May 29 marked a key step in a project that supporters hope will ultimately connect a substantial trail system in the city to a greenway stretching from Maine to Florida.
In addition to the Gwynns Falls Trail, which will take people from a trailhead in Leakin Park in West Baltimore to the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch Park, a second major route, following the Jones Falls from Penn Station to Robert E. Lee Park, is expected to be started in September.
Federal funding was recently approved for the final three miles of the Gwynns Falls, a 10-foot-wide path scheduled to be finished by March 2003, said Guy W. Hager, a program director with the Parks and People Foundation, a partner with the city in the trail project. That trail will crisscross the Gwynns Falls and connect more than 20 neighborhoods with historic landmarks, recreation and cultural sites, and parks.
The project is a hit with residents of adjacent neighborhoods, says one elected official.
"Everybody is excited about the trail, and I have gotten no negative feedback whatsoever," said Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh.
The 1.5-mile first section of the Jones Falls will follow the stream from the train station to Druid Hill Park. It will cost $1.7 million, all of it federal funds, said Gennady Schwartz of the city Department of Recreation and Parks.
Planning for two additional stages of the Jones Falls Trail is preliminary, and funding hasn't been confirmed.
Money for the projects has largely come from the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which provides federal resources to improve economic growth and protect the environment, as well as rejuvenate urban areas through transportation redevelopment.
As Congress intended in the legislation, the benefits of the trails extend beyond recreation.
"The trails serve a number of purposes: connecting people together, allowing for exercise and healthy activity, providing an alternative way to get around, and boosting tourism along the trail," said David G. Dionne, chairman of the board of the East Coast Greenway Alliance and trails superintendent for Anne Arundel County.
And the trails will be a key link to the greenway, a 2,600-mile pathway the alliance hopes will be complete by 2010.
South of Baltimore, the greenway is expected to extend from a path near Baltimore-Washington International Airport and run to Annapolis. From there, it would connect with trails to Prince George's County en route to Washington, D.C.
Maryland is one of the leading states in the greenway project, having designated a number of trails. Dionne said the project gains momentum with each added segment. "Ten years ago, it seemed like we were pushing a boulder uphill," Dionne said. "Now, we're rolling down the hill and just trying to hang on for the ride."