B&A Trail becomes a star trek

Art: Huge sculptures of the planets are aligning along 4.6 miles of the path, combining elements of science, education, fitness and creativity.

July 31, 2005|By Chris Yakaitis | Chris Yakaitis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Heads are turning - or rotating - on the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.

As bikers, walkers and runners pass by the Earleigh Heights Ranger Station in Severna Park, they often glance to the west, drawn by a sleek stainless-steel sculpture that rises more than 20 feet over the wooded path. With its nine concentric circles emanating upward from a central sphere, it resembles an enormous, tilted martini glass with a large copper olive. The black lacquered sphere at its rim, however, is Pluto.

The dark planet now marks both the outer edge of the solar system and the southern terminus of Planet Walk, an educational public art exhibit sponsored by Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails. Installed July 7 about 15 yards from the trail, the Pluto artwork joins the sun sculpture, behind Harundale Plaza, as the second station in the multiyear project.

"It's a way of looking at science through art, and art through science," said Elizabeth Wyble, president of Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails.

The nonprofit organization, dedicated to promoting and enhancing county trails, has worked with the Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Department to develop the project. Planet Walk was officially launched in early 2000 with a $200,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Since then, the development committee has relied entirely on voluntarism and donations of goods and services from NASA, URS Corp. - a Hunt Valley engineering firm that has assisted with design and landscaping - and other local contributors. Wyble said the cost to date has been about $800,000, and she projected the total value of the completed exhibit would fall between $1.5 million and $2 million.

The B&A Trail winds 13 miles from Annapolis to Glen Burnie along the path of an old rail line.

"The trail is just a tremendous asset. Anything they add to it is just a bonus," said Larry Gibson, of Severna Park, who passes the new sculpture on his 4.8-mile morning walks from the ranger station to Jumpers Hole Road and back. The Pluto station sits at the southern end of Planet Walk, which extends 4.6 miles to its northern endpoint at the sun sculpture.

Over the next few years, the intervening space will be filled with stations for the other eight planets in the solar system, placed at intervals that accurately depict their relative distance from one another. Each station will feature a uniquely designed sculpture, a landscaped viewing patio and signs featuring scientific details prepared in cooperation with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Wyble said Planet Walk pulls together a variety of interests, all in the name of civic development. "It's not only the trail community, but it's the education community, the science community, the art community and the health community," she said. "We have all of those different facets that are part of it and that will benefit from it."

The group's directors hope that visitors and school groups will gravitate to the completed project. To that end, they're also developing a Web site that will supplement the on-site signs and assist teachers in presenting lessons that incorporate Planet Walk.

Creating planets

Rising up to 26 feet and averaging 2 tons, the planetary sculptures are predominantly stainless-steel structures that require months of labor with heavy machinery and cranes to construct and install.

Silver Spring artist Judy Sutton Moore was hired in October 2001 to design unique models for each of the stations, and worked with Maryland Metals in Hagerstown this year to complete the fabrication of the Pluto piece. "It's not something you can build in your backyard," she said.

For the Pluto design, Moore said she drew inspiration from the sculpture's location at an endpoint of the trail. The nine concentric rings represent the nine planets and suggest to viewers "what they're getting ready to enter," she said.

The sculpture also nods to Planet Walk's overall educational purpose by referencing classic and familiar images of the solar system. "My concept was sort of to put the orbits up in space like the pictures we see in the science books of the sun and planets," Moore said.

She has already completed preliminary designs for all the sculptures except Mars. Next up is either Earth or a joint Mercury and Venus installation. The Earth station will feature an 8-foot-wide, 6-foot-high bronze globe emblazoned with a relief pattern of intertwined wildlife, said David Greene, vice president of Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails. It will sit close to the ground so that young, curious passers-by can run their hands over its textured surface.

"Earth is pricey. It's really cool," he said.

The group hopes to complete Planet Walk in 2007. But ultimately, the construction and installation schedule revolves around fundraising efforts. Greene said the project directors will launch a capital campaign this fall, soliciting additional funds from businesses, private organizations and individual donors.

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