Pointing way for visitors

Inner Harbor trailhead table will provide information on more than a dozen local trails

Visions

November 13, 2005|By EDWARD GUNTS | EDWARD GUNTS,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

In their never-ending quest to lure tourists and residents to explore neighborhoods and attractions beyond Baltimore's rejuvenated Inner Harbor, city leaders have tried banners, shuttles and all manner of promotions.

Now they have a new idea: the Baltimore Visitor Center Trailhead.

Planned for installation by spring, the trailhead is essentially a large, round table that will be located between the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace and the Baltimore Visitor Center, on the west shore of the Inner Harbor.

Its top will contain a map of the city and information about 16 trails that will either start or pass through the Inner Harbor, as of next summer.

Some of the trails are nature- and bicycle-related, such as the Gwynns Falls Trail and the Jones Falls Trail. Others focus on history, like the Heritage Walk, the Star-Spangled Banner Trail and the Maryland Civil War Trails. More than a few are transportation-related, including the National Road and the Charles Street Scenic Byway. People can follow them on foot, in cars or even, in some cases, by water taxi.

The idea behind the trailhead is to let people know that there's much more to Baltimore than the Inner Harbor, said Bill Pencek, director of the Baltimore City Heritage Area, an arm of the mayor's office that promotes the city's cultural heritage.

"It's a teaser," Pencek said. "The Inner Harbor is wonderful. But we want to get people beyond the Inner Harbor, to the neighborhoods ... This is a way to bring extra attention to all these initiatives."

Because of Baltimore's age and location as the farthest inland port on the East Coast, a wide range of trails converge at the Inner Harbor, and representatives for many of them have sought more promotion from the city.

The challenge for the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley, Pencek said, is figuring out a pleasing and logical way to provide information about all the trails, without cluttering up the shoreline.

The mayor's office hired Howard + Revis Design Services, a Washington-based firm that specializes in exhibit design. It came up with the idea of an oversized compass or "roundtable" where people can gather, like gamblers at a roulette wheel, and learn about the different trails by reading graphic panels around the edge.

Accessible to people in wheelchairs, and open to the elements, this "map table" will be 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge. It will be the starting point for guided tours that may be offered along the trail system. It was designed so that up to five panels can be added to provide information about more trails as they take shape.

A two-sided, vertical "welcome panel" will contain additional information about the trail system and updates about tours or other events. If people want even more information, they can speak with docents in the nearby visitor center, or pick up pamphlets and brochures there.

Besides information about specific trails, the trailhead will provide an overview of the city's relationship to the Chesapeake Bay.

Although Baltimore boasts many exhibits and attractions with nautical themes, Pencek said, there aren't many places that tell a comprehensive story about the city and the bay.

The trailhead will touch on themes such as "The African American Push for Equality and Opportunity," the city's role in military battles, and Baltimore as a gateway for immigration and industrialization.

The trailhead is expected to cost $46,000 to design and another $50,000 to $100,000 to fabricate and install.

Money is coming from three sources: the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a federal program; Baltimore's Capital Improvement Program, and the Abell Foundation.

The city is working to complete the trailhead by April, in time for the Baltimore Waterfront Festival and the Baltimore stop of the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race.

When it's finished, Pencek said, Baltimore will be the only city to have a resource of this sort.

Others may have a trailhead for an individual trail, he said, but "this is a major interchange ... It's all about transporting people thematically from place to place."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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