Stony Run offers a retreat from city life without leaving Baltimore

The path to a scenic getaway

Maryland Journal

April 03, 2006|By JULIE BELL | JULIE BELL,SUN REPORTER

Dr. Wendy Bohner has found a rural ribbon of calm in Baltimore City. It is the path along Stony Run.

Three to four times a week when the weather is fair, she runs on it, most often leaving the pavement near Wyndhurst Avenue and Wilmslow Road, where the wood chips on one side of the wooded stream or the soft dirt on the other lead her into a hidden world.

"I love it," she said. "It's a little gem of a place."

Stony Run is a Jones Falls tributary. Its main artery begins on the tony grounds of the Elkridge Club off North Charles Street and runs south past the Bryn Mawr, Gilman and Friends schools. It continues south from there with egalitarian if polluted beauty - meandering in spots, cascading in others - through Roland Park and Hampden before disappearing underground near Sisson and 29th streets. There the path stops.

Already, crews have begun work near the county line on a major project to improve the leaky sewer line that runs next to the creek. Workers will enter at manholes to reline existing pipe and will put a replacement line in the southern portion, tunneling deep underground rather than digging up the earth's surface along the creek, said Gary Wyatt, the city's chief of utility engineering. A planned sewage pumping station once proposed for a site along the stream will be built behind recycling dumpsters at Sisson and 29th streets.

Beginning in June, workers also will begin restoring parts of the stream - straightened by well-intentioned humans - to a natural path. Stony Run's channel will be armored to protect it from the scouring of rushing water, and boulders will be placed to slow and direct the flow away from the eroding creek bed. In one spot just below Gilman, a 200-foot portion now in a buried storm drain will be brought above ground.

Ultimately, the alterations may make the creek habitable to small fish such as minnows, which long ago forsook its sediment-rich waters, said Bill Stack, the city's chief of water quality management.

The work is set to be completed in installments to just south of University Parkway over the next couple years. Some sections of the path may be temporarily impassable, beginning with a portion just south of Northern Parkway.

But so far, Stony Run's regular human users haven't had to contend with heavy equipment. They are out as usual, beginning with the dawn and retreating only with the dusk. They run, alone or in pairs. They walk their dogs and talk together, engrossed in neighborly rituals of nature and conversation.

The afternoon brings picnics along the banks and after-school time spent at the creekside Linkwood Road playground. The evening brings the runners and the dogs once more.

Larry Heller is among those who enjoy the quiet, rhythmic ritual of mornings along Stony Run. He is there before 7 a.m. most weekdays, whipping a tennis ball over and over to his yellow lab, Lucy. Soon the two are strolling the path with other regulars, as they are on a recent morning, and Heller is engrossed in conversation.

Matt Kone and the shelter mutt Cipher spend a half-hour each morning together walking the stretch north of Cold Spring. About the time they make their way home to have breakfast and open Kone's hair salon by 8 a.m., Catherine Searson of Guilford and Winston, her husky-shepherd mix, take up the stroll.

Stony Run has its strange sights. Sometimes, Searson says, people she presumes are Loyola College ROTC members practice in camouflage. "You know," she says, "hiding in bushes."

This cloudy morning, she walks by a spot where small creek stones have been piled atop one another in a configuration some wag has photographed and dubbed "Stone (Y Run) Henge." A picture so christening it is tacked to a trailside notice board.

Students from Friends School go on environmental science field trips along its banks. Friends School English teacher Michael Paulson, who often runs here, this morning walks up the path to work, swinging a plastic grocery bag filled with doughnuts for his students. He bought them at the Royal Farms store on Cold Spring Lane - a few hundred yards and a world away.

Judson Porter, 59, runs by as he does "every other day when the weather allows," watch in hand to time his 36-minute loop.

"It's prettier, and it's easier on the knees" than running on the street, Porter says.

South of Cold Spring and the Linkwood playground, where children chatter during the afternoon, the path is but a ribbon of dirt. It continues as the creek plunges underground and then re-emerges south of Overhill Road, where a pair of mallards paddle and a pedestrian bridge takes walkers to the eastern bank.

Just before University Parkway, a hop and a skip over a few creek stones allows walkers to pass back to the creek's west bank, where the path continues under a graffiti-covered bridge before opening up into Wyman Park.

Here, Maryland Institute College of Art professor Jane Cottis hurls a ball repeatedly to her dog, Penny, who occasionally takes a dunk in the creek.

"I didn't know about it until I got a dog," Cottis said. "What I like about it is, you're living in the city, and you walk four blocks and you feel like you're in the country."

To the south, Stony Run widens and becomes more rugged, dropping below the path in a steep ravine. The water rushes, and the city sounds are muffled.

It all ends disappointingly, in a pile of downed trees and floating plastic bottles. Here, Stony Run seeps underground, having been covered years ago to make way for city building. Eventually, it joins the Jones Falls.

Double back and the path runs up the bank, over a series of wooden steps, to Wyman Park Drive. Hampden is visible. So is the sign for the 29th Street Burger King.

juliana.bell@baltsun.com

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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