Shown is a late afternoon fisherman, near the damn on Lake Elkhorn. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
For people-watching, there is no better spot than Joe Caliguro's Columbia townhouse. He and his wife can walk out to the porch and find a stream of people walking by on the path below.
Caliguro, a retired television producer, owns one of about 130 houses that border the nearly 2-mile public trail next to Lake Elkhorn. For the residents who live nearby, the man-made lake is also an extension of their backyards, providing picturesque views and lots of foot traffic just beyond their porches.
Many of the townhouses are a stone's throw from the trail, which is a popular walking, jogging and biking destination. The 37-acre lake attracts people for fishing, picnicking, sailing and bird watching. It has been particularly popular this spring, as mild weather and blooming trees lure visitors outside.
"It's like living in a resort," Caliguro said.
Sean Harbaugh, assistant division director for open space at the Columbia Association, estimates that 900 to 1,000 people use the park daily during peak times. About 800 townhouses, single-family houses and condominiums are in the neighborhood surrounding Lake Elkhorn.
Caliguro and his wife, Lynn Gambrill, feel their house is private enough because there are trees between their house and the path.
They frequently go for 10-mile bike rides on Columbia's connected trail system. Like many residents, Caliguro keeps a kayak under his porch that he wheels down to a public dock a few blocks away when he wants to go out on the water.
Residents in the area say it's also a place where they get to know the regular park visitors. One neighbor keeps a bowl out in the backyard for thirsty dogs, and families greet each other on the paths.
Sarah Vanderwagen and her family set up Adirondack chairs to watch the lake and trail from their townhouse, which backs up to the park and sits above the trail.
They see many of the same people, plus new faces, and Vanderwagen said it is a friendly gathering place for all sorts of people.
"The diversity of the people we see walking around the lake is a daily reminder of the ideals that Columbia was founded on," she said.
She takes their two children, 17-month-old Henry and 3-year-old Morgan, to the park playground, or up the path to sit and watch the waterfall. Morgan's reasons for liking living next to a lake are simple.
"Because we have ducks and because I really like water," she said.
One of Vanderwagen's neighbors, Charlene Lopez, said she would like to see even more people use the park. Lopez is one of the original owners in the Lakeside neighborhood, which was built in the late 1970s.
She has seen the park become a community gathering place, even in times of crisis.
On Sept. 11, 2001, people flocked to the park to appreciate nature, she recalled. There were no planes flying overhead, and it was quieter than usual.
"Everybody was really gracious and cognizant of nature," she said.
Rich Loeffler uses the trail every day to walk Rocky, his Bernese mountain dog. He often sees turtles, beavers and all sorts of birds. He loves watching spring arrive.
"Everything comes to life," Loeffler said. "It's like every tree announces themselves individually."
Spring is also a favorite season at the lake for Debbie Koch, whose back porch is less than two dozen feet from the trail.
Her husband, Wayne Koch, likes to lie on a hammock on the porch and relax. People passing by rarely stop to chat, but the Kochs hear them say, "Oh! Look at that hammock!"
The Kochs raised their three children in the townhouse. The kids used to play a game where they would watch people going by and predict what they would wear or do. "The next one will be wearing a hat!" she remembered her children saying.
One of Debbie Koch's favorite memories was a cold winter more than 10 years ago, when the lake froze solid enough for them to walk across it. They stood in the middle of the lake and looked back at their house.
From the Kochs' kitchen, all that can be seen is the lake and the trees that frame it. The house has a back porch for every level, including a small one opening up from the master bedroom.
The view keeps them from moving, even though the 32-year-old home doesn't have huge bathrooms or modern upgrades.
"We have looked at other houses, we have talked about moving countless times, and every time we do, we can't, really," she said.