Hik­ers, bik­ers get in mo­tion as the trail sea­son be­gins

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Jonathan M. Pitts

Paul Ben­der moved to Baltimore three years ago but had never had an op­por­tu­nity to try his fully equipped moun­tain bike on city trails.

He chose a good time to do it Satur­day. The sky was re­splen­dently sunny as Ben­der, a 27-year-old civil engineer who lives in Pikesville, be­came one of more than 40 bi­cy­clists and hik­ers who hit the Jones Falls Trail to mark the open­ing day for the largely in­ter­con­nected net­work of trails that wind through the streets, parks and neigh­bor­hoods of Baltimore City.

The trek was part of Open­ing Day for Trails, the na­tion­wide kick­off of the spring trail sea­son for the Rails-to-Trails Con­ser­vancy, an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated build­ing a net­work of pub­lic trails across the United States.

The Baltimore City Depart­ment of Recreation and Parks co-sponsored the event and sev­eral oth­ers, in­clud­ing a beau­ti­fi­ca­tion project in Mid­dle Branch Park and a spring flower show at the Howard Peter Rawl­ings Con­ser­va­tory in Druid Hill Park, one of the stops for the bik­ers and hik­ers.

The Baltimore trail sys­tem — known as the Baltimore Green­way Trails Net­work — is part of the na­tion­wide Rails-to-Trails sys­tem, the Great Amer­i­can Rail-Trail, which has grown to 23,000 miles in length and con­nects 12 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“I’m happy to be able to get outdoors and ex­plore the rails-and-trails sys­tem here — I’ve been look­ing for­ward to try­ing this out,” Becker said as he strad­dled his black Trek Nav­i­ga­tor 100 in a park­ing lot at Cyl­burn Ar­bore­tum, where the three-hour event be­gan.

As the group pre­pared to head out, Jim Brown, the trail devel­op­ment man­ager for Rails-to-Trails, caught every­one up on the sta­tus of the Baltimore-area net­work as a whole.

The con­ser­vancy spear­heads the work of the Baltimore Green­way Trails Coali­tion, an al­liance of about 40 or­ga­ni­za­tions pushing for the com­ple­tion of a 35-mile loop that would run through more than 50 Baltimore neigh­bor­hoods.

The 25 miles in place in­clude the Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls and Her­ring Run trails; an­other five des­ig­nated trails would com­plete the loop, al­low­ing hik­ers and cy­clists to travel un­in­ter­rupted from Leakin Park in the west­ern part of the city to Her­ring Run Park in the east, from Cyl­burn Ar­bore­tum in the north to Cherry Hill Park in the south.

The com­pleted por­tion is al­ready part of the East Coast Green­way, a 3,000-mile bik­ing and walk­ing route that links the ma­jor cities of the At­lantic coast from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida, as well as the Great Amer­i­can Rail-Trail, much of which is built along for­mer rail lines.

Brown said the Baltimore loop could be com­plete in five years if all goes well.

“If you like what you see to­day, ad­vo­cate!” he said. “Now who’s ready for a ride? Who’s ready for a hike?”

About half the group, led by a parks and recreation rider, lit off on bi­cy­cles. They made their way along the 9-mile stretch to the In­ner Har­bor, mak­ing stops at Druid Hill Park and the Baltimore Street­car Mu­seum along the way.

In the park, some vis­ited the con­ser­va­tory, which was rimmed with tulips and fea­tured a pro­fu­sion of blos­soms in­side. Oth­ers stopped in at TreeBal­ti­more’s an­nual Fruit Tree Fair, where the city or­ga­ni­za­tion gave free fig, el­der­berry, paw­paw and ser­vice­berry trees to hun­dreds of vis­i­tors as part of its long-term mis­sion to ex­pand Baltimore’s tree canopy.

The street­car mu­seum fea­tured a bike swap event.

It was a slower jour­ney for the hik­ers, many of whom said they love the outdoors but had lit­tle idea the city had trails that con­nect so many fa­mil­iar sites.

Molly Gal­lant, out­door pro­gram­mer for the parks and recreation depart­ment, led the tour from the daf­fodil-cov­ered grounds of the ar­bore­tum down a stretch of Green­spring Ave., then south on a paved trail that winds through deeply wooded park­land along the Jones Falls.

Much of the walk has the feel of a hike through a re­mote for­est, with deer vis­i­ble at times and the sounds of the nearby stream au­di­ble. Hik­ers also by­passed se­cluded Rock­rose Park with its com­mu­nity gar­den, made their way through the his­toric mill houses of Wood­berry, and came into Druid Hill Park through the lit­tle-known, treeshroud­ed Park­dale Ave. en­trance on the north end.

The 4-mile hike in­cluded a look at the Grove of Re­mem­brance, a quiet World War I me­mo­rial in the park, en­coun­ters with Fris­bee golfers play­ing a tour­na­ment, and views of once-thriv­ing ponds Gal­lant said were home to seals long ago.

jon­[email protected]­sun.com twit­ter.com/jon­pitts77

KIM HAIRSTON/BALTIMORE SUN

Paul Ben­der, of Pikesville, fourth from left, joins other cy­clists in Rails-to-Trails Con­ser­vancy’s sev­enth an­nual Open­ing Day for Trails.

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