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Coronavirus hasn’t shut down Baltimore’s Patterson Park. Residents hope to keep it that way.

Katie Long with Friends of Patterson Park talks about how she's noticed people still staying active and healthy at the park, while maintaining safe distances.

Evan Harker isn’t letting the coronavirus pandemic disrupt his workout routine. He said his legs were “killing” him on a recent morning because he’s been running every day.

Harker wore an athletic training mask during his sprint with his 15-month-old daughter Evangeline, who was riding in her stroller. The marine technician was laid off due to the pandemic, which also forced his gym to close, but he was grateful to have his family and his health.

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Harker and his wife, a schoolteacher, live in East Baltimore in one of the roughly dozen neighborhoods that surround Patterson Park. And even as the coronavirus pandemic has forced Baltimore residents to stay home and socially distanced, the 137 acre park has remained an open space oasis — one of the few available in a densely-populated section of the city.

“If it wasn’t for this park right now, to be honest, I think it would be a lot tougher to maintain your exercise and your mental health,” Harker said.

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Recreational activities have been limited citywide, but signs of life are still present in the popular section of East Baltimore. Where joggers aren’t intermittently scattered along sidewalks or walking trails, people and their dogs or parents with baby strollers are dotted along pathways. Police say there have been no reports of illegal gatherings in the area since Maryland enacted a stay at home order, and the Friends of Patterson Park, a neighborhood-based organization, have been encouraging residents to practice physical distancing to safely use — and maintain access to — the public space.

Near the park’s fountain, Canton resident Sarah Cassatt was completing a set of pushups. The healthcare provider said more people have been exercising in the park due to gym closures. Lawrence Lyons of Greektown said he’s been exercising in the park every day since the shutdown. He was recently doing cardio and using resistance bands, barbells and kettlebells in the park space often used for football games.

The Baltimore City Department of Recreation & Parks runs the park property, and The Friends of Patterson Park is helping the city communicate with residents, said Jennifer Arndt Robinson, the organization’s executive director. Friends of Patterson Park’s work, for instance, includes translating city messaging into Spanish.

They’re also helping residents use the park responsibly.

From left, Bob Tucker, of Idlewylde, watches as Lawrence Lyons, of Greektown, does a set of pull ups in Patterson Park. They have been exercising here every day since the shutdown with equipment including kettle and bar bells and resistance bands. People get exercise and fresh air in Patterson Park during a time of social distancing and face mask measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. April 17, 2020.
From left, Bob Tucker, of Idlewylde, watches as Lawrence Lyons, of Greektown, does a set of pull ups in Patterson Park. They have been exercising here every day since the shutdown with equipment including kettle and bar bells and resistance bands. People get exercise and fresh air in Patterson Park during a time of social distancing and face mask measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. April 17, 2020.(Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Park trails and open space remain open, but city officials are directing people to stay at least 6 feet apart and in groups of less than 10. People who use the parks to run should stay even further apart from other runners in the area.

Robinson and members of the community art center Creative Alliance are sewing masks for residents who need one. Josh Kohn, program director for Creative Alliance, said he’s noticed people in Patterson Park have put stuffed bears in their windows for kids to participate in a scavenger “Bear Hunt,” which is an emerging trend seen elsewhere nationwide.

The groups have managed Patterson Park’s planned usage carefully.

The Big Baltimore Kite Festival, which attracted more than 5,000 people last year, was cancelled due to the pandemic. Kohn said his organization has since distributed the festival’s kite building kits citywide to give children indoor and outdoor activities. The city has also closed tennis courts and basketball courts, playgrounds and pavilions to discourage people gathering, said Kate Long, program director for the Friends.

"Not everybody can adjust and I feel like we’ve done a really good job, my wife and I, and I attribute a lot of it to having this park here.”


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A series of “sidewalk serenades” was postponed as shutdown orders expanded.

Friends of Patterson Park is working to provide online exercise programming to residents, Robinson said. And Kohn said Creative Alliance has been organizing online Saturday dance parties using Zoom, creating a platform for a hundred people “to dance alone together” with Baltimore DJs.

“Our real concern was making sure that the park could stay open and be a resource," Robinson said. “If people were continuing to violate the limits, there was a chance they would shut down the parks.”

Since March 31 to May 5, there have been 434 calls to the Baltimore Police Department for people violating the Governor’s State of Emergency order. Two people have been charged in that time, but none in the Patterson Park area. Residents have said people in the neighborhood have been respectful of the guidelines.

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A runner crests a hill in Patterson Park on S. Ellwood Ave. People use the park to get exercise and fresh air as during social distancing and face mask measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. April 17, 2020.
A runner crests a hill in Patterson Park on S. Ellwood Ave. People use the park to get exercise and fresh air as during social distancing and face mask measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. April 17, 2020.(Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

For Harker, maintaining access to the park has been essential. He’s worried about the community’s children because they’re unable to play sports outdoors. And Harker still misses the gym, where he polishes his boxing skills.

Even so, the Canadian transplant is glad the park is open. Harker said he’s going to continue running at the park to stay fit and to pursue one day becoming a professional boxer.

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“For me this is the best spot I could live in Baltimore,” Harker said. "Not everybody can adjust and I feel like we’ve done a really good job, my wife and I, and I attribute a lot of it to having this park here.”

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