A plan to transform Druid Lake in Druid Hill Park from a drinking water reservoir into a swimmable and boatable body of water took a step forward this month by receiving feedback from a city advisory council.
Baltimore’s Department of Parks and Recreation partnered with Unknown Studio, a landscape architect company based in the city, to create and announce the Druid Lake Vision Plan in November 2021.
The idea to turn the lake into a waterfront recreational area has been discussed since 2017, when part of the lake was drained to build two ginormous underground water tanks that will hold a portion of the city’s water supply instead of the reservoir doing so.
The massive operation of installing the water tanks, one of which is four stories tall and has a 500-foot diameter that would more than fill War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall, is expected to be finished by early 2024. Once complete, construction on the recreational lake project can begin. Nick Glase, principal of Unknown Studio, estimates that work would begin in the spring of 2024 and take at least a year.
Among the features in the Druid Lake Vision Plan are new shorelines, accessible paths to reach the water, a swimming cove, a fishing pier, launch pads for kayaks, a promenade around the lake and bridges extending to islands in the water. Additions that would come later include a lakefront cafe and boathouse with locker rooms, an educational center, an amphitheater and a wildlife habitat with native plants and a rainwater stream valley.
The vision plan was presented Sept. 15 to the city’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel, a major step in the process in which three architects ask questions and offer suggestions on a project’s design, said Adam Boarman, who leads the parks department’s capital projects.
Now, staff will focus on the project’s schematic design, which involves drawing construction blueprints.
“There are times where you do these master plans or vision plans and then they kind of sit on the shelf,” Boarman said. “But that is that’s not the case here. We are full steam ahead. We have a good chunk of funding, and we’re optimistic about getting more.”
Boarman estimated that the lake project would cost at least $50 million. The city allocated $800,000 for the project’s planning and design, and the parks department also received a $17 million state grant for the first phase of design and construction. Boarman said he hopes more state funding is available this upcoming legislative session.
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Designed in 1860, Northwest Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park spans 745 acres and was once bordered by a two-lane street easily traveled by pedestrians. Multilane expressways were constructed in the 1940s and 1960s, despite public outcry, and cut off residents in predominantly Black communities from their neighborhood park. Several city agencies are collaborating on current projects to upgrade the park, with accessibility as a priority.
As part of its Complete Streets plan, Baltimore’s Department of Transportation estimates it would cost at least $32 million to overhaul Druid Park Lake Drive, which is flanked by iron fencing that eliminated 13 pedestrian entrances. The parks department is helping with design ideas, such as how to connect bordering streets and add grand entryways with architectural styles inspired by the park’s historic past, Glase said.
The Department of Public Works also plans to create a 14-acre greenspace on top of the water tanks after their seven-year construction is finished. About 93% of construction is complete on the project, which is how Baltimore officials chose to comply with a 2006 Environmental Protection Agency order that cities cover reservoirs or use more chemicals to treat drinking water.
Crews still need to lay 1,000 feet of large-diameter steel pipe and restore the area for recreational use. The project cost is an estimated $140 million.
Boarman, who said in 2018 when the water tank construction began that he felt a certain pressure to get the Druid Lake project right, now feels a sense of optimism about its fate and its impact on future generations.
Residents also have another opportunity to give input on the park’s designs starting this spring, Glase said.
“We’re really excited about it. I personally dream of a day when there’s a triathlon all through Druid Hill Park. I think that would be something phenomenal,” Boarman said.