A 'Passport' to the world of Druid Hill Park

A Roland Park resident has created a "passport" to Druid Hill Park.

Janet Felsten, founder and director of the nonprofit group Baltimore Green Map, introduced the green-colored passport April 19 at a Baltimore Green Week kickoff party in the conservatory. Felsten said she created the 20-page, passport-shaped booklet on cover stock paper as a companion to a detailed map of Druid Hill Park that she made in 2010.

The purpose of the map and the new passport is partly to point out places of interest in the 745-acre park, which is home to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Druid Lake and the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, among other attractions. But the passport is also part of Felsten's larger goal to get people interested in "nature, culture, activism and sustainable living," she said.

"You will have opportunities to appreciate nature, learn history, get exercise (and) absorb culture," the passport states in its introductory page.

The passport and the map are available for a $3 donation at the front desk of the conservatory, in the park's administrative building and through Baltimore Green Map's website, http://www.baltogreenmap.org.

The passport is especially geared toward families, with games and exercises, such as a page where children and their parents can write haiku about what they hear, see and feel as they tour the park. Children can also make notes about how many times they run up and down the steps of the Liberty Pavilion at the Park Heights entrance to the park, and can draw a picture of the Palm House, the oldest, tallest part of the conservatory. They can also draw their favorite plant or flower.

Park users can also learn about the park's history during racial segregation, when whites and blacks played on separate tennis courts and swam in separate swimming pools.

Users can have the passport stamped each time they visit the park. Those who fully stamp it would be eligible for a drawing for prizes that the group Friends of Druid Hill Park is considering holding quarterly, Felsten said.

The map is useful for people once they are in the park, but the passport is designed to lure people to the park, Felsten said.

"Everybody is enjoying the map," she said. "Now, let's get them to the park. The map got a lot of people exploring the park, but I wanted to do even better. You need to give them incentive" to visit the park.

Felsten hopes the passport also will lead to increased funding for Druid Hill Park and city parks in general.

"We want to encourage people to treasure the park and become more aggressive in advocating for a good, strong budget for the park system," she said.

Mapping community resources

Felsten — a consultant, educator, urban planner and designer and former Open Society Institute fellow — said she has long been interested in the mapping of community resources, because she found in her work that "people often did not know what was three blocks from them."

The conservatory is an example of a city landmark that many residents know little about, Felsten said. Many people she has met in north Baltimore "had never stepped inside," she said.

Felsten in 2008 joined the International Green Map System, which she said is used in 65 countries. She started Baltimore Green Map and created a map of the Jones Falls Trail and watershed, using the international system's icons to denote places of interest along the trail.

Felsten's next project was a map of Druid Hill Park in honor of its 150th anniversary in 2010. That map, designed by Roland Park resident Joanne Cooper Wingard, included a timeline of the park's history and used the same international icons to show the locations of the Jones Falls Trail, community gardens, special trees and places to watch wildlife.

Now, Felsten and Baltimore Green Map have unveiled their latest project, the passport, which was designed by Elizabeth Gething, also of Roland Park.

Already using the passport is Martha Stauss, of Lauraville, an environmental scientist for Human & Rohde, a landscape architecture firm in Towson.

Stauss, a member of the group Innovate Baltimore, said she found out about the passport through the professional networking website LinkedIn and joined Baltimore Green Map.

Stauss and her son, Forrest Mickey, 14, an eighth grader at the Greenmount School in Remington, went to Druid Hill Park on April 17, after Mickey got out of school, and tried out the passport and map.

"We really liked that there are drawing, counting, reading, smelling, listening and poetry activities and the treasure hunt quality of it," Stauss said.

Also a fan of the new passport is Tom Orth, of Bolton Hill, a member and past president of Friends of Druid Hill Park.

"The passport supports the message that Druid Hill Park is the place to be," said Orth, who conducts night hikes and historic walking tours of the park. "My participants are amazed at the size of the park, its rich history and many activities that are here to enjoy," he said, citing as examples festivals, the zoo, running and biking trails, baseball leagues and a swimming pool.

Kickstarting public interest

Felsten raised $12,800 for the passport, mostly from 215 donors on the fundraising website http://www.kickstarter.com and a Partnership for Parks grant through the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, administered by the Wyman Park-based Parks and People Foundation. She has printed 5,000 passports.

On the Kickstarter site is a video that explains the passport project and gives a brief tour of the Druid Hill Park and its attractions.

"There is much more to see. The passport will lead you on," Felsten says in the video, which was produced by Chris Hartlove, of Roland Park.

Felsten said she would like to do passports and maps for other city parks, too.

But she said she started with Druid Hill Park because, "It's the central park of the city. It's got so much historic resonance. It's got something for everyone."

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