Among the more than 100 people who gathered at Bolton Street Synagogue on Sunday for a memorial service to celebrate the life of local environmentalist Dr. Michael Beer, was Halle van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, who arrived carrying fliers to hand out to the crowd.
The fliers announced plans for an invasive weed-pull along the Stony Run on Dec. 7, in honor of Beer, a Roland Park area resident, who died Aug. 22 at age 88. Van der Gaag, formerly director of the old Jones Falls Watershed Association, fondly recalled working out of Beer's house near the Stony Run in Evergreen in the mid-2000s.
"I was young and needing encouragement," said van der Gaag, of Charles Village. "He was very passionate. I think (the service) gives thanks and appreciates all that he did."
Beer, a former chairman of the biophysics department at Johns Hopkins University, was also well-known as a champion of the Stony Run. The stream runs through north Baltimore from roughly Northern Parkway to Remington, and is a tributary of the Jones Falls and the Chesapeake Bay. Much of the restoration of the Stony Run up to now is credited in large part to Beer's stewardship and lobbying of Baltimore City, friends and colleagues said.
"I think he was the original person who drew a lot of attention to the Stony Run," said Tom McGilloway, of Wyman Park, who is president of the active group Friends of Stony Run. "He was a real steward to the Stony Run and really inspired a lot of people to get involved."
Beer's legacy lives on as Baltimore City, with the help of state grant money, prepares to make more significant improvements to the stream, starting as early as this month, including building two new pedestrian bridges over it, and acquiring parcels of private property to enhance the stream's walking trail and nearby Stoney Run Park.
There are also longer-range plans to restore and stop soil erosion of the banks of the lower Stony Run, as was done in recent years for the upper and middle Stony Run.
Gennedy Schwartz, chief of capital development for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, said the city is using $1.2 million in state grant money to replace a pedestrian bridge at Linkwood and Ridgemede roads and to build a new bridge and boardwalk under the motorist bridge on University Parkway, where it crosses over the stream. The city hopes to advertise for bids on the bridge projects this month, Schwartz said.
The city has also acquired two private properties along the walking trail, which follows the old Maryland and Pennsylvania (Ma and Pa) railroad tracks, and hopes to acquire three others in the next few weeks and make roughly three miles of the trail north of Overhill Road public property, according to Schwartz and Amy Bonitz, of Roland Park, an architect and a member of the board of the Friends of Stony Run.
The goal is to make capital improvements on the land, Schwartz and Bonitz said.
The parcel that Bonitz said "really kicked off that effort" was owned by another champion of the Stony Run, the late Adam Cockey Jr., a philanthropist and owner of the Wyndhurst Station shopping center, which is located near the stream. Cockey provided a public easement for the park and walking path and agreed to donate the land to the city, but died in 2012 at age 71, before the land could be transferred. His wife, Dolores, and son, William, later agreed to donate the land in his honor.
The Wyndhurst section of the Stony Run Walking Path is expected to be dedicated to Cockey by Thanksgiving, Bonitz said. The City Council must approve the official dedication.
There are also efforts underway in conjunction with the Roland Park Civic League to develop an implementation plan to address issues not covered under state funding, such as flooding, erosion, loss of tree canopy and what to plant along the trail.
Schwartz said Recreation and Parks in conjunction with the Department of Transportation is working with area communities to make crossing improvements at Wyndhurst Avenue and West Cold Spring Lane in Roland Park.
The stream runs past many area schools, including Gilman, Bryn Mawr, Friends, The Greenmount School and Loyola University Maryland, and serves as an environmental resource and teaching tool.
"It touches a lot of lives. It impacts a lot of neighborhoods," including Roland Park, Hampden, Remington, Evergreen, Tuscany-Canterbury and the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, said McGilloway, a landscape architect and a principal of Wyman Park-based Mahan Rykiel Associates.
Each year, for example, students grow trout in classrooms and release them into the Stony Run as part of Trout in the Classroom, a program run by Maryland Trout Unlimited.
Beer's daughter, Sue Beer, recalls the stream as a part of her and the neighbors' children's early childhoods.
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McGilloway said the Stony Run stream and park are "vitally important to our urban neighborhoods. I'm particularly interested in protecting not only the stream but Wyman Park and Stony Run Park as important amenities for the city."
McGilloway also thinks the stream hasn't always gotten the respect it deserves, because it doesn't have an extensive trail network," he said. "I think a lot of people took it for granted. We want to bring attention to it as a valuable resource."
Or, as Bonitz put it, "to carry on Dr. Beer's work."
That's why a large crowd came to Beer's memorial service, including Karen Stokes, of Oakenshawe, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp.; her predecessor, Bill Miller, of Roland Springs; Charles Village Civic Association President Sandy Sparks; and Mac Kennedy, director of alumni relations for Boys' Latin School.