Is there such a thing as a perfectly level street in Baltimore?
Not if you've been out walking or driving around town during this period of bad weather. Geographers have an explanation. If it's any consolation as you slide or take a header on a small hill or crooked piece of paving, Baltimore is located on the fall line, the place where the costal plain meets the Piedmont Plateau.
There's evidence of this in downtown Baltimore. Try scaling the icy hills of Saratoga, Pleasant, Franklin and Monument streets between Calvert and Charles streets.
Neighborhood children have a sixth sense that directs them to every local gradient worth a run on a sled, pilfered cafeteria tray or flattened cardboard carton.
For sledding, Herring Run Park is the Switzerland of Northeast Baltimore. There are many hills -- among them the edge of Father Jack Hooper Field at Harford Road, the Arcadia neighborhood's Parkside Drive raceway, the drop-off by the old Quaker Meeting House and the northern slope of Lake Montebello.
The entire Herring Run Valley, including the Mount Pleasant Golf Course, is always popular as are the sides of the grass bowl at Montebello Elementary School, 32nd Street and Harford Road, and the summit at Clifton Park.
Roland Park is a neighborhood where level ground is just not allowed. If you're skeptical, visit the aptly named Suicide Hill at the Baltimore Country Club off Club Road. There are two sledding courses here. One is the precipitous drop under the edge of the club's dining room, only attempted by the most fearless types. For those who value life, there's the remainder of the hill on what was one of the first golf courses in Baltimore. The truly adventurous also trek to Indian Lane, a path tucked in behind St. John's Road.
In Northwest Baltimore, Mount Washington is not only one of the city's most vertical neighborhoods -- making it good for sledding -- it is also its coldest. Road crews based in the old Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse on Falls Road will tell you that Smith Avenue and its environs are the very first to freeze in this type of weather.
In North Baltimore, Wyman Park -- beginning at Charles and 29th streets and winding along the Stony Run Valley -- has some impressive cliffs. The most popular sledding area, used by neighborhood children for 100 years, is at the Dell in Charles Village at 30th and Charles. The main sledding run drops down from the Charles Street sidewalk but there are several elevator-like drops along the edges of the park for the stout of heart and the foolish.
Also in Wyman Park, there are some good runs off Tudor Arms Avenue. They're especially picturesque when someone breaks the law and builds a bonfire in the hollow below San Martin Drive.
North Baltimore's Hampden is also a neighborhood of dips and drops. There's a short and sweet ravine at Falls Cliff Road near the old white stucco Noxzema factory. Only those with good legs and lungs attempt to walk up Union Avenue from the light rail stop at Woodberry at the far bottom of Tempest Hill and Television Hill.
On the west side, cabbies refer to the Edmondson Village Shopping Center as "The Hill." That summit overlooks downtown Baltimore, the tips of the Maryland National Bank and USF&G; buildings and other landmarks.
There's Killer's Hill in the Ten Hills neighborhood off Edmondson Avenue, at the corner of Old Orchard Road and Woodside Drive. It used to be great for sledding but somebody built a house in mid-course. This drop is next door to Signal Hill, the home of 1950s Baltimore traffic and transit czar Henry Barnes.
In the more distant reaches of Leakin Park, the sledding course begins near the Mansion House. (It's properly called Crimea, but nobody calls it that, even in the winter). Then there's a sharp, arching turn to the left to avoid the woods around the old water wheel before you come to a stop at the baseball diamond. Fans of this course swear it takes a full 10 minutes to negotiate.
East Baltimore, alas, does not have good sledding though Patterson Park gets some hard use.
In Baltimore County, there's the hill at the Dundalk Community College athletic field; the Country Club of Maryland's steep hill off Stevenson Lane, the expansive hill at Greenwood (the Baltimore County Department of Education headquarters facing Charles Street) and St. Paul's School in Brooklandville.