When talk began two years ago about creating a recreational greenway along the wasteland of the Gwynns Falls Valley, many Baltimoreans declared the idea a pipe dream. Yet the 14-mile system of trails today has received enough funding to become a reality by next summer.
Not only has the Gwynns Falls Valley been given federal funds aimed at encouraging alternative transportation modes but two non-profit organizations involved in its planning were recently awarded a total of $883,728 toward implementation costs.
"You will see trails open this summer, marked with signs," promises Chris Rogers of the Trust for Public Land.
The greenway will be developed in stages. The first step is to clean and improve existing trails in Gwynns Falls and Leakin parks, along the Middle Branch and Ellicott Driveway.
The next phase, to be started in the spring of 1996, calls for construction of foot bridges, final trail bed and park lots.
Without funds at hand, "it is definitely going to happen," says Mr. Rogers.
Parks & People Foundation, a 10-year-old local organization, is the trust's and city's partner in making the greenway a reality.
"This could be an alternative form of transportation for people to get from neighborhoods downtown," says its director, Jackie Carrera.
An impressive number of cities and counties throughout the nation are in the process of building greenways.
Two successful trail systems are in operation in the Baltimore metropolitan region: the North-Central trail follows the Gunpowder watershed from Hunt Valley to the Pennsylvania border, while the 14.5-mile Baltimore & Annapolis trail runs from Glen Burnie to the state capital. Both are in heavy use by area bicyclists and hikers.
The Gwynns Falls greenway would be different. It would run from Catonsville all the way to Baltimore Highlands, traversing many poor inner-city neighborhoods. Spurs would go to the Inner Harbor and other city destinations. The question is: would it be safe?
This is a serious concern. When Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke held a cabinet meeting at the B&O; Railroad Museum and rode along some of the future greenway, youngsters threw stones at the train.
There are ways to address safety concerns -- bicycle and dirt bike patrols, among others. As the greenway now approaches implementation, safety should be a priority item among its planners.