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Gwynns Falls Trail project unveiled, but officials worry about incomplete funding


The plan to encourage Baltimoreans to walk or bike from Leakin Park in the Northwest corner of the city to Camden Yards without having to cross a street may be stymied if money is not found to fully fund the project.

The $8 million Gwynns Falls Trail park unveiled last night at the Baltimore Museum of Art has funding locked up only for the first three miles in the 14-mile project. The next two phases, scheduled to be completed in five years, are up in the air because a federal grant may not become available after the first phase is done.

"We are still establishing our plan of action," said Beth A. Strommen, environmental planner with the city's planning department. "We don't know what's going to happen at the federal level. We don't know if [the federal grant] money will be here next year."

The federal grant is a fund earmarked to promote travel without using vehicles. Planners believe the grant will be reduced nationally or phased out in the current round of budget cuts.

If the money does not come through, Ms. Strommen expects to mount a fund-raising effort that will tap communities and private foundations for aid. But if that is done, the project surely would be delayed, she said.

At stake is a city showpiece of connected parks and neighborhoods that would follow the Gwynns Falls stream valley from Leakin Park through the city to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

Derelict stretches of the stream valley -- now strewn with tires and discarded furniture -- would be transformed into a landscaped pathway for nature lovers and urban commuters. A series of pedestrian bridges across the stream would double as neighborhood gathering spots, with coffee shops and snowball stands.

An asphalt bike trail would traverse the 14-mile stretch. And midway along the route, plans call for a "growing center" -- a nursery and educational facility that would provide plants for the trail and jobs for those who tend them.

The trail would ultimately link the B&O; Railroad Museum, Mount Clare Mansion and Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Patapsco Valley to the south and west. It will also connect 20 Baltimore neighborhoods to the waterway and to each other.

It's all part of a vision developed by Diana Balmori, a prominent landscape architect from New Haven, Conn. She has been the landscape architect for some of the country's best-known public spaces, including the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center in New York and the plaza of the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

"I see it as the modest beginning of a different kind of society, a society in which people can move on foot and have the experience of being out in nature and free of the automobile and the noise of the city," she said.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, she said, parks like Gwynns Falls Trail have become a valuable amenity and are worth developing even for today's cash-strapped cities.

The city so far has pledged only $240,000 to the trail.

"Obviously [the city] can't kick in too much," said Ms. Strommen, who noted that there is not much room within the city budget for such a project.

The design of phase one is slated to begin this fall and last nine months. Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 1996 and to be completed in four months.

Planners are hoping that by completing the first phase, the federal grant would be easier to get. But Gennady Scwartz, a developer at the Department of Recreation and Parks, acknowledged that he is being optimistic.

"It is a concern for everybody," Mr. Scwartz said. "It is somewhat scary because we have spent a lot of effort and time."

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