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Ride is glimpse of city's green

Bill Sann, 41, of Parkton had a simple wish for how to spend Father's Day: to take a bicycle ride through Baltimore's parks with his wife, Barbara, and their 3-year-old daughter, Nicole. So the Sann family joined about 225 other riders yesterday in the city's second annual Tour du Park ride.

For the outdoorsy couple, biking has been a bond since the beginning of their courtship, which began on a blind date and found common ground in a bicycle hike across the state.

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"My mom told me, you've got to find someone you can cycle with," said Bill Sann, a sales engineer. Looking at the diverse crowd that stayed for a barbecue afterward, he said, "It's probably the one thing we all have in common."

The Sanns traveled a 32-mile circle, which began and ended in Carroll Park in Southwest Baltimore, threading through Druid Hill Park, Lake Montebello, Patterson Park and Federal Hill. Nicole, riding in a little trailer towed by her father, was so diverted by the playgrounds along the way, however, that they paused more than planned. Finally, they turned around at Patterson Park in East Baltimore, where the pagoda stood against clear blue skies, and bicycled back toward Carroll Park.

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About 100 riders chose a shorter, 15-mile route on the Gwynns Falls trail, which connects Carroll Park and Leakin Park. The event raised $5,000, which will benefit the city Department of Recreation and Parks and the nonprofit Friends of Carroll Park, organizers said.

After she completed her ride, Barbara Powell of Timonium, a dental hygienist, made light of a lingering perception problem about Leakin Park. "Don't they still throw dead bodies in Leakin Park?" she asked, referring to several homicide victims discovered there in the 1990s.

For city officials who have tried for years to turn around the image of certain areas, yesterday's event was a chance for riders to see the park system and several urban neighborhoods through a more favorable lens. The sun-dappled scenery helped, but among the riders there was a sense that Baltimore is still far from a bicycle-friendly town compared to its nearest big-city neighbor, Washington.

Baltimore greenways coordinator Beth Strommen, a city planner who helped organize the ride, said yesterday that the city is taking steps to address the lag and perception problems. "There's a sea of change on the horizon," she said.

A $200,000 master plan to link the city's new bicycle trails with roads, schools and transit points such as Pennsylvania Station will get under way this summer, she said.

For many riders yesterday, the morning excursion provided an opportunity for city and suburban residents to connect the dots between the pagoda, the zoo and other park destinations.

"I haven't been to Patterson Park forever," said Janice Schwartz, 52, who took a new, dark green tandem for a spin with Carl Stratmann, 50, both of Overlea. "It's neat that the pagoda's restored."

Stratmann said he, too, was struck by how the city landscape has changed. "You go slower on a bike and see parts of the city you don't see. You remember the old, but you're seeing things in a different light, like the renovations of certain neighborhoods," he said.

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A few traveled far for the experience. Stephen Sturdivant, a banker and avid bicyclist from Washington, bicycled through the parks before meeting his son for a Father's Day lunch. But his review was lukewarm at best. "There's still a little ways to go," he said with a smile. "It was hard to follow."

Two young women from the United Kingdom were decidedly more upbeat. Amy Barnes of Liverpool and Siwan Davis of Cardiff, Wales, both 23, said they came as sightseers and tourists. "Lovely city, isn't it?" Davis said, when asked what she would write in her travel journal.

Bill Sann said his Father's Day present was fun, with an unexpected twist: "It was Tour du Park for everyone one else, but Tour du Playground for us."


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