Losing an oasis in Baltimore

When a $20 million renovation cuts off access to Lake Montebello in Northeast Baltimore early next year, city residents say, they will have one less tranquil refuge from grime and noise.

"Where are we going to walk and run?" asked Bruce Dunn, a loan officer, while speed-walking around the lake one recent sunny morning.


An oasis for morning workouts and afternoon walks, Lake Montebello is between Hillen and Harford roads. It is the site of a 1915 city filtration facility that supplies the city and county with water drawn from Loch Raven Reservoir.

The renovations at Lake Montebello include removing the sludge that has built up as a result of chemically treating the water. Other improvements include landscaping, resurfacing Whitman and Curran drives - which encircle the lake - and putting an iron fence around the lake, said Robert H. Murrow, a Department of Public Works spokesman.


The project will take about three years to complete, Murrow said. For the first six months, the public will not have access to the park. After that initial phase, Curran Drive, which runs along the southeastern section of the lake, will reopen. About a year and a half later, Curran will be closed and Whitman Drive will reopen.

The project's planners have tried to incorporate suggestions from the community wherever possible, Murrow said.

Nevertheless, many Baltimore residents are worrying about losing unfettered access to the park for the next few years.

Dunn, the loan officer, has been coming to the park almost every day for the past few years. While walking around the track that encircles the lake, Dunn stopped many of the other regular exercisers he has met there to tell them that they would have to find a new place. Most said they are planning to use nearby areas such as Herring Run Park and Clifton Park.

Andrew Ferges of Baltimore walks around the lake almost every day before going to his job as pastor at Shepherd Community Baptist Church, nearby on Iona Terrace. Although he understands the necessity of the renovations, he is somewhat worried about having to turn elsewhere for recreation.

"It's a good place to get some exercise without fear of being assaulted," Ferges said.

Other people who frequently use the park, such as Mayfield residents Steven and Kathryn Parke, are glad to see the renovations. Steven Parke said he can no longer use in-line skates at Lake Montebello because the roads that surround it are cracked and full of potholes.

The holes in the road may make a person on skates stumble, but the number of bicyclists using the park suggests that the potholes can be avoided. The Parkes' 3-year-old son, Duncan, raced ahead on a new red bike with training wheels that he had just learned to ride.


The Parkes exercise at the lake a few times a week. They said they often bring out-of-town guests there, many of whom are amazed that such a place exists in the city limits.

When the Parkes don't exercise for a while, other regular park visitors often ask them where they've been. Steven Parke, an illustrator and designer, said he enjoys that social aspect of the park.

People who know one another only as fellow exercisers at Montebello exchange handshakes and stop to chat before getting into their cars.

Selwyn Edwards, a Trinidad native who said he moved to Baltimore because of the weather, uses the park as a place to not only exercise, but also to meditate. He has been coming to the park twice a day since he discovered it four months ago. He said it is one of the few places in the city where he feels tranquil.

"You can come here," he said, "and just relax all day."