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Eager few pioneers roll, stroll on new city trail


Ted Niederman was eager to try the newly dedicated Gwynns Falls Trail across western Baltimore yesterday, but one thing nearly stopped him.

"I was afraid the place would be so crowded I wouldn't want to be here," said Niederman, a 67-year-old architect who lives in Green Spring Valley in Baltimore County and, at 1 p.m., was the first cyclist in 45 minutes to pass through Middle Branch Park.

Bikers and walkers who tested the new parts of the 14-mile trail, which was dedicated Saturday as its last leg opened, enjoyed relative serenity yesterday. Some said it was a matter of time before more people would realize that Baltimore was now home to one of the nation's largest urban greenways and would begin using it.

"It's just such a great resource for the people of Baltimore," Niederman said.

Residents of neighborhoods surrounding the new parts of the trail, which splits along Warner Street, heading north to the Inner Harbor and south to Cherry Hill, said it would improve their quality of life.

"I'll use it to go downtown," said bicyclist David Dandy, 44, of Morrell Park, a machine operator at a bookbindery. "Next time I'll take my lock and go get something to eat."

At Middle Branch Park, Joe Hughes, 32, was happy to have someplace close to his Cherry Hill home to walk with his Rottweiler, Max.

"Before, when we took a walk, we had to go to the other side of the bridge," said Hughes, a mechanic and disc jockey, referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge. "The scenery is a lot better than it used to be."

In Middle Branch Park, new navy benches and matching recycling bins - complete with a Dasani water logo - have been installed next to the trail. Yet a few steps off the path, at the edge of the Patapsco River, hundreds of plastic bottles had washed ashore.

In the parking lot at Carroll Park Golf Course, where the first seven miles of the trail ended and the new seven-mile stretch began, Beltsville resident Charles Brand said he wanted to scope out the trail himself before returning to bike it with his 15-year-old son.

"This goes through some tentative neighborhoods, but I'm willing to risk that alone," said Brand, 63, a professor of research studies at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. He also was looking for amenities, such as convenient places to stop and eat.

Four hours later, he said he wouldn't rush to return. In some areas, he said, "I didn't feel particularly safe. ... Toward town it's more fun, but that's because you're in the city."

Others gave better reviews. Laura Bulgaris, an English teacher at New Town High School in Owings Mills, had worried about safety before starting a bike ride with a friend. Ten miles later, near Federal Hill Park, her primary concern was a long, black snake they had passed.

"It seems safe," said Bulgaris, 33, noting that she saw a police officer patrolling the trail. "It was fun. It's gorgeous. One bad hill, though, if you're a novice."

Her friend, Jeanette Godlewski, a nurse who has more experience riding, said the expansion of the trail made it more feasible for serious cyclists. Still, she said, "it wouldn't be a workout day. It would be a day-after-your-big-workout day."

A workout day for Godlewski, 31, is 45 to 50 miles. She and Bulgaris planned to ride about 20 miles yesterday.

While some sought out the trail, others stumbled upon it. Lisa Fick, 42, a computer programmer who lives in the Inner Harbor, was wearing headphones and walking near her condominium when she found a new path.

"I just found out about it right now," she said. Now that she knows, she plans to return.

Midway through his ride, Niederman said he was running into other bikers who didn't know where they were. "I just passed a guy who said, 'I heard there's a bike trail,'" Niederman said. "I said, 'You're on it.'"

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