Funding problems cancel September's Jones Falls Expressway walk

The Baltimore Sun

Instead of a stretch of congested highway cutting through Baltimore, imagine the Jones Falls Expressway as the setting for a stroll, a bike ride or a jog.

For the past eight years, the Jones Falls Watershed Association has shut down a six-mile section of the highway on a Sunday morning in September and held a festival on the usually traffic-filled thoroughfare - a celebration of the 58-square-mile watershed that runs alongside and under the highway.

But this year, because of the association's difficulties finding corporate sponsorships to offset the approximately $10,000 in permit fees to close the highway for nearly eight hours, the Jones Falls Valley Celebration has been canceled.

But organizers promise that it will be back in 2008, and they say it will be bigger and better.

"We just felt like we needed more time to put on a top-quality event. And we're a really small group, and we feel we need to concentrate on restoration efforts," said Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of the Jones Falls Watershed Association. "It requires a lot of manpower. Eight years ago when we proposed it, everyone thought it was a completely crazy idea. It is what it is, and we do regret having to cancel it. "

Van der Gaag pointed to a drop in corporate giving as the chief reason for canceling this year's festival, which had been scheduled Sept. 16. Factor in the money for advertising the event to draw the approximately 5,000 people who come every year and the $10,000 in permit fees paid to the city to shut down the highway, and this year's event just didn't add up financially, Van der Gaag said.

This year's event was also planned on the same day as a Ravens home game slated to start just one hour after the reopening of the JFX, which could have prompted a traffic nightmare. So during the association's July board meeting, the executive committee voted to cancel the event.

Rosita Rennick, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation, said she was unsure what it costs to secure the JFX for the event. She said the money would mostly go to pay city workers to close the highway.

Next year's event has already scored Toyota as a sponsor. "It is kind of a unique Baltimore event," Van der Gaag said. "We hope people will come out and join us."

An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly stated the amount of permit fees the Jones Falls Watershed Association pays to the city for the shutdown of the Jones Falls Expressway for an annual festival. The fees vary between $5,000 and $6,000.The Sun regrets the error.
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