Residents blaze new trail

The Baltimore Sun

For months, many residents of Northwest Baltimore's Mount Washington neighborhood have been fighting a city plan for a hiking and biking trail to run across nearby Northern Parkway.

Some say it's unsafe and bad for the environment. Others say it's too far away to benefit the community.

But now -- after countless meetings, petitions and letters -- dozens of the residents think they've found a new route for the trail, and city officials say they will consider the proposal before moving to the next phase of planning for the huge project.

About 30 community members joined city officials this month to do a walk-through of the alternate trail, which goes around the perimeter of an existing park. Those who support the new route say it will better serve the community and can help preserve the 100-year-old woods the original trail would be built through.

"The [original] trail this way didn't really serve the Mount Washington community," said resident Chris Tufts, who designed the alternate trail. "It just didn't make sense to me."

The Mount Washington Improvement Association, the organization that has served as liaison between the community and the city, approved the city's original plan in May.

But some residents have complained that the association didn't solicit enough reaction and input from the community before board members gave their unanimous approval.

The improvement association has reopened the discussion, and city officials will meet with its members in December to take everything into consideration.

"We think that actually there are a number of good suggestions that have come out of the discussion so far," said city Department of Planning Director Douglas B. McCoach III.

"We want to be able to have some community support with the design that's made."

A trail around the Northwest Park was not possible when the city began developing plans more than four years ago because the fields were privately owned. But since the city has secured a long-term lease for the more than 45-acre space, the alternate route is now a possibility, Kia McLeod, spokeswoman for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, wrote in an e-mail.

The Mount Washington trail is part of the Jones Falls Trail, a city project that would link the Inner Harbor to city neighborhoods.

David Conn, chairman of the association's bike trail committee, said the association will accept public comment on the trail through fliers, public meetings and list-servs.

"The [improvement association] and its trail committee will do everything we can to solicit input from the entire community, as well as consider the evaluation the city is performing," Conn said. "Judging by the volume of the e-mails about this project over the past year, Mount Washington overwhelmingly wants a hiking and biking trail. We just want it to be the best trail it can be."

But Carole Weiner, who has lived in a Mount Washington condominium complex for 14 years, said the association had not notified anyone in her complex about the trail. She said she found out about the plan a couple of months ago.

"The [association] really does not represent the community," Weiner said. "They really did not notify people.

"I'd lie across the road before I let them do it," said Weiner, who argues that with the city's plan, the trail would run right in front of the development she lives in, making it unsafe for bikers who will cross the paths of cars.

Under the city's plan, the Mount Washington portion of the trail would begin on Cylburn Avenue and go along the south side of Northern Parkway. A bridge would allow bikers and hikers to cross over Northern Parkway. The path would then come down on West Rogers Avenue and lead into a wooded area that belongs to the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. Finally, the trail would come of out the woods at South Road and the Kelly Avenue bridge.

The newly proposed plan calls for the trail to go down Cross Country Boulevard, then around the perimeter of Northwest Park, which is made up of former University of Baltimore ball fields. The trail would cross Northern Parkway on a bridge and travel past Sinai Hospital parallel to Greenspring Avenue.

At least 30 percent of the trail design must be submitted to the federal government by March, said Beth Strommen, manager of the Office of Sustainability for the city Department of Planning. If the federal government approves the plan as part of a program to promote urban bike trails, it will fund 50 percent of the trail's construction, she said.

Strommen said the city will not know how much the trail will cost until a plan is chosen.

"We haven't decided what the route is yet, but we have full support that there will be a trail," Strommen said.

Tufts said the residents' goal is not to hold up the trail, but rather to create a good plan that has long-term benefits.

"If the community comes across as really divisive, we don't get a trail, and that would be a tragedy."

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