Take a walk on the wild side - of the JFX

The Baltimore Sun

The Jones Falls Expressway is a partially elevated, high-speed swath of pavement dominated by fossil fuel-burning urban commuters - not Baltimore's earthiest element.

But Sunday, thousands of outdoor enthusiasts will park their cars and traverse the exhaust-free interstate on foot. It will be closed for part of the day so area residents and visitors can walk, bike, run or just enjoy the view from the highway that cuts through the city. People can also boat and take in the Jones Falls, which runs under the JFX.

Organizers say the Rally on the River, formerly known as the Jones Falls Valley Celebration, is supposed to be fun. But, more important, it also aims to serve as a lesson in volunteering, and to teach people to protect the region's water sources and their dependent life.

"We rebranded the event because we wanted to send a message about the importance of our waterways," said Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, which works to protect the watershed by planting trees and educating the public about pollution through events such as the rally.

This year, there won't be a foot race as in years past, and there will be a $5 entrance fee for adults, with proceeds going toward trees and tools to help the association care for the watershed, a 58-square-mile area, of which a third is in the city and two-thirds in Baltimore County.

There will be a history trail for bikers, a frog race (with plastic frogs) and a limited number of boats and kayaks for those who want to enjoy the Jones Falls more closely than from the expressway. (People are encouraged to bring their own boats.) There will be more kids' activities, such as a moon bounce.

But Van der Gaag also will be there to teach a few lessons. She wants people to learn how their actions hurt the watershed, so she'll tell those who usually use a garden hose to conserve water by collecting rainwater in barrels, which will be sold at the event. She'll suggest biking instead of driving, using less fertilizer on the lawn and picking up dogs' waste, which is responsible for 10 percent of the bacteria in the Inner Harbor.

Other groups and agencies, such as the state's Department of Natural Resources, will help spread the word. Dan Boward, a DNR biologist who works on the Maryland Biological Stream Survey, which surveys the state's streams and educates people on environmental stewardship, is one expert who will be on hand.

He said the downtown portion of the Jones Falls supports far less life than parts in less-congested areas, which have less pollution. He'll bring some of that life - to be released later - to show the public, including eels, fish and maybe some frogs.

if you go

The Rally on the River runs 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday on the Jones Falls Expressway from the Fayette Street exit to the Northern Parkway exit. Northbound lanes will close at 5 a.m. The main entrance, parking and festival area will be at Poly/Western High School, 1400 Cold Spring Lane. Paddling on the waterway below the JFX will begin at Robert E. Lee Park on Falls Road at 9 a.m. Admission is $5 for adults 18 and older. Tickets are available online or at the event. For more information, call 410-366-3036 or go to jonesfalls.org.

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