How Patterson Park flies high

Middleton Evans knows the Patterson Park boat lake is deeper than he is tall.

A decade ago, while walking his dog on a winter day, he watched as a golden retriever bolted after some ducks.

The ice could not support the dog, and the pooch went under. Evans, a dog lover, volunteered to save the retriever and hitched a safety harness fashioned of dog leashes offered by fellow dog walkers who witnessed the incident.

Middleton broke through the ice too and hit the bottom. “It’s about six and a half feet deep,” he said. “It’s over your head, deep enough.”

He saved the dog and lived to tell the story of the Patterson Park Boat Lake in his 342-page book, “The Miracle Pond.” The large-format volume is a work profusely illustrated with Evans’ fine photography. It’s also a treasury of the wildlife he’d encountered at the park while living on nearby on South Luzerne Avenue in Canton.

“I learned about the park when I walked my dog twice a day every day of the year,” he said. “Close to half the bird species seen annually in Maryland have been recorded in this park. There’s also an occasional fox, plenty of insects — and all those dogs getting walked in the park.”

When he first moved to Canton, he did not realize the rich wildlife — especially the winged variety — present in this urban park, which is surrounded by Baltimore’s classic rowhouses and their white marble steps.

A professional photographer, he spent 15 years with a costly telephoto lens recording the avian visitors that go unrecognized by the soccer players, runners and mothers with baby carriages who use the park.

Evans recalls the day he caught a bald eagle that landed in a tree above the lake.

“I knew something was up because the ducks all started squawking,” he said. “They know when a raptor is present. They get antsy.”

“What is great about this park is that all its elements are so concentrated in one place,” he explained. “There’s a boat lake, lawns like greens on a golf course and trees spaced out — not like a dense woodland.”

Evans says that while the park primarily functions as a Baltimore sports and recreation hub, there are other components. Its 2.5-acre boat lake (its Victorian-era park boats disappeared nearly 100 years ago) languished as an overgrown casualty of inattention.

Evans got a tip from a fellow birder that she had spotted a pair of wood ducks at the Patterson Park Lake. Excited about the sighting, he took off from his home — he was then living in Otterbein — and spotted the fowl.

“In 2000, there was a fundamental shift in how I viewed the pond,” he wrote. “Despite the trash, smells and overgrown reeds, this was a vibrant ecosystem teeming with life. I had no idea that nature could flourish in such an isolated urban setting.”

In 2001, the Friends of Patterson Park and the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks decided to drain the lake (it’s an artificial body fed by a well) and dredge its mud and overgrown reed beds.

“Now the pond is its own nature park with a larger sports park,” Evans said of the pond’s renewal.

The color photography Evans is well known for leaps off the page. Who would ever think that a cedar waxwing finds hawthorn berries at Baltimore Street near St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church?

The Friends of Patterson Park is using the $50 book as a fundraiser for its building program at its headquarters in the White House at Patterson Park Avenue and Lombard Street. It is also sold at Tochterman's Tackle, the Y-Art Gallery on Gough Street in Highlandtown and the Ivy Bookshop on Falls Road.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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