Patterson Park buzzes with activity in the summer

In Baltimore's Patterson Park, you'll find cannons, dinosaur eggs and wooden toadstools.

I kept saying "Wow" as I walked along East Pratt Street in Butchers Hill. The changes in this neighborhood over the nearly 40 years I've been writing about it amaze me. I think of the 1970s, when the streets lined with three-story brick homes imparted a depressing, worrying feeling. Could these potentially magnificent homes find a new life?

This summer I observed clean streets and washed windows. There was pride of ownership on every block.

What I encountered in the section of Southeast Baltimore generally known as Patterson Park left me anything but disappointed. The park's flower beds had just been thoroughly weeded by volunteers. A Victorian fountain basin had just been scrubbed. Forrest Taylor, a master restorer of ancient field artillery, had his crew resetting the historic cannon once placed there to defend Hampstead Hill from the invading British in the War of 1812.

I stood on Pagoda Hill in the park and looked toward the Patapsco River and the Key Bridge. A rainy summer has kept the park lush. On a balmy midmorning, its paths were full of solitary walkers, dogs and their masters, and families with baby strollers. In the distance I kept hearing a port city's train whistles.

The neighborhoods came with good housing bones, and so did the park itself. I pass through it a couple times a month and always think the place is being happily used the way a city greensward should be. This summer, its patronage seemed amazing.

Patterson Park was a summer sports camp: tennis courts full. Ditto the swimming pool, kickball and soccer fields, and the baseball diamond.

It's obvious that someone loves Patterson Park. The city's parks and rec department does its job, and a neighborhood-based organization, the Friends of Patterson Park, adds the right grace notes. The group does an exhaustive job of programming the place. I got winded just scanning its offerings: a water ballet, yoga under the trees, Zumba sessions, 5K training, an Audubon club and tennis lessons. Or you could help volunteer by cleaning the boat lake or mulching trees. These calls for service are answered. Some 38 people came out at 8 a.m. on a recent Saturday to get dirty in the lake and the tree pits.

"There are so many different kinds of people doing so many different things," said Chris Ryer, director of Southeast Community Development Corp.

A few weeks ago I heard about something new. The Friends put out the word of a new dinosaur garden and a fairy garden. It turns out both of these are tucked into the base of the park's fabled pagoda. The base plantings are basic hosta and black-eyed Susans. But here and there are miniature dinosaurs and their eggs. The fairy garden had wooden toadstools made by Mark Supik, a professional wood turner who makes stair spindles and beer tap handles when he is not volunteering.

The fairy garden was the concept of Janet Arndt, who died in 2014. She lived in nearby Canton and walked her dog and granddaughter here. When she died, she asked her friends to remember her with contributions to a fairy garden she envisioned.

Her daughter, Jennifer Arndt Robinson, is executive director of the Friends of Patterson Park. She concedes that she was initially a little skeptical.

"I kept telling my mother, 'You have to be prepared for anything that might happen. This has to be a public place,'" she said.

The garden was dedicated July 21.

"We had more than 100 people," Robinson said. "We saw such engagement from the children. They took such ownership in those gardens. It was amazing. People walked here. It's obvious that more families are staying in the neighborhoods because of the parks."

As evidence, she said, there are now seven children in the block of East Baltimore Street where she lives.

"We don't spend out time on yardwork," she said. "We use the park as our yard."

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