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Mount St. Joseph High School seniors build memorial overlook at Baltimore National Cemetery

Catonsville residents who walk or bike the Short Line Trail will now be able to stop for a moment of reverence at a new park overlooking Baltimore National Cemetery.

The 2.2.-mile trail skirts the cemetery on its way past the Charlestown Retirement Community, the Catonsville community of Paradise, the campus of the Spring Grove Hospital Center, the Bloomsbury Community Center to Frederick Road.

Four seniors from Mount St. Joseph High School have spent the past two weeks working to clear and beautify a section of the trail near the veterans' cemetery to create what they call "Cemetery Overlook Park."

"At St. Joe, they give everyone the opportunity to do a service project," said Evan Smith, one of the four working on the project.

His father, Sheldon Smith, was the group's sponsor.

"There were about six different options to choose from, but we picked this one because it overlooks the cemetery," the 18-year-old said.

"I also thought the history of the place was really cool," he said.

The cemetery site was once an estate called Cloud Capped (or Cap) that was part of the holdings of the Baltimore Co. and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, according to the cemetery's website. Its elevation enabled residents to see the British fleet sailing toward Fort McHenry in 1814, and send a messenger to warn the city.

The government took over the 72.2 acres in 1936 at a cost of $95,000, according to the website, and spent nearly $400,000 over the next two years on improvements such as "surveys, roads, gates, fences, razing old mansion, new lodge, utilities, out-buildings, preparing and monumenting grave-sites, and landscaping."

"The first interment was Dec. 18, 1936, although the cemetery was formally dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1941," according to the website.

Seniors at Mount St. Joe can propose a community service project in March and, if approved, are exempt from final exams and let out of school two weeks early in May to work on the project.

Of the 247 members of the school's Class of 2013, more than 200 worked on 89 different service projects in the area, according to Jessica Ader, a spokeswoman for the school.

Matthew Reed said his group, which included Smith and classmates Paul Newman and Michael Valderas, began planning their project in February. They began work on May 6 and have spent at least three hours a day working on the area since then.

Previously, there was an alcove of sorts on the side of the trail that borders the cemetery. Bulldozers had cleared much of the area to create a small stop off point.

The four cleared brush that had overgrown the space, widened the alcove, leveled the ground, and added benches and a large planter to the area.

The two benches and the planter are painted red, white and blue to honor the thousands of veterans buried in Maryland's "Little Arlington."

"It puts a good touch on it," Valderas said. "Pays a nice tribute to the memorial (cemetery)."

Newman said he spent more than two days removing ivy from the chain-link fence that separates the park from the cemetery.

The hard work, he and his classmates agreed, was definitely worth it.

"It feels good, because before, it (the fence) was all covered and you couldn't see through it," Newman said.

Reed said the project was far more involved than he anticipated.

"It's going to be a lot harder than we thought it was going to be," Reed said he thought when the group arrived for work the first day.

He and the others said they were happy to see the way it turned out.

The project cost about $4,000, but Catonsville Rails to Trails and local contractor Chris Podowski donated about $2,000 worth of equipment, supplies and labor.

Sheldon Smith, a corporate attorney, said he was proud of the boys' work.

"It was a lot more work than it looks like," he said. "I had a plan, and we did it."

"It's definitely nice to just see it all together," his son said. "It's nice to put our mark on the community."

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