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A Folklore Collection Project

Click on one of the links below for local residents' thoughts on the Gwynns Falls.

How “my early delightful experiences (in Gwynns Falls and Leakin Parks) led me to strive to help other children find the glory of the great outdoors.”

  “They now call it Mill Hill.”
Oh, If These Waters Could Talk! “Even if I may never be able to swim in Maiden Choice, some day I’d like to see some fish swimming in it!”
Gwynns Falls Stream Survey Field Notes Gwynns Falls – A Poem
“Parks and trails are our “Common Ground,” the foundation for a society that works.”   Walked the Old Mill Race
“I got a real education in water quality issues!”   My Favorite Route to Work

How “my early delightful experiences (in Gwynns Falls and Leakin Parks) led me to strive to help other children find the glory of the great outdoors.”
By Portia Harris as told to Ted Hendricks, December 13, 2005

Mrs. Portia Harris cites her youthful days picnicking and sledding down the hills in Gwynns Falls and Leakin Parks as having led her to her recreation profession. Mrs. Harris is currently the Associate Director for Recreation in the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, which sponsors outdoor activities for the young and old in city parks and recreation centers.

On a bright fall Saturday morning, Mrs. Harris joined two dozen other hikers on a new section of the Gwynns Falls Trail in the park she knew so well from her childhood. The group was there to take part in a “Walk and Roll” event organized by the Recreation Department and the Trail Council to introduce the Gwynns Falls Trail to seniors and others in need of therapeutic walking.

“We lived up there in Windsor Hill - I still do,” Mrs. Harris said as she rested on a wooden bench after completing a four-mile hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail. Portia Harris recalled that the Gwynns Falls and Leakin Parks were her playground when she was growing up and the memories of the park have shaped her choice of profession.

“We lived in Windsor Hill and used the park winter and summer. All the children would gather after a good winter snow and have a grand time sledding down the hills to the Gwynns Falls. In the summer my mother and father would gather all of us kids together for day hikes and picnics in the park as well as games and kite flying on windy days. I remember especially one day the Maryland Fish and Wildlife Service stocked a pool in the Dead Run stream with trout and we were given fishing poles and hooks as we spent the day trying to catch them. And of course I remember we were fascinated to see the old waterwheel turning, although it no longer pumped water to the Crimea Mansion on the hill.”

“It is wonderful that the park, being so much a part of my early life, has left something in my heart. Here I am so many years later working in the recreation profession. It is as if the memory of my early delightful experiences has led me to strive to help other children find the glory of the great outdoors,” Mrs. Harris said.

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Oh, If These Waters Could Talk!
By Dr. Edward Orser, Professor of American Studies, UMBC, April 29, 2005

Since 1999 with the opening of the first phase of the Gwynns Falls Trail and the anticipated completion on June 4, 2005, I have immensely enjoyed walking and biking along the banks of the Gwynns Falls. And what I have most enjoyed is the chance to SEE the stream. You know that for so long the Gwynns Falls was hidden, out of sight, covered at points by roadways and expressway ramps – it has been West Baltimore’s neglected backyard. So obscure was it to most residents that many had no idea it was even there–others not aware that it connected their neighborhood along a natural corridor extending all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. Seeing it has also meant appreciating the greenery along its banks through parts of the city otherwise lacking in foliage and with precious little open space–natural places to breathe, to enjoy, to re-create. But seeing the stream has also meant observing the negative things that have happened to it over the years through abuse and neglect–erosion, pollution, environmental degradation. On a recent bike ride before the leaves were fully out, my feelings alternated between joy at the natural beauty of stream-side trees and the sadness to see their every branch draped in blue and white plastic bags brought from the entire watershed at times of high-water.

But, oh, if those waters could talk! Now that’s a metaphor that at first thought seems to belie my reflections on history. After all, those waters flow quickly–indeed, all too quickly when we remove the buffers that ought to hold back the heavy rains and pollution–and are soon in the Bay. But, when we think about the full cycle of water–the evaporation that returns river and bay moisture to the clouds and then back again in the form of precipitation–streams have a kind of perpetual life that makes their waters reminders of the timelessness of natural and human processes that have shaped the Gwynns Falls Valley to make it the place that we know today–and that our children and their children will know in generations to come.

And if those waters could talk, they would tell a natural history of springs and small tributaries that originate in the hills and high ground of northern Baltimore County near Owings Mills, then had to cut their way to the Bay through the dense layers of rock that stood in their path–so evident in the cliffs along the steep parts of the valley between Dickeyville and the Carrollton Viaduct–a process that took literally thousands of years. As it cut those rocks, then fell over the remaining layers, it developed the falls so characteristic of central Maryland–which is why early English explorers like John Smith called them “felles or fells” – later changed to “falls,” explaining the distinctive second half of the Gwynns Falls’ name. When waters from this and other streams reached the coastal plain, they leveled it–except where durable hard clay proved too dense and small hills remained–Mount Winans and Mount Clare, and higher yet, Federal Hill and Cherry Hill. Smith was struck by those, too–calling them “bolus” - a small round mass – a name long since forgotten, but reminding us of these distinctive features of Baltimore’s waterside topography.

But if these waters could talk of the early human encounters with the area, they would tell us a story that we know all too little about–centuries of Native American presence. Early records and accounts by English colonists tell us that by the 1600s the Gwynns Falls Valley was a crossing point for Susquehannock Indians–who gave their name to the great Bay tributary, the Susquehanna River. This stalwart tribe - with a reputation as fierce warriors, whom John Smith described as seeming like “giants”- frequently crossed the valley as they traveled from their home regions in today’s Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay region. Their historic ford was through the shallower waters below the stream’s first falls–a choice enough spot that Richard Gwinn gained rights in 1669 to establish a trading post there–and thus gave the stream the first half of its name. But they would also tell us how rapidly Native American tribes disappeared from the region in the first century of colonial settlement–weakened by war, decimated by disease, and pushed off traditional lands.

These waters would surely speak of early European settlement attracted by the area’s abundant natural resources. They would tell of investors seeking land grants, like the prominent Carrolls, who established a large plantation at Mount Clare called “ Georgia” and joined with other investors to begin an iron forge and mining operation under the name of the Baltimore Iron Works Company.

But they would also tell of how much of the work in both operations was carried out by Africans brought to America as slaves, and how the institution of slavery would persist in Maryland and all of the Southern American States for the next two centuries–leaving such a blot on a new society that increasingly talked about “equality.” And they would surely tell of those free African American Methodists and Baptists and white Quakers and other allies, who in the first half of the nineteenth-century made Sharp Street a seed-bed of anti-slavery sentiment, not only preaching abolitionism and supporting advocates such as Frederick Douglass, but making sites in and near Baltimore a critical connection in the Underground Railroad.

In the late 1800s the Gwynns Falls Valley was also central to the transformation of the area’s economy from tobacco growing in the Chesapeake’s tidewater to grains in the hills of Central Maryland. The importance of this change was most notably illustrated by Quakers such as the Ellicotts, who established mills near the new wheat fields, used water from the falls to power them (both on the Patapsco River and the Gwynns Falls), invested in building the Frederick Turnpike to transport freshly-ground flour to the port of Baltimore, and built wharves and dredged the Inner Harbor to ship their products all over the world. The same water-powered technology would then be applied to textile mill production–leading to the establishment of mill villages along the valley–places like Powhatan (Woodlawn), Dickeyville, Franklintown, and Calverton.

In 1829 America’s first railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, crossed the stream valley on the Carrollton Viaduct, the nation’s oldest stone railroad bridge in continuous use (a long-hidden structure now a prominent site along the Gwynns Falls Trail which passes through the bridge on an old river-side wagon and cow path). The B & O had been born as a desperate attempt by Baltimore investors to devise a way to reach the western frontier markets. They eagerly tried a radical new technology -steam power - to advance transportation technology as well as strengthen Baltimore’s position in shipping, and fortunately their gamble paid off. The railroad made Baltimore a vital link in the nation’s transportation network, fostering the growth of the port and new industries and technologies, which brought new jobs to the city. And jobs attracted people–European immigrants, like Germans who settled in rowhouse neighborhoods like Otterbein, South Baltimore, Mill Hill and brought such traditional enterprises as butchering and beer-making to settlements on the west-side of Baltimore along historic Franklintown Road. Or, African Americans who, after the Civil War, left poor agricultural prospects to settle in communities like Sharp-Leadenhall, seeking urban jobs and establishing important institutions like churches, schools and social organizations.

In the early 20 th century, the influence of the nationally respected landscape architectural firm founded by Frederick Law Olmsted and carried on by his two sons undertook comprehensive planning for park needs for the rapidly expanding city. The 1904 plan, produced under the direction of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., recommended that Baltimore protect its streams valleys and acquire critical open space for parkland. It recognized the upper portions of the Gwynns Falls as relatively undisturbed, noting that “the scenery is remarkably beautiful of a picturesque and sylvan sort seldom possible to retain so near a great city.” Continuing work by the firm led city officials to create new ways for city dwellers to have access to the natural setting of the valley–filling one abandoned mill race for a pathway for strollers and another (Ellicott Driveway) for a scenic motorway, the latter overlooking falls local residents called “Baltimore’s Niagara.” These Olmsted-inspired routes provide the basis for extensive sections of today’s Gwynns Falls Trail.

But the waters would tell us of other stories–closer to our own time and more familiar, but important to recall nevertheless:

  • the proliferation of industrial and commercial enterprises that once dominated the lower reaches of the stream–many now gone in this era of industrial decline, their jobs no longer available to residents who settled west-side neighborhoods;
  • the population growth and transportation innovations that first brought settlement to the neighborhoods west of the Gwynns Falls, then further leapfrogged the city’s boundaries in successive waves of suburbanization;
  • the racial dynamics that increasingly restricted African Americans to concentrated sections of the historic inner city, then in the mid-twentieth century gave way to episodes of massive residential change, bringing much needed housing opportunities to people long denied them, but a process also accompanied by new and persistent challenges to aging urban neighborhoods.

And they would want to tell us of important environmental milestones, such as:

  • the continued involvement of the Olmsted Brothers’ firm for fifty-years in charting a vision of Baltimore City parks, roadway, and subdivisions, including its role in the planning of Carroll Park on the grounds of Mt. Clare and in recommending the creation of Leakin Park, acquired in the 1940s to greatly enhance parkland in the upper Gwynns Falls Valley;
  • the Movement Against Destruction (MAD) – a city-wide grassroots coalition - which in the 1960s and 1970s successfully challenged interstate highway plans that would have drastically altered area neighborhoods and waterways–led by activists like Norman Reeves, Mildred Mae Moon, Mary Rosemond, and Barbara Mikulski – to mention only a few;
  • surely they also should tell the still-unfolding story of the coalition of visionaries in the Baltimore City Departments of Planning and Recreation & Parks, the Trust for Public Land, and the Parks & People Foundation who challenged the city to imagine that a river corridor in the midst of an older urban area could become a natural preserve, a renewed source of recreation, and a spur to urban revitalization;
  • and they would commend the Gwynns Falls Trail Council and its many partners who continue to help turn that vision into reality.

Oh, if these waters could talk - they would tell us these stories - and so much more!

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Gwynns Falls Stream Survey Field Notes
By Aaeron Robb, March 21, 1998

The water just below the railroad bridge is green
on the east bank from the sludge pond at United Iron.
The water runs fast and quickly gets deep midstream.
Woodcock lives along this area
and the closest thing we have to peacock –
pheasant – can still be glimpsed running through the scrub,
as I saw this day.

A wood duck pair blew me away
with their surprising flight, what a sight.
Mourning doves can be heard in the branches
and woodpeckers in the dead wood.
Mockingbirds and catbirds, crows and cardinals
noisily follow my progress along the beach and bank
of the river I imagine was a wonder
before Europeans disgraced its shores.

Not a single water “bug” or fish is visible in the shallows
so I feel a boat is the way to go for a better survey.
Starlings rest in the reeds further downstream at dusk
Crowbirds and sparrows and finches
all partake of ragweed, giant radweed,
pigwood (a.k.a. amaranth), and mulberry.
Occasionally, a red-winged blackbird will flash a wing.

The river abounds with slate and granite and
granite’s components like quartz, feldspar, mica.
Marginal human remnants like chucks of glass or
broken ceramics are jewels in the river.
Architectural elements also rest in the shallows,
brick once proud with hints of the manufacturer’s stamp,
marble broken into small slabs and chucks.

The flora and fauna mark the seasonal changes
and I could observe and list these wonderful finds daily.
From the earliest of spring when the forsythia
along the edges of the golf course blooms
up to November when the brilliant bittersweet
twines through the trees on the west bank.
The teasel that grows close by is lovely
with a sweet delicate scent in August,
turns to “hedgehogs” on a stem in the dead of winter,
like a medieval weapon for small crusaders.

I love this river
it is my place of retreat
a place full of magic.

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“Parks and trails are our “Common Ground,” the foundation for a society that works.”
by Alvin Lee ( 2001)

Growing up in Cherry Hill with the Middle Branch Basin as a backyard, I learned early in life the value of parks, trails, and greenways. Returning to Baltimore after many years, I soon became active in community affairs to thwart efforts to convert precious waterfront parkland into private development through the Larue Square Improvement Association, a neighborhood group. The enhancement of Cherry Hill as a waterfront community served as the stimulus for the launch of a comprehensive master plan for the area and the creation of an umbrella organization, Cherry Hill 2000, that would serve to manage and coordinate implementation. As a waterfront community, Cherry Hill sought to leverage its strategic geographic location into improved educational and vocational opportunities as well as improvements in housing, public safety, public health, and recreation.

The community focus on ecological and environmental education formed the basis for the creation and launch of Southside Academy, a city-wide high school with a curriculum emphasis on environmental education. The Gwynns Falls Trail, a 15-mile linear greenway through the City of Baltimore provides another linkage for this community to develop and support vocational, educational, and recreational opportunities.

Coming full circle, I believe that parks and trails represent a powerful link between people, groups, neighborhoods, government, and the nonprofit community. They are and can be “catalysts for change.”

As a corporate manager, my professional experience in strategic planning has helped focus the organizations in which I have become involved. All of these organizations share the common goal of improved community well-being, whether medically, physically, or psychologically. The goal is to become complete from a holistic perspective.

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“I got a real education in water quality issues!”
by David Hollander (2001)

I grew up in Windsor Hills and moved back—twice: once after college, the army and graduate school and then after a professional move to Charlotte, North Carolina. There’s no better place--and the park (Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, one of the largest urban wilderness parks in the country) is a major factor.

In the 1950’s, my family and other Windsor Hills residents opted to stay and welcome African-American neighbors instead of joining the “white flight” to the suburbs. In addition to the principle (my father and grandfather had long been advocates of racial equality), I’m convinced the proximity of the park contributed to Windsor Hills’ survival as an integrated neighborhood.

Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park was my playground throughout my youth—my brother and cousins and friends and I spent a lot of time there doing the things boys love to do. The only blemish in that otherwise idyllic setting was the Gwynns Falls itself. One of the boy’s father, Mr. Albaugh, took us fishing in the Gwynns Falls a couple of times. We had great fun of course (hey, we were boys!), but it was hopeless. The stream was virtually an open sewer and its banks were lined with signs which warned of Typhoid Fever.

Returning to Windsor Hills the first time, I got involved in the fight against the proposal to run Interstate-70 through the Park. The abrupt end of Interstate-70 at the city line is a monument to effective civic activism--but we didn’t stop there. The same folks who had been involved in that effort moved on to form the Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park (FOGFLP) in the early 1960’s.

Before moving to North Carolina, I served a couple of terms as President of FOGFLP. One of my initiatives in that capacity was the development of a partnership with Parks &
People Foundation and Maryland Save Our Streams (SOS) focused on restoring the Gwynns Falls. In part, this grew out of my life-long love of running water (which—despite my early disappointments--had expressed itself in a passion for fishing), but we recognized that the stream system was a critical element in the park ecosystem and began to explore what we could do to improve it. It didn’t take us long to figure out that to be effective, we would need to join with other interested folk on a watershed-wide effort. In 1990, we worked with our partners to organize the first Gwynns Falls Watershed Conference.

When I moved back from North Carolina in 1994, I was excited to learn that the Parks & People Foundation had secured funding for the Revitalizing Baltimore project and that one of the initiatives was the formation of a Gwynns Falls Watershed Association. I was absolutely ready and willing to throw myself into the effort. After three years of pretty much full-time volunteer effort, I’ve had to back out quite a bit to resume my career and attend to family, but the Gwynns Falls Watershed Association is on the map and active along with FOGFLP and the Gwynns Falls Trail Council.

By the late 1980’s, the positive impact of the Federal Clean Water Act was beginning to become apparent and after helping out with a Fishing Clinic on Dead Run sponsored by Trout Unlimited, I returned to the Gwynns Falls with a fishing rod. Thirty-five years after my last attempt, I caught fish—naturally reproducing small mouth bass! I’ve fished Gwynns Falls a fair bit in recent years and I love to do fly-fishing demonstrations. The point is that the Gwynns Falls is alive and worthy of our continuing love and care.

Mr. Albaugh is no doubt dead by now, but I’m in his debt for introducing me to the Gwynns Falls. I know he’d be happy that there are fish to be caught (and released). I like to think someone will feel the same way about me fifty years from now.

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“They now call it Mill Hill.”
By Dennis Gray ( 2001)

Millington Lane , in SW Baltimore, was my home from 1946 to 1963. The area is now called Mill Hill, a name I never heard growing up there. Millington was always a “lane” and not the Avenue city maps showed. The housing was a mixture of wooden duplexes, brick row homes, and some single family dwellings. In the community there were also wooden row homes, iconic stone (from the Gwynns Falls) buildings and a church, and a few stately houses. There were two (active) slaughter houses a block down on Laymann Street. And a ton of corner stores and bars.

It was primarily a first and second generation German community with some Irish thrown in. The few Italians were barbers and shoe makers. At that time there were few African -Americans living south of Frederick Avenue. Many of German men were butchers in the Union Stock Yards, as my next door neighbor did, and many of the Irish worked for the B & O, as my grandfather did.

Location: Millington Lane runs between Frederick Road and Wilkens Avenue at the narrowness point of these two parallel roads. The Gwynns Falls was about a quarter mile to the West and the South.

West: Below Brunswick Street ran the Western Mary R.R tracks along the Gwynns Falls, the river itself, and Gwynns Falls Park. Further west (Where the West Side High School is today), the Oriole Gunning Club was behind the Mount Olive Cemetery.

East: Behind the houses across the street were two rows of abandon car garages, a huge back lot, Tony’s junk yard (where he burnt cars before he took the scrape down to the United Iron & Metal yard), and then the “Hair Mines” (now Westside Shopping Center)

South: Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church, United Iron & Metal, the Falls, and the Union Stock Yards.

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“Even if I may never be able to swim in Maiden Choice, some day I’d like to see some fish swimming in it!”
by Jill Wrigley ( 2001)

In the fall of 1994, my husband Michael Sarbanes and I began looking a place to put down roots in Baltimore. Among the various criteria we had for our new home was that it be located near green space as I had grown up by a pristine stream in Pennsylvania. We were delighted to find a house near Maiden Choice Run in the neighborhood of Irvington in southwest Baltimore. While my delight remains – for in this stream valley we can see deer, red fox, herons, indigo buntings, turtles, snakes and Baltimore Orioles – we have also been pained to witness the degradation of Maiden Choice Run, and of the Gwynns Falls into which it flows.

After moving into their new home, we spent many hours removing debris and trash from Maiden Choice, and then noticed how the trash and debris we removed was quickly replenished by storms that turned our little stream into a torrent and carrier of urban waste. We also spent hours with neighborhood children walking by the stream, skipping stones, hunting for crawfish and enjoying the presence of water so close by. Within months of moving in, we experienced our first sewage overflow. This led us both into regular contact with DPW’s sewage emergency system and into a desire to take action to address the larger and systemic problems Maiden Choice was so clearing facing.

We turned to Maryland Save Our Streams (SOS) and were aided by Terry Lehr of that organization in forming the Irvington Stream Team and being trained in stream monitoring techniques. In the mid-1990’s, SOS and Parks & People Foundation’s Revitalizing Baltimore project were involved in supporting the formation of a Gwynns Falls watershed organization. This was precisely the vehicle that could involve both communities and youth in grassroots activities such as tree plantings, and could also interact with decision-makers and agencies that were having or could have an impact on the health of the watershed. As a lawyer, I helped organize the Gwynns Falls Watershed Association as a 501(c)(3) organization and have been leading the Water Quality Committee and have been involved in the recently formed city-wide coalition, the Baltimore Sanitary Sewage Oversight Coalition. I also helped launch the Association’s first Stream Survey, which took place in 1997 and 1998 in which over 80 volunteers walked nearly every mile of the Gwynns Falls and many of the its tributaries. This survey increased the awareness of the Association’s members and volunteers of the many challenges that our urban streams face, but also brought many people into contact with the beauty, both potential and actual, of our city’s streams.

Seeing the power of getting people in the stream valley, I helped the watershed association obtained a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to create a StreamWatch program in which individuals and groups will adopt and regularly monitor portions of the Dead Run and Maiden Choice, tributaries of the Gwynns Falls.

I am moved by a desire to see the streams restored to some greater health, though I am uncertain as to how complete the restoration can be. Nonetheless, even if I may never be able to swim in Maiden Choice, some day I’d like to see some fish swimming in it! I am also motivated by love of my neighborhood, and especially for my community’s children. I want them to be able to wade in the water without fear of contamination as I did as a child and to develop in a direct and physical way a love of nature.

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Gwynns Falls – A Poem
by Charles Thomas Duvall, published in “The Sunshine Trail,” 1920

Dear Lov’ed stream still winding down,
Through crowded hills a devious way,
Give me to bring your charms renown,
And lend your music to my lay.

Through sun and shade, by height and plain,
With many a carven curve and bend,
You hasten downward to the main,
Whereon your troubled course must end.

Now rushing o’ver a rocky ledge,
Now resting in a quiet pool,
Now creeping through the waving sedge,
You keep no law and own no rule.

And changing with your changing flow,
I hear your voices varing tones,
The beeches spread their roots and drink,
The grateful coolness of your wave.
And drooping willows at the brink,
Their branches in your waters Lave,
The while you glide with swelling strength,
Upgathering from a hundred rills,
Till in the rivers flood at length,
Your tide its destiny fulfills.

So take my song, old friend, though weak,
And poor the tribute that I bring,
May it tempt kindred souls to seek,
The beauty that I fain would sing.

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Walked the Old Mill Race
The Baltimore Sun, May 26, 1913

Thousands Enjoyed Beauties of Gwynn’s Falls Park
Many Remained All Day
They Found Springs, Shady Nooks, Wooded Hills, Grassy Valleys, Wild Flowers, Striking Scenery

Hundreds of Baltimoreans went to Gwynn’s Falls Park yesterday and walked for miles along the beautiful winding thoroughfare that was formerly the bed of the old mill race which skirts the falls through a veritable tunnel of virgin green.

Surprising as it may seen, it was the first visit to the park for scores of persons, and these were the most enthusiastic in their praise of the wild beauty of the stream, the grassy glades and the wooded hills.

The throngs turned out in response to the invitation issued by the Walbrook Improvement Association, and indorsed by George Weems Williams, president of the Park Board, that Baltimoreans set aside the afternoon for a long walk on the mill race road. The city needed just such an invitation to spur into action the hundreds who for a long time had contemplated vaguely a future visit to this picturesque park, and there can be no doubt that “Mill Race Day” was a real success. It inaugurated a series of “walks about Baltimore” which should acquaint the residents of the city intimately with what natural beauties are to be found almost in their midst.

There were many who, upon reaching the park, sought vainly for the mill race, conjuring up mental pictures of its cool, placid waters, its mossy banks and picturesque footpaths. They were disappointed at first to learn that the mill race had disappeared years ago, and that the road they were treading had once been its bed. But their disappointment soon gave place to pleasure when they came upon spots along the face of the hill behind them from which could be glimpsed marvelous vistas of the falls valley, and at its end, the huge concrete bridge at Edmondson Avenue.

At the very entrance to the park the visitors found – snuggled up almost under the electric railroad bridge – a wonderfully cold spring, from which trickles a little brook that dashes its way into the falls. The main roadway begins here, branching off later into the highway for vehicles, down in the valley, and the mill race road, hugging the hills.

My Favorite Route to Work
Dan Pontius, April 20, 2008

Even though I live in the Radnor Winston neighborhood near Cold Spring Lane and York Road, my favorite way to bike to my job downtown includes the Gwynns Falls Trail.

It’s certainly not the quickest route. I can zip down Greenway and St. Paul Street and be at the Citizens Planning and Housing Association office where I work in 20 minutes. But several years ago I started looking for more scenic routes.

I got the idea when I rode in the first Tour du Parks in 2003. As we came across 39th Street from the old Memorial Stadium site, I realized I was pretty close to my house! Now, as I come down Greenway from the Loyola College area, sometimes I connect with 39th Street heading west, cross University Parkway to leafy San Martin Drive and then turn right on Wyman Park Drive. At the Stieff Silver building I link up with the Jones Falls Trail through Druid Hill Park. Then, just past the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory, I turn left down Gwynns Falls Parkway past Mondawmin Mall to the Windsor Mill Trailhead of the Gwynns Falls Trail.

It took me a year or so after the Tour du Parks to actually try this route, but when I finally did, all the anticipation paid off. The trip through Druid Hill Park is terrific (and getting better now, with the northern extension of the Jones Falls Trail), and while Gwynns Falls Parkway has quite a few cars at rush hour and a big hill, once I’m across Garrison Boulevard I get a nice whoosh down Windsor Mill Drive into the cool Gwynns Falls Valley and the trailhead.

Then, entering the Mill Race part of the Gwynns Falls Trail at the Windsor Mill Trailhead, I’m in the woods on my way to work! It’s as if I’m not even in the city, with the trees and birds singing and chance to exercise and let my mind unwind to start the day. Often I will even stop at the bench near the Jastrow Trail and Gwynns Falls Stream to take in the greenery and do a little planning for the day.

Then it’s past Leon Day Park and the Ellicott Driveway portion of the trail right next to the Gwynns Falls. Finally, I exit the trail at Baltimore Street for the last part of the trip into the office through West Baltimore.

That last part of the trip gets me grounded and ready for my day. About an hour after I started, I wheel my bike into my office, relaxed and alert and ready for the day.

I try to take this longer trip into work once a week. Whenever I can fit it in, it leaves me more at peace and grateful that such a beautiful trail exists right here in Baltimore.

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