Opening Day Feature: We'll Be Seeing More of Baltimore—By Trail

Posted 03/03/15 by Katie Harris in Building Trails, America's Trails

A disused corridor and potential future trail connection in Baltimore, Md. | Photo by Jim Brown
Opening Day is Less than one Month Away!

On March 28, 2015—people around the nation will be getting out to celebrate their favorite pathways and kick off spring in honor of RTC’s third annual Opening Day for Trails. Eighteen communities around the country are hosting official Opening Day events this year in partnership with RTC, and in the lead up to March 28, we'll bring you some of their awesome stories.

Oh, by the way, you don't have to attend an official event to be a part of Opening Day. Be a part of it; make your pledge to hit a trail on Opening Day.

Baltimore, Md., will be celebrating Opening Day in full force this year on the Jones Fall Trail. Check out RTC’s Opening Day website for more info.

Did you know that Baltimore lays claim to some of the oldest urban parks in the country?

Three distinct stream valleys serve as home to the Gwynns FallsJones Falls and Herring Run trails, which meander through the city. And within these corridors, you’ll find some of the largest urban forests east of the Mississippi!

Urban forest along the Jones Falls Trail in Baltimore, Md. | Photo by Jeff La Noue

These urban forests provide a welcome respite from city life. In the early 1800s, the stream valleys powered the grist mills that fueled Baltimore’s growing economies. What is now Leakin Park—Baltimore’s largest park, through which Gwynns Falls runs—was once a hunting ground and rustic retreat for city dwellers.

Many decades later, it remains a natural escape for the citizens of Baltimore, facilitated even more so by the urban trail that was completed in 2004. Shortly after, the Jones Falls Trail, which runs through the central stream valley of Baltimore, went from vision to reality and now runs more than nine miles north-south through the heart of Charm City.

 Jim Brown, trail development manager for RTC, explains that the Jones Falls Trail is a great example of the many personalities of Baltimore. From industrial mill complexes to more rural-like countryside, the Jones Falls Trail has a bit of everything—and arguably showcases the best of Baltimore.  

Trail users have the chance to stand beneath a barreling freight train as the trail crosses underneath an active CSX line. Just a short distance away, the train noise is abandoned for the peaceful quiet of a Maryland forest. Further still, the clinks and bells of the light rail join the soundscape.

Along the Jones Falls Trail in Baltimore, Md. | Photo by Jeff La Noue

It’s that variation that makes the Jones Falls Trail, and all the trails in Baltimore, so unique. “On parts of these trails, you’d never know that you were in Baltimore,” says Brown. “[Jones Falls Trail] is both a commuting corridor and an escape from the city, and it is designed into the fabric of the neighborhoods,” he says.

Whether you want to get from your house to downtown, or want to escape downtown and get into the woods, the Jones Falls Trail gets you there.

But Baltimore’s story is just beginning to unfold, and as the city begins to redefine itself, these corridors are gaining more attention in discussions about what the city can become.

Along with cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Baltimore is experiencing an economic and cultural renaissance—and an integral part of a reimagined Baltimore will be a world-class trail system. As active transportation and livable communities become increasingly important factors for attracting and retaining talent, major businesses and corporations that call Baltimore home are also realizing the significance of an active-transportation system that combines green infrastructure, recreation and accessibility for all residents.

Druid Hill Park along the Jones Falls Trail in Baltimore, Md.| Photo by Jeff La Noue

While the trails in the three stream valleys serve some of Baltimore’s trail needs, the trail system is not complete. Arguably the most prominent issue with Baltimore’s trail system is that there are no east-west connections. The vision for Baltimore is to fills those gaps, connect to transit and larger regional trail systems and get people where they need to go.

RTC is working with local partners, including community organizations, the nonprofit sector and public agencies on this incredible opportunity to leverage the Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls and Herring Run trails and construct new trail connections that, when transformed into a continuous route, will create a 30-mile loop encompassing Baltimore’s downtown and linking its many unique neighborhoods to the north, west, south and east.

The network will connect the city’s most popular destinations, including universities, hospitals, museums, parks, waterfronts, employment centers and transit with the communities they serve. At the same time, it will fuel the economic renaissance that is spurring the revitalization of Baltimore.

It’s a vision for an active-transportation system that addresses the needs of a city that is quickly redefining itself.

As Charm City comes into a new era, it’s no surprise that trails are an integral part of the equation. We watch with optimism as Baltimore comes into its own and embraces a new era of trail development.

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