Monday, June 09, 2008
Tour Dem Parks
Yesterday, despite the heat, I went on the Tour Dem Parks charity bicycle ride. I like these little events sponsored by local charities where you pay a fee, do a ride, and get a tee shirt. While I admire people like HRH Courtney that can go out and raise a ton of money for a super-charity, that is not my style or level of dedication. This event was in support of Baltimore City Parks and the route went through as many as possible. Since the focus is on parks, many of which I had never even heard of, here are my impressions.
CARROLL PARK – The ride started and stopped here. I had never been to this park, the centerpiece of which is the Carroll Mansion which is one of those minor tourist attractions I have never been to. All over were signs to not park on the grass which would have been tempting had I not been so severely warned. Since I got there an hour early, I got real close parking and helped myself to some bananas for breakfast.
MIDDLE BRANCH PARK – From Carroll Park, the Gwynns Falls Trail runs through some of Baltimore’s finest industrial wasteland including the incinerator that welcomes visitors to Charm City. Once through there it becomes the part of Middle River Park, a nice sleepy park (and I say sleepy because a few people were sleeping on the park benches) along the Middle River that is part swamp and part open sewer. Right near the end of the park was a gorgeous boat house where some folks were washing something.
SOLO GIBBS PARK – Rejoining the main route took us around Ravens Stadium and then through Solo Gibbs Parks which as we navigated bollards and skinny paths seemed more residential playground than full-fledged park, but it was busy and went by fast.
FEDERAL HILL PARK - The route through Federal Hill was some of the most tedious with lots of cross streets and traffic, but the view from Federal Hill was worth it. Overlooking the entire Inner Harbor, this little park is one of the most charming places in Baltimore. Lots of riders were taking breaks for pictures and sightseeing. I had never actually been to the park before and it was smaller but prettier than I had imagined. Down below we could see a throng of runners on a charity run.
HARBORPLACE - While not technically a park, the Inner Harbor is definitely park-like and as we swooped through the plaza, we joined the route of the charity run (it might have been Susan Komen or Race For The Cure, I never quite got the name) all the way out to Canton. The race volunteers and traffic police kept yelling at the bicyclists to stay away from the runners and sometimes gave contradictory directions on which side of the street to stay on. Still, it was nice to have Boston Street closed to traffic.
O’DONNELL SQUARE – Canton is one of my favorite Baltimore neighborhoods, but we just zipped through once we were free of the runners.
PATTERSON PARK- Patterson Park is the largest park in Baltimore and should be a Central Park or Boston Meadows style centerpiece, but it isn’t. While well landscaped, it was a little shabby. The trail wandered through the hill and a large tree downed by recent storms nearly totally blocked one part of the path. Right at the southwest corner we went by a gorgeous mega-playground built like a fort that was completely kid free at 9 am on a Sunday morning. The first rest area was right in front of the Patterson Pagoda, a regional landmark. It was cool to see it up close.
CLIFTON PARK – The ride to Clifton Park was through some of the worst war-zone abandoned rowhouse areas of Baltimore. On the left just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, there was a huge four block area that had been bulldozed clear. A big sign noting what is was for went by to fast to read. All the bicyclists waved at the ladies coming out of church in their Sunday finery and big hats. At Clifton Park, the bicylclists started getting confused about the route. It went up a large steep hill past the clubhouse of the infamous Clifton Golf Course and back down the other side.
HERRING RUN PARK – Right at this park I saw a Taco Truck setting up on the side of the road with a lot of guys in soccer jerseys setting up a field. Then it was around Lake Montebello on a very nice biking/jogging path. Past this point the route wandered through some very nice neighborhoods including the elderly housing apartments that stand where Memorial Stadium used to be. While not marked on the cue sheet, one park was surrounded by mansions and completely landscaped with flowers all in bloom.
WYMAN PARK – This shaded meandering park went by too fast to enjoy as we headed downhill to the next rest area across the street from the Stieff Silver Building. Here the heat was beginning to build and plenty of people were using the hose to cool off.
DRUID HILL PARK – Truly the crown jewel of Baltimore City, this park was busy with all sorts of activity. The route took us along the lake, past the conservatory and zoo and to a beautiful path behind the park that led down a steep switchback to the Jones Falls Trail. This trail kept appearing and disappearing as it led back into the central area of Baltimore.
MOUNT ROYAL - At this point I was getting confused and just following groups of riders and we wandered through the Mount Royal area. At one point in the median of a bigger road, a group of more serious cyclists were waiting at the route split for a lost buddy. The long route went from there west to the trailhead of the Gwynns Falls Trail. That was the trail/park I was really looking forward to but I checked my watch and odometer. I had gone over twenty-five miles already, it was after eleven and over ninety degrees. I headed back to the start.
CARROLL PARK – The route back went along MLK Boulevard past UMB and through some newer housing developments including one advertising townhomes in the low 300s. Back at the park, all the ballfields were busy and the announcers were booming over the speakers in Spanish. Back at the Carriage House, all bikers were crowding around the Gatorade. I had a hockey puck burger and a Chipotle pork taco before heading home.
It’s been several years since I did an organized ride in Baltimore and I loved the route of this one. You really saw all aspects of the city, good and bad. And there are some real hidden gem parks along the way. And if somewhere in your travels, you pass a wheezing, puffing guy in a loud gold GT biking jersey, that was me.