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Walk This Way: The Making of the Jones Falls Trail

The Jones Falls Trail is aptly referred to as the spine of the city. When complete, users will be able to snake along its multiple adjoining links. It will connect to several of Baltimore's richest resources, including outdoor, cultural and historical landmarks and serve as an alternative, picturesque commuter route.
"If it's open and clear and I don't have to deal with traffic lights, it might make my commute relatively quick,” says cycling enthusiast and commuter Ehren Gaag.
While there's little dispute that the trail will provide access to many of the city's tremendous natural and cultural resources as well as residents' workplaces, deciding how the trail should reach these points has been more of a challenge.
The portion of the trail whose proposed design met with the most bumps included the section that will wind through Mt. Washington, which has a vocal and active community association.
"As initially presented, the design wasn't well liked by community members," says Mac Nachlas, chair of Mt. Washington's trail committee and former president of the Mt. Washington Improvement Association.

The original plan for Phase V of the trail, between Cylburn Arboretum to Mt. Washington Light Rail Station/Western Run Park, was fraught with unappealing aspects. This includes a large portion of the trail paralleling busy Northern Parkway; the inclusion of a large cement bulwark retaining wall, and an overall clunky design. That was in 2006, according to Nachlas's recollection.
After much deliberation and discussion, the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks made several amendments to the design of the Mt. Washington section of the trail, appeasing most neighborhood residents. The revised route includes a pedestrian bridge crossing Northern Parkway and entering the southwest corner of Mt. Washington's Northwest Park and a raised wooden structure -- rather than asphalt -- in a portion that leads through parkland to minimize the environmental impact.  
"Now I believe there is broad, although not universal, support for the trail," Nachlas says.
Community input is what makes Gennady Schwartz's job as Chief of Engineering Services for the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks so challenging. Schwartz, a civil engineer and lead designer of the trail, has worked with residents of communities who have a stake in the trail.
"When you build a bridge over 1-83, nobody cares,” Schwartz says.  “When you design a bridge in the community, everybody in that community has an opinion." Schwartz opines.. 
"I think it's going to be a real gem," Mt. Washington's Nachlas says of the trail.
For a snapshot of the five phases of the trail, which currently run the gamut from 'concept stage' to completed, see below. For a super-detailed map that offers extensive coverage of the trail's path and offerings along the way, click here.
Phase I
Length: 1.6 miles
Start and end points: Pennsylvania Train Station in Mt. Vernon to Druid Hill Park
Points of interest: Druid Hill Park, a 745-acre park that is home to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the Howard P. Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens.
Status: completed in 2004
Phase II
Length: 2.5 miles
Start and end points: Penn Station to the Inner Harbor 
Points of interest: The Maryland Historical Society at 201 W Monument St., the Contemporary Museum at 100 W Centre St., the Walters Art Museum at 600 N Charles St. and downtown mall Harborplace
Status: under construction
Phase III
Length: 2.75 miles
Start and end points: North through Druid Hill Park to Woodberry Light Rail stop.
Points of interest: new Clipper Mill neighborhood, home to award-winning restaurant Woodberry Kitchen; several artisans, including glass studio Corradetti and unique gift shop La Terra Gift Gallery; and nearby Hampden, with its funky and eclectic shops and eateries.
Status: completed in 2008
Phase IV
Length: 1.25
Start and end points: Woodberry Light Rail Station to Cylburn Arboretum
Points of interest: Cylburn Arboretum, a 207-acre urban park and nature preserve, new 10,000 square foot “green” Visitor’s Center, and 2.5 miles of woodland trails.
Status: under construction
Phase V
Length: 4.2 miles
Start and end points: Cylburn Arboretum to Mt. Washington Light Rail Station/Western Run Park
Points of interest: Mt. Washington Village, featuring salons, spas, boutiques, and the historic Mt. Washington Tavern (expected to re-open in Fall 2012).
Status: construction estimated to begin in first quarter of 2013. 

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer, covering topics as diverse as parenting and public health. She writes for several local print and web outlets, universities, and medical centers. Her last story for Bmore Media was on wellness school Tai Sophia Institute


Ehren Gaag and Karen Hill near Gensler's bike rack / Photo by Steve Ruark
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