The Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 13, 1999
September 13, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 3


Reclaiming the Jones Falls

For two days, kayakers and strollers will explore Homewood's backyard

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The field is an ocean of clean-cut and uniform grass, interspersed with several mature trees. To most passers-by, this section of Wyman Park off Beech Avenue, just a short stroll from the Homewood campus, is a pastoral and pleasant enough setting.

But for Michael Beer, professor emeritus of biophysics in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the scene conjures up another image.

"It's a retirement home. Those are old trees that won't be around forever," Beer says in his refined mix of Hungarian, Canadian and English dialect. Beer is trying to point out the absence of young trees and vegetation in the mix. He emphasizes how groupings of new trees will revitalize the park.

Professor emeritus Michael Beer, seated right, heads the Jones Falls Watershed Association, one of four groups sponsoring the upcoming weekend celebration of this natural resource. This group of freshmen joined him on Service Day to do a much-needed cleanup.

To add some life to the setting, Beer intends to plant 30 saplings on a slope on the opposite side of the field. To aid him in today's activity, a group of Hopkins freshmen has assembled. Some will stay and plant, while the others will head off to another site, the intersection of Cold Spring Lane and Route I-83, to assist in the cleanup of a patch of woods on the west bank of Jones Falls.

The activities are in preparation for the upcoming Jones Falls Valley Celebration, the second annual community festival designed to showcase the environmental and recreational value of this natural resource. The event, which takes place Sept. 18 and 19, is a community partnership of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, the Midtown Community Benefits District and the Parks and People Foundation.

Beer, an avid hiker and bicyclist and co-director of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, is the event's organizer and one of the more outspoken citizens on the beauty of Jones Falls Valley. Beer's original involvement in the Jones Falls Valley can be traced to his interest in a section of Stony Run that flows near his home; as his curiosity eventually moved him downstream to the lower section of Stony Run, in Wyman Park, he found a section of the river that had been neglected and abused.

"Part of it was a big garbage pit. Nobody wanted to go down there," Beer says.

So Beer helped organize a cleanup near the Wyman Park Arch bridge over Stony Run, a site that for the past three years has featured concerts by such artists as the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band and the Peabody Brass Quintet.

In 1997, Beer helped found the Jones Falls Watershed Association, an organization that sponsors events that highlight the potential of the Jones Falls as a natural resource.

Last year's inaugural celebration, which featured the closing off of a 3-mile section of the Jones Falls Expressway so that cyclists, rollerbladers and joggers could enjoy themselves without fear of traffic whizzing by, brought out more than 5,000 people.

Beer is confident there will be an even bigger turnout this year.

The event will take place along the Jones Falls from Robert E. Lee Park to downtown Baltimore and will include rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, history and nature walks, a photo exhibit, a concert and an 8-kilometer run along the Jones Falls Expressway.

The activities are intended to illustrate the many ways the Jones Falls Valley can be used and appreciated.

"We want people to realize that this river, like so many rivers in cities, is an asset. It adds to the scenery, provides various types of recreation and provides insight to nature's functions," Beer says. "In a lot of cities, a river is an important component to its personality." Currently, a primary area of concern for the Watershed Association is a stretch of the Jones Falls from the 29th Street bridge down to the harbor that requires considerable cleaning and beautification efforts, according to Beer.

The share of funds received from the celebration by the Watershed Association will be used for activities such as cleanups along the Jones Falls and Stony Run. Beer says the key to keeping this area viable is regular maintenance so it's not allowed to get in a state of disrepair again.

He adds that the Jones Falls has come a long way in a short amount of time, and in the past year there has been a major improvement to sections of the river volunteers have worked on. Beer specifically thanks the more than 100 Hopkins students and staff who helped with the cleanup last year--not to mention the 22 freshmen who volunteered to pitch in on service day during orientation this year.

"Hopkins has been a very important source of support," Beer says.

Back at Wyman Park, just before the two volunteer groups separate, Beer picks up a wheelbarrow filled with various planting tools. As he leads the students down the slope, the smile on his face gets wider. Perhaps he's appreciating the moment when these leafed old-timers will welcome the new trees in town.

The Jones Falls Valley Celebration

Saturday, Sept. 18

9 a.m.-noon. Kayak and canoe the Jones Falls. Robert E. Lee Park to Clipper Mill Road.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. A River from Twilight to Dawn: The Jones Falls Photographed. Group exhibit at Cross Keys. Also: Explore and shop the Jones Falls Valley; Baltimore Street Car Museum; Abell Community Festival.

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wyman Park Community Garden Tour. Tickets at 37th and Beech.

4-6 p.m. Concert and picnic with the J Street Jumpers. Wyman Park Dell.

Sunday, Sept. 19

8:30 a.m. Jones Falls 8K Express. Coldspring Lane to Brewers Park.

9 am.-noon. Stroll, bike, walk and blade the JFX.

10 a.m.-2 p.m. Rock climbing. Register with Outward Bound at the Rotunda or Celebration Center, Wyman Park at 29th and Sisson.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Celebration Center: history/nature walks, children's activites, exhibits and food. Wyman Park at 29th and Sisson.

Those wishing to volunteer at any of the celebration's events, or for area cleanups, can contact Jennifer Bland-Lester at 410-261-3517.