West Baltimore has a rare gem in Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. Touching 18 neighborhoods and boasting 1,000 acres of forest, streams, trails, and recreation facilities, it is one of the largest woodland parks in any Northeastern city. It offers the unique combination of a diverse ecosystem, splendid bicycle and walking trails, historic sites, and activities for all ages. But the park has fallen on hard times due to neglect of its physical infrastructure and the absence of dedicated staff to lead activities, provide security, and perform routine maintenance. With proper investment, GFLP can be the “Green Jewel of West Baltimore” – both a resource for underserved city communities and a regional destination for all of Central Maryland.
Imagine the park’s historic landscapes staffed by knowledgeable, friendly rangers offering creative programming for families, youth, and seniors on a gorgeous fall day. Envision walking paths, playgrounds, ballfields, and historic buildings, upgraded with long-needed investments and alive with activity, alongside well-maintained bike trails connected by a Greenway to other parks. Think what it would mean to have a Youth Conservation Jobs Corps Center in the park – joining the Outward Bound site and Carrie Murray Nature Center in introducing young people to natural wonders and the importance of service, work, and play. We can make all of this happen.
What we will do
Baltimore City alone cannot provide what the park needs, so the Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park (FOGFLP) – volunteer custodians of the park for 40 years – are working with many partners to advocate for a new “State-City Partnership Park.” A major investment from the state is needed to restore, revitalize, and activate the park as a safe, beautiful resource benefiting the health and well-being of residents of Baltimore and beyond, especially our youth. Gov. Wes Moore has made promoting public service central to his administration; following his lead, we are proposing a Governor’s Service Year Option program as well as a summer Conservation Jobs Corps program in the park, providing young people with valuable skills and opportunities.
How we will do it
In 2022, the Maryland General Assembly set aside significant funds for operation, maintenance, and capital improvement of state parks and green spaces. The legislation creates 100 new state park positions which should include badly needed park rangers, technicians, and supervisors for GFLP. It also increases Baltimore’s share of state Program Open Space funding to $10 million annually. This creates an exciting opportunity for a partnership among the state Department of Natural Resources, the City Recreation and Parks Department, and local volunteers.
Park use everywhere surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, reminding us how important the natural world is to our health and sense of well-being. Research shows that high-quality public parks are key to successful city living and critical for public health, offering time outdoors for physical and mental refreshment. And yet, Baltimore, where the need is greatest, is one of just three Maryland jurisdictions without a state park. Fairness demands we do this; the neighborhoods near the park want it; and the funding is there. After decades of disinvestment, West Baltimore and GFLP deserve their fair share. The time is now!
What is FOGFLP?
In the 1970s and 1980s, determined residents stood up to the powerful interests that tried to force an eight-lane superhighway through some of the most historic and beautiful landscapes in Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. Amazingly, those park neighbors, organized as VOLPE (Volunteers Opposed to the Leakin Park Expressway) won their lawsuit and stopped the road. Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park (FOGFLP) is the successor to VOLPE. For 40 years, we have been the volunteer caretakers of the park – spending tens of thousands of hours picking up trash, clearing trails, holding family-friendly activities, and promoting the park’s historic and natural wonders.
How you can help
An amazing opportunity is in front of us, but we can’t do this alone. If you believe in unlocking the potential of this park, help Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park turn this vision into reality. What we need most is community support – emails, post cards, and calls to state and city officials in support of the plan. Will you help us spread the word by inviting FOGFLP to speak at your neighborhood or nonprofit group’s next meeting? You can also directly support our advocacy work by joining our mailing list, making a donation, or becoming a member.
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