Wye Island NRMA

Wye Island NRMA

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Running and Recreation at Robert E. Lake Park

Sitting in my car on the Jones Falls Expressway, I felt like a caged animal. After a long work week, I was anxious to hit the trails. But instead, I was in purgatory, crawling north in a vast herd of cars with like-minded drivers, all of whom were dreaming of being somewhere else to start their Labor Day weekend.

Despite the traffic, I arrived at my destination, Robert E. Lee Park, well before 5:00,  and my hopes of finishing the run in time to attend happy hour were not yet dashed. REL, as I've come to refer to it in my training log, has experienced incredible changes since the summer of 2009, when I first visited it after moving to North Baltimore. Back then, the park was under the jurisdiction of Baltimore City. But the City was a negligent steward. The park's facilities were in terrible disrepair, its trails unmaintained.  A few years ago, the County absorbed REL into its park system and began restoration, creating a welcoming spot just beyond the city for outdoors enthusiasts.  

Lake Roland, Robert E. Lee Park, October 22, 2012
I set off on my nine-mile run determined to spend 90% of it on soft surfaces to assuage my achy feet, which have suffered lately from a diet of pavement.  However, it was my psyche that needed the green spaces most of all - a mind that was tired of computers screens, electric light, and the seemingly endless fucking sea of concrete. Running at REL was freeing. This is what we labor for - recreation. And what better way to recreate yourself than an immersion in the therapeutic environs of a wooded park?

Two-and-a-half miles. The principle north-south trail in REL is not particularly long for someone who logs up to 100 miles in a week. But for five years the park has sustained me, providing relief during workweeks when the more extensive regional parks were beyond reach. Like most urban parks, REL has a high biodiversity of the birds and mammals whom we crowd out of city neighborhoods. On any given run, I encounter Great Egrets and Hooded Mergansers in Lake Roland, Belted Kingfishers in the Jones Falls, and Barred Owls perched above the easternmost trail. My most spectacular wildlife sighting at REL occurred in the evening twilight of a late-winter day. As I strode along the lakeside, I spotted a Bald Eagle at the edge of a thin strip of land that jutted into the lake. For over 22 years, I lived in a wooded, rural area, but it wasn't until I settled in Baltimore that I saw our national bird in the wild.  

Those who crave soft surfaces and seek interesting, varied landscapes are much like the animals who congregate in parks like REL. We escape congested streets and noise and filth and stress and the conveniences of our urban homes to revitalize our bodies and renew our beleaguered spirits. The short trails of REL have allowed me to accumulate high mileage season after season while avoiding the impact and overuse injuries common among runners who toil on city streets. Like so many species, human runners are adaptable and can even thrive in our plains of pavement. However, we are most at home and at our best striding easily, fluidly along the soft, forgiving earth.