True confession: my proudest moment in 2012 was walking the entire length of the Slippery Elm Trail. On a cool afternoon in late August, my husband, Byron and I, drove to North Baltimore from our home in Findlay, parked at my parents’ house, and walked to Bowling Green. I didn’t know what the whole trail looked like: some of it is sun baked, some of it is shady, and there is a mature stand of trees near Portage. I was surprised by the variety of scenery along the trail. When we were within a mile of our final destination in BG, we texted my dad and he drove over and picked us up at the terminus of the trail three and a half hours later.
We mostly walk in Findlay due to time constraints but when we get a little extra time and a nice day, we love to come to North Baltimore and walk on the trail. It is so relaxing to not have to contend with car traffic. It’s also nice to see the changing of the seasons and the wildlife: deer, birds, and even an occasional snake sunning itself. There are plants along the trail that I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’s also quiet on the trail, away from the noise of everyday life.
When I talk to my friends in Findlay about our outings on the Slippery Elm Trail, almost everyone shares a tale about his own bike rides, walks, or rollerblading adventures on the trail. Initially, I was surprised to learn that so many of my Findlay friends spend their free time in North Baltimore. By now, it has happened to me so many times that I assume that all of my friends are familiar with the Slippery Elm Trail. In fact, I’m not surprised to see them when I am on the trail. I have to admit that it makes me very proud to know that my hometown is a popular destination.
Nationally, trail proponents suggest that communities benefit from trails in many ways: transportation, recreation, fitness, economic development, increased property values. Recently, I had a chance to visit Memphis and learn about the Binghampton neighborhood outside downtown Memphis. Through a trails initiative, this community is being revitalized almost overnight. Currently, one seven-mile bike trail exists and is surrounded by urban farming and resident-led neighborhood revitalization projects. Work is now underway to connect that trail to a bike-friendly Overton Corridor, a former busy city neighborhood, to unite eastern Memphis suburbs with downtown Memphis. This will bring new foot and bike traffic through the blighted Binghampton neighborhood and also give its residents safe places to walk and bike. This is a success story highlighting locally-grown foods, transportation, access to affordable housing, arts, health and regional connectivity.
Based on this example, trails have the ability to change entire communities. I think the Slippery Elm Trail has changed North Baltimore too. When I leave work on Friday in Findlay and ask, “Any big plans for the weekend?” and one of my co-workers excitedly answers, “Yes, my family is going on a bike ride in North Baltimore tomorrow,” I’m pretty sure that the Slippery Elm Trail is having positive impact that is regional in scope. And it always makes me proud that I grew up in North Baltimore.