Days after a September storm that washed debris across Herring Run Park, Daniel Hegarty, his son, Attcus, and daughter, Saoirse, biked down the path trailing the stream. His children zoomed ahead, though not as far as he usually lets them because of the conditions of the trail.
A woman with her own two sons, roughly the same age as Hegarty’s, and her 5-year-old Appenzeller dog, waved, telling the bikers to be careful.
“There’s a lot of erosion that happened,” said Misty Fae, the executive director of Friends of Herring Run Parks. “That’s why the trail is closed.”
Near where Saoirse had stopped her bike was a handrail that runs close to the stream, a part of it now suspended over barely any ground. The dirt, rocks and grass had fallen into the water, as did a riprap that was meant to protect the soil from eroding. All across the path were debris, plastic bottles and trash, some piled up to 12 feet taller than the stream, indicating how high the water had risen after the storm. Trees had fallen. The beavers, who had built a home by the riprap, were nowhere to be seen.
Those who frequently visit the park, like Hegarty, and those who act as stewards of it, like Fae and Tracy Smith with Friends of Herring Run Parks, say erosion has been a constant problem at the park, worsened by summer storms that have become more unpredictable with climate change.
“What’s erosion?” Saoirse asked Fae on a recent Friday afternoon.
It’s when “a lot of stuff, like, collapses because there’s so much rain,” Fae’s oldest son said. “And washes away the tree and the dirt.”
A storm that began Sept. 12 and went into the early hours of Sept. 13 caused much of the damage. One resident emailed Fae asking her and the organization to “expedite safety devices” for the trail, noting that the storm had been massive. Data from the U.S. Department of Interior showed the stream raised to the tallest water level of the year.
Smith, who is a board member of Friends of Herring Run Parks, saw the aftermath of the storm first. He pointed to rocks in the middle of bushes, chunks of wood, the ground covered in sand farther along the trail — none of that had been there before. The water also pushed between 10 and 15 feet of the stream bank into the water, he said.
He isn’t sure what the city will do, though he is hopeful that something is happening. The day he went exploring the path on his own after the storm, he stumbled across Ryan Dorsey, the city councilman who represents the 3rd district, Department of Recreation and Parks Chief of Park Maintenance Ronald Rudisill, and Department of Public Works interim director Richard Luna. Smith said the city officials were taking a walking tour to see the damage, though they did not share a plan of action with him.
Dorsey told The Banner that the city had not done enough to prevent such erosion from happening, that what the Public Works Department had put in place was “ill-conceived.”
Following that walk-through with Rudisill and Luna, Dorsey said he thinks “DPW and Rec and Parks have really taken note of that message and are going to do everything they can to address this before it becomes a more expensive, more severe problem.”
The councilman said that he asked the departments to have a plan of action “within a month” and that the departments hope to implement it “before the end of the year.”
“Is that as fast and urgent as a response as I think we should have and as I think we should be capable of?” He said. “No. But that’s what they’re able to commit to.”
Ed Wheeling, deputy director of parks and facility maintenance, said coming up with a plan within a month is “doable,” though an implementation timeline will depend on conversations with partners and contractors.
“Both DPW and Rec and Parks are completely aligned with getting this resolved and repaired to make it safe and open this trail back up as quickly as possible,” Wheeling said.
Kevin Nash, a spokesperson for the Recreation and Parks Department, and Jennifer Combs, a DPW spokesperson, said the departments are coordinating to “stabilize the immediate area around the damaged trail,” but had not determined a further course of action as of Oct. 4. The departments closed the trail until further notice, blocking access to the path with caution tape, fencing and orange cones.
Betty and Bob Mayes, who have lived in Northeast Baltimore for decades and founded the Friends of Herring Run Parks organization, recall several devastating storms that eroded the banks of Herring Run. Bob Mayes remembers when Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972, washing the shorelines of the stream, long before there were any bike paths. Engineers built in gabion baskets, made of wire and stones, to act as retaining walls. Some of these baskets are still there, Bob Mayes said, and that’s the kind of engineering the trail needs.
“The problem we are addressing now is a problem that is going to take some great engineering to fix,” Betty Mayes said.
Herring Run, long and linear, crosses multiple communities, said Betty Mayes, who is in her 80s. Her mother used to take her to the playground at the park, while Bob Mayes used to ride horses across the trail. They recently went on a “bird walk” with his grandson, where he could see all kinds of wildlife hidden in the trees, he said.
She remembers that the bridges were meant to connect areas of the park. That was the purpose of making the trail a complete circle. Now, it’s less and less likely it’s going to last because of the erosion, they believe.