The plan to transform Druid Lake in Druid Hill Park from a potable water reservoir into a floatable and boatable body of water took a step forward this month, receiving feedback from a city advisory council.
The Baltimore Department of Parks and Recreation partnered with Unknown Studio, a city-based landscape architecture firm, to create and announce the Druid Lake Vision Plan in November 2021.
The idea of converting the lake into a coastal recreation area has been debated since 2017, when part of the lake was drained and instead of a reservoir, two huge underground reservoirs were built to hold part of the city’s water supply.
The massive operation to install the 500-foot-diameter water tanks, one of which is four stories high and more than fills the War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall, is expected to be completed by early 2024. Once completed, construction can begin on the recreational lake project. Nick Glase, director of Unknown Studio, estimates that work will begin in the spring of 2024 and will take at least a year.
Features in the Druid Lake Vision Plan include new shorelines, accessible paths to reach the water, a swimming bay, a fishing pier, launch pads for canoes, a promenade around the lake, and bridges to islands in the water. Later additions include a lakeside cafe and a boathouse with changing rooms, an education centre, an amphitheater and a wildlife habitat with native plants and a rainwater valley.
Adam Boarman, who manages capital projects for the Parks division, said it was an important step in the process when the vision plan was presented to the city’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel on September 15, when three architects asked questions and offered suggestions about the design of a project.
Now, the staff will focus on the schematic design of the project, which includes drawing up construction plans.
“There are times when you make these master plans or vision plans and then they sit on the shelf,” Boarman said. “But that’s not the case here. We’re moving at full speed. We have good funding and are optimistic about getting more.”
Boarman estimated that the lake project would cost at least $50 million. The city set aside $800,000 for the planning and design of the project, and the parks department received a $17 million government grant for the first phase of design and construction. Boarman said he hopes more government funding will be available this upcoming legislative session.
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Designed in 1860, Druid Hill Park in Northwest Baltimore spans 745 acres and was once bordered by a two-lane street that was easily pedestrianized. Multi-lane highways were built in the 1940s and 1960s despite public outcry, cutting off residents of predominantly Black communities from their neighborhood parks. Various city agencies are collaborating on existing projects to upgrade the park as a priority for accessibility.
The Baltimore Department of Transportation estimates that it will cost at least $32 million to overhaul the iron-fenced Druid Park Lake Drive, which eliminates 13 pedestrian entrances, as part of the Full Streets plan. Glase said the park department helped with design ideas, such as how to connect border streets and add grand entryways with architectural styles inspired by the park’s historic past.
The Ministry of Public Works also plans to create a 14-decare green area over the water tanks after their seven-year construction is completed. Approximately 93% of the construction in the project has been completed; so Baltimore officials chose to comply with the 2006 Environmental Protection Agency order for cities to shut down reservoirs or use more chemicals to purify drinking water.
The crew still need to lay 1,000 feet of large-diameter steel pipe and restore the space for recreational use. The estimated cost of the project is $140 million.
Boarman said he felt a certain pressure to get the Druid Lake project right when the reservoir construction began in 2018, and now he feels optimistic about its fate and its impact on future generations.
Glase said residents have another opportunity to share about the park’s designs starting this spring.
“We’re really excited about this. I personally dream of a day when there’s a triathlon all over Druid Hill Park. I think it’s going to be something extraordinary,” said Boarman.