With Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art as its neighbors, Wyman Park Dell—Central Baltimore’s own 16-acre oasis—has become known as a convenient location for city dwellers to relax outdoors. But 40 years ago, the tree-lined greenspace was an unattended eyesore, recalls Sandy Sparks, a resident of Charles Village.
“It was in really sad shape,” says the graphic designer. “The whole triangle at 29th and Charles was just covered with shrubs. It was so overgrown that if you walked along Charles Street, you couldn’t even see into the lower dell.”
Determined to improve the grounds, Sparks and architect and planner David Holden joined a group of about ten other neighbors to form Friends of Wyman Park Dell, a nonprofit dedicated to the stewardship and preservation of the local landmark.
Throughout the decades, the volunteer-run organization has grown to welcome dozens of board members and more than 100 members, all while fulfilling its mission of preserving, beautifying, and protecting the community gathering space.
On Thursday, September 14, the nonprofit will celebrate 40 years of continuing that work with a ticketed fundraiser at Peabody Heights Brewery from 6-8 p.m. The party to support future preservation efforts (including new plants, cleanup programs, and insurance costs) will feature Peabody beers, handheld wraps and gyros by food truck Überstuffed, popcorn, arcade games like unlimited Pinball, and a birthday cake that will fittingly read: “Celebrating 40 Years, Thanks to Volunteers.”
In 1904, brothers John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (the offspring of revered landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted) designed Wyman Park Dell as part of Baltimore’s first comprehensive plan for a park system, pegging it as “one of the finest single passages of scenery to be so close to a large city,” according to the National Park Service.
Today, it’s a community touchstone, known for volunteer park cleanups and an array of programming, such as yoga sessions, live concerts, and spooky fall movie nights, as well as the Charles Village Festival and Winter Solstice in The Dell. Twice, the public park has hosted goats to graze and tidy up invasive vegetation growing on its BMA Slope.
“The health of a park depends not only on its maintenance, but having programming,” Sparks says. “If there’s no good reason for people to go into the park, it falls into disuse.”
Though she’s excited for the big birthday bash, Sparks says she’s mostly thankful for all those who have volunteered their time to the nonprofit, attributing four decades of success to the persistence of its members.
“You just have to keep at it,” she says, sharing her hopes for Friends of Wyman Park Dell to increase its volunteer involvement. “Our city parks are such an asset to the area, and they need more care than the city can provide. The best way to enable that care is to create a friends group. It’s a tried and true strategy.”