About Hillsdale Park

Hillsdale Park is the tract of parkland in Northwest Baltimore within which the Forest Park Golf Course is situated. The remaining park area is comprised of a small, lightly wooded park to the north and a forgotten, 34+ acre urban forest to the west. In the spring of 2013, the Howard Park Civic Association (HPCA) was awarded a capital improvement grant from the State of Maryland to further equip Liberty Rec and Tech, a recreation center with innovative programming that is shared by the “park” communities of Howard and Forest Park.

 In the summer of 2012, HPCA members were a driving force in preserving the Recreation Center at Liberty Elementary that the City of Baltimore had slated for closing. Maryland state funds were designated to improve the Rec and Tech Center building with energy efficiency upgrades and to expand its outdoor infrastructure by building a riding/equitation training ring in nearby Hillsdale Park for the urban equestrian program, City Ranch, which serves children at Liberty and other area schools. The program is currently taking place in a make-shift riding area on the playing field at Liberty Elementary. Hillsdale Park lies several blocks west of Liberty Rec and Tech and is within easy walking distance. It is even closer to Calvin Rodwell Elementary School, a Community School that is slated to expand to serve area middle school students as well as pre-K through 5, under the current School Redesign Plan. Forest Park High School, where our oldest children learn, is also within walking distance of Hillsdale Park.

The red rectangle in the picture at the left marks a possible site, approximately 90’x90’, for constructing the equitation ring.  A very small footprint is envisioned for this open, outdoor arena. The location is exploratory, pending environmental impact studies and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks approval. We envision the Hillsdale Park mini arena as a safe and pleasant place, situated in nature, to begin exploring horse management and equitation. It would complement the riding trail that is planned to open in the summer (2014) in neighboring Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park.  

The State-sponsored riding ring is seen as a “foothold” project and we expect that it will be followed by other nature appreciation and conservation projects in which the community has expressed interest. Baltimore Scouts Initiative leaders and leaders at the Forest Park Golf Course, who are already fielding youth programming at the Golf Course just adjacent to the wooded acreage, share an interest in the preservation and extension of Hillsdale Park for recreational use and enjoyment.

The Challenge However, for any  good things to come about in Hillsdale Park, we first have a big problem to get under control: years of accumulated and on-going illegal dumping. The forested area of Hillsdale Park is bounded by California Boulevard on the north. There are no homes on California Boulevard. Access is by orthogonal residential cross streets.  Lighting in the area is still awaiting upgrade. The perimeter of the forested area of Hillsdale Park that borders California Boulevard is obstructed by a continuous wall of mostly landscaping contractor debris. We have estimated the area along just the eastern segment of California Boulevard to contain some 36,000 square feet of dry woody material that did not originate in the forest to which it now blocks entry, introduces foreign pests, and creates a continual risk of fire. There is also, interspersed, construction debris and the very occasional household contribution. 

The problem is two-fold: getting the area cleaned up and then keeping it cleaned up so development of park programming can begin. HPCA has been working with Baltimore City Housing (security camera feasibility), Public Works, and Forestry (Recreation and Parks) and it is clear that the problem cannot be wholly solved by the municipality. Neighbors have to claim their park … but how?

Community Involvement HPCA has been engaging neighbors in conversation about Hillsdale Park, its potential and barriers to realizing that potential, since award of the Bond Bill Grant in the spring of 2013.

Community Meetings HPCA holds general community meetings every other month throughout the year. Typically, some 30-40 community members attend. During our summer meetings in 2013, we informed the community of the Grant and the opportunity to begin to lay the infrastructure for community enjoyment of Hillsdale Park. City Ranch presented on its BSA-approved equitation curriculum and its focus on confidence-building, responsibility, exercise, and fun for young people. We received ideas and feedback from the community at those two meetings and developed and piloted a community survey to clarify the issues raised. We posted the survey online and invited community members to take it.

Online Community Survey The majority of our community members who are involved with HPCA are online, and seniors are well-represented among them.  Over 41% of respondents to the Online Community Survey reported they had lived in Howard Park for more than 30 years. In the Community Survey, we asked people about their vision for our community parkland. The response was relatively small for this first-ever HPCA online survey (61), as we had just begun collecting e-mail addresses. It was, however, about twice the number of people we typical reach in our face-to-face community meetings and we collected uniform feedback from each and every one! Of those responding, 47% were interested in hiking, biking, and wild life appreciation trails, 55% would use picnic facilities, and 43% were interested in activities for children. 45% said they would personally participate in equitation.

Community Horse Ride We subsequently arranged a “community ride” in the fall of 2013. City Ranch brought its horses into the community and volunteer HPCA members rode through the streets with the “cowboys,” greeting neighbors, stopping to give free rides-on-lead to a long line of children AND adults.

Listening Campaign In the winter of 2013, HPCA participated in a community-wide listening campaign organized by BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development). During this campaign, we identified many other residents of Howard Park who had a strong interest in neighborhood beautification, trash clean-up, youth activities, and safety – all of which come together in the effort to take back Hillsdale Park.

Challenge – Key Stakeholder Engagement Since bringing online a contact management system last summer, HPCA’s ability to rapidly disseminate and gather information from community residents and other stakeholders has more than doubled. As of this writing (May 15,2014), we have 393 subscribers to our online information out of a total of 614 community contacts (both online and offline). To effectively and definitively put an end to dumping in Hillsdale Park, we need to engage and mobilize community members who live in the approximately 1000 residences located within several blocks of California Boulevard. It's along the streets where these neighbors live that contractors seeking to discard their waste must pass to reach the edge of the Park. Because the dumping problem is, almost literally, right in their back yards, the knowledge, experience, and buy-in of these residents to any proposed solution is essential to preventing the continued abuse of dumping. We have only received feedback from a handful of these key residents through the e-mail survey we have been promoting. A house-to-house approach is needed to effectively mobilized these residents in the California Boulevard “gateway,” as well as to engage community members living somewhat father away, but still part of the Hillsdale Park neighborhood (about 4000 households). 

HPCA is actively seeking funding to carry out a campaign to reaching out to every household in our “near park” communities, Howard Park and Forest Park, mobilizing ideas and identifying leaders to join in the planning and execution of the “take back” of Hillsdale Park. If you would consider making a donation to this effort, please click HERE.

An Open Letter from A Friend of Hillsdale Park (Mother's Day, 2014)

Take Back Hillsdale Park!


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