The sweet sounds, scents and sights of spring

“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” — Pablo Neruda

While spring arrives every single year, the change of seasons never seems to get old.

Those first inevitable signs of spring — buds blossoming, birds chirping, daylight saving time and, of course, warmer weather — inspire us to get outside. As luck would have it, the Baltimore area offers an abundance of outdoor options and activities.

Whether your idea of outdoor adventure includes a refined evening of al fresco dining and cocktails at an upscale establishment or crouching down in the woods to get a closer look at a native plant, you can satisfy your spring longings without ever leaving town. While by no means comprehensive, these outdoor “action plans” will keep you busy all season long.

Happy spring!

WTMD First Thursdays

WTMD First Thursdays attract as many as 15,000 music lovers. (Photo courtesy Human Being Productions)

Listen to the Music 

First Thursdays are free monthly concerts from May through September hosted by local radio station WTMD. They have become somewhat of a Charm City warm-weather tradition for those who love experiencing music outdoors with like-minded crowds.

It’s no wonder. There’s nothing quite like wandering down to the Canton Waterfront Park on a spring or summer evening to groove to the sounds of local and national bands along with 15,000 or so other music lovers.

The event started out small, drawing about 1,200 music lovers to First Thursdays’ original Mount Vernon location. It was a low-key event attended mainly by neighborhood folks who would come home from work, spread a blanket and enjoy a local musical artist, explains Scott Mullins, WTMD’s general manager and program director.

That was before Mullins took over the event and revamped its format. “I started booking three bands — national and local — and attendance shot up to 3,500 immediately,” he recalls. Soon, 10,000 people were squeezing into Mount Vernon Square, and it was time to find a new home for the burgeoning event.

Modeling his vision after Waterfront Wednesdays, a similar free concert series put on by Louisville, Ky., radio station WFPK (where he used to work), Mullins explored potential sites throughout the city before settling on the Canton Waterfront Park.

“I was hoping to keep it in an area that was walkable and could benefit local businesses,” he says.

The move has proved a success. WTMD added a second stage, expanded the event to include an adjacent parking lot and created a food court in the center, thereby alleviating congestion and catering to the masses.

Mullins encourages locals and tourists who haven’t spent an evening at a First Thursdays event to check it out.

“Parking is not an issue. We have several large surfaced lots at Clinton and Boston streets. It’s a very family-friendly environment, a lovely evening on the waterfront in Baltimore,” he says.

The Baltimore metropolitan region offers a host of other outdoor concert venues throughout spring and summer. Consider visits to Power Plan Live!, Pier Six Pavilion, Belvedere Square, Foundry Row, West Shore Park, Merriweather Post Pavilion and Oregon Ridge Park.

Sagamore Pendry Baltimore

Sagamore Pendry Baltimore (Handout)

A Nosh with Nature 

There’s no denying that spring has sprung when area dining establishments open their decks, brush off their outdoor furniture and start serving food and beverages outdoors.

In Baltimore, an array of outdoor settings offers just the right ambiance to suit your mood. Getting psyched for an O’s game? Join the pre-game revelry at locals’ favorite Pickles Pub. Located at 520 Washington Blvd., it is located steps away from Camden Yards. Patrons squeeze into the outdoor courtyard with fellow fans. Choose from burgers and other traditional American fare, plus a hearty selection of local and craft brews, and enjoy the sea of orange-clad folks milling about.

If you’re looking for a more subdued or romantic setting — say a gentle breeze, a glimpse of the sunset or a panoramic waterfront view — you can find that in Baltimore, too. Kevin and Scott Plank’s recently opened Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, at the end of the former Recreation Pier in Fells Point (1715 Thames St.), offers just the place. Its poolside bar and courtyard, both of which open on May 18 and welcome hotel guests and non-guests, provide an exquisite, open-air oasis for dining, drinking and lounging.

Just a short drive from Baltimore you’ll find some equally picturesque outdoor dining spots.

About 41 miles northeast of Baltimore is the lovely hamlet of Havre de Grace, at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and the head of Chesapeake Bay, where waterfront dining is a popular pastime in season.

At approximately the same distance heading southeast, you’ll hit the Annapolis area where you can feast on local seafood at a picnic table or experience fine dining overlooking one of the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries.

Whether you’re sitting outside in a strip mall overlooking a parking lot or on the patio of an upscale restaurant with jaw-dropping views, there’s something special about relaxing with friends and family in an outdoor dining setting.

Baltimore's Cylburn Arboretum

Baltimore’s Cylburn Arboretum (Photo by Amanda Krotki, Jmore)

Back to the Garden 

Nothing signals the arrival of spring quite like beds upon beds of beautiful, brightly hued tulips. This almost magical display of flowers can be glimpsed each spring at Baltimore’s famed and beloved Sherwood Gardens.

The private park, central to the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood of Guilford, invites the public to gawk at the glorious display, which generally peaks in late April. On any mild spring day, you’re likely to find folks splayed out on blankets in the garden or strolling among its beds. The gardens draw families, couples, painters, musicians and — not surprisingly — photographers.

Every year, an estimated 80,000 tulip bulbs are imported from Holland and planted in 28 beds amid the six-acre park, which was originally part of the Guilford estate of A.S. Abell, founder of The Baltimore Sun, in the 1800s. A pond originally sat on the site, and then was filled in as the location was developed as a residential area in the early 1900s. Initially called Stratford Green by those who designed Guilford, the gardens were later acquired and expanded by the Guilford Association Inc. Find the gardens at 2 Stratford Road.

Sherwood Gardens isn’t the only plant-filled, natural oasis in the city. Another favorite is Cylburn Arboretum. Situated on 200 acres at 4915 Greenspring Ave. in the Cold Spring neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore City, Cylburn boasts flower and vegetable gardens, well-groomed wooded trails with marked trees and plantings, an historic mansion dating to 1888 and the Cylburn Nature Museum.

There’s also Mount Washington Arboretum, not far from Cylburn (it’s just over the Kelly Avenue Bridge) in the heart of Mount Washington Village. This collection of wooded trees and shrubs arose after Hurricane David, in 1979, damaged an apartment complex that once stood on the property and eventually had to be removed. The arboretum sprouted through the efforts of the Mount Washington Preservation Trust, and now serves as a focal point in the community.

Sole of the City

Sole of the City (Handout)

Running the Good Run

Baltimorean Josh Levinson and his wife, Kara, were in the Delaware beach resort of Rehoboth Beach with their then 1-year-old son, Ben, when 9/11 struck. Watching fighter jets patrol the coastline and listening to the devastating news on TV, Levinson recalls thinking to himself, “Next year, we’re going to do something meaningful.”

Being a get-it-done sort of guy, Levinson, then the nascent owner of Charm City Run, received buy-in from the Baltimore Mayor’s Office and enlisted the assistance of Dave Cooley, a veteran local race events coordinator who directed the Baltimore Marathon.

Exactly a year later, on Sept. 11, 2002, approximately 2,200 people came out to pay their respects to first responders and other local heroes while creating a strong sense of community. That race is still held annually, although it’s been moved to the weekend to accommodate more people.

Shortly after the first Run to Remember, Cooley agreed to join with Charm City Run and lead Charm City Run Events. Today, that arm of the business hosts 150 charitable-based running events annually; in peak seasons — like spring — they manage up to nine such events in one weekend.

Asked which local charitable race is his favorite, Levinson said he had a hard time pointing to one. But he admitted he has a special fondness for the Under Armour Sole of the City, a 10K race set for April 14, 2018, and benefiting Reading Partners and March of Dimes. Some 4,500 participants will run through the streets of Baltimore, finishing (hopefully) at Charm City Run’s McHenry Row location in Locust Point.

Along with the explosion in local charitable running events, Charm City Run has grown exponentially from its origins when it started with a single store in Timonium. It now boasts eight store locations, several active training groups for people aiming to achieve a range of running goals (from their first 5K to bettering their marathon time), and Charm City Run Events.

Charm City Run has been instrumental in the expansion of the running community in Baltimore, whether it’s helping customers buy a properly fitting running shoe, inspiring folks to meet their running goals or managing a run for a worthy cause.

While Levinson appears content about having served at the helm of this community-based growth, running for him is something he typically prefers to do solo.

“Ninety percent of the time, it’s something I do on my own,” Levinson says. “Some people meditate. Other people pray. I run.”

To find upcoming races, visit charmcityrun.com/race.

Lake Roland Nature Council

Lake Roland Nature Council (Handout)

Park It! 

Maybe you’re the type who gets nervous around a lot of trees. Or perhaps you’d prefer to commune with nature rather than people.

Regardless of where on the nature-loving spectrum you find yourself, spring-like weather presents the perfect opportunity to test out your “inner outdoorsy” quotient. And you don’t have to go far to get there. The city of Baltimore boasts more than 4,000 acres of parkland and public space and, of course, stepping over the city line into Baltimore County presents even more opportunities to enjoy the natural world.

For a park that’s easy to reach and chock-full of amenities, check out Lake Roland. The park recently underwent a name change (formerly Robert E. Lee Park) and a $6.1 million renovation. The evidence of this major overhaul stretches throughout its 500-plus acreage.

For those who park their car in the lot adjacent to the Light Rail stop or who come by Light Rail, a new raised boardwalk serves as an entrance to the park. A third of a mile long, the boardwalk passes through a woodsy area and leads directly to the park. It’s a great spot for bird-watching and spying other critters.

Once in the park, there’s plenty to do. A new nature center housed in a wheelchair-accessible building at the foot of the park provides year-round education, arts and crafts and events programming.

Two pavilions allow for large-group gatherings (groups of 12-plus must reserve in advance). Before or after picnicking, young kids will enjoy a romp on Acorn Hill, a natural play area overlooking the lake.

There’s also Paw Point, a members-only dog park (small annual fee provides year-round access and supports the park) that’s nearly two acres of space for canine to roam within the safety of a fenced-in parameter. Shady areas and benches provide respite for dogs and their owners, and a stone path leads right to the water’s edge for dogs who enjoy a dip in the lake.

For people (and dogs on leashes), a network of well-marked, groomed trails abound. Hikers get glimpses of Lake Roland and may also spot some interesting artwork. “Art on the Trail” consists of several engaging installations that blend into the natural background and provoke a second glance.

Bring a picnic, a dog, your best friend or even some outdoor toys. The park provides a boat launch (for canoes and kayaks), fishing platforms and some of its trails allow bikes.

 For information on this and other parks around Baltimore, visit bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/parks. 

Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

To find street festivals, outdoor events and more spring fun, go to jmoreliving.com/events.

Richard Gorelick and Amanda Krotki discuss al fresco dining on This Week in Baltimore Eating: