Community members provide their input on the Baltimore Blueway. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Baltimore residents weighed in on a planned network of waterway trails to connect the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch during a community input meeting Wednesday night.

About 100 people attended the meeting, hosted by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, where residents had the opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and make proposals of their own regarding the plans.

The Baltimore Blueway trail project will be based on Buffalo, New York’s Blueway, which connects water sport fans in Buffalo’s local communities to one another, local art, outdoor recreational activities, and attractions via paddling.

According to a public survey on the planned Baltimore Blueway, while more than half of respondents said they do paddle in the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch, the ones who did not cited a number of concerns holding them back. These included issues with access, places to launch, safety concerns, lack of knowledge regarding safe routes to travel, trash, and water safety.

The Waterfront Partnership hopes decreased sewage overflows and increased efforts to remove litter from local waterways — thanks in part to Baltimore’s growing family of trash-collecting water wheels — may allay some of those concerns and make it the right time to launch the Blueway project.

The partnership’s vision includes expanding access to a more diverse range of communities, realizing a healthy harbor, connecting people to regional trails for exploration, and enhancing economic activity.

The Baltimore Blueway will be open to paddle sport enthusiasts of all levels, with beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails, as well as rest areas along the way.

Community members provide their input on the Baltimore Blueway. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Nearly all respondents to the survey expressed interested in new water trails with new and improved access points in the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch.

When asked why they most wanted to participate in paddle sports — whether canoeing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding — respondents listed their top choices as being out in nature, relaxation, being with family and friends, birdwatching, and exercise.

According to the survey, which was conducted in English and Spanish, the locations to which respondents most wanted to connect were parks and preserves, waterfront restaurants and bars, events, festivals, and concert venues.

Most requested amenities include access points, shade and resting areas, water quality and pollution alerts, parking availability, equipment rental, clear signage, and cultural and historical stops.

The draft plan lists seven existing water access points, and it proposes adding 13 more access points and rest stops.

Proposed new access points would include Fells Point, Locust Point, Fort McHenry, and Cherry Hill, among others. All of this takes into account commercial traffic of the active port facilities, a cruise terminal, shipping industries, and the water taxi. The Blueway is meant to be akin to bike lanes on city streets, with users adopting a similar “Share the Road” mentality.

Maps show existing waterway access points along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, as well as proposed access points and rest stops as part of a draft plan for the Baltimore Blueway water trail network. Image courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Biohabitats, the lead Blueway consultant, has conducted assessments to determine the appropriateness and feasibility of potential sites for access, infrastructure, supportive amenities, and attractions. They examine the physical condition of the sites, easements, ownership, safety, parking proximity, and other concerns voiced by respondents and stakeholders.

The Blueway Plan will also emphasize the importance of safety, encouraging Blueway users to stay attuned to the weather, learn how to paddle, pay attention to water quality, wear a life jacket, alert someone on land when you go out on the water, carry a whistle with you, share the waterways, and don’t drink and paddle.

Residents can explore an interactive Google map from the draft plan here.

Adam Lindquist, vice president of the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, speaks during a community meeting on the planned Baltimore Blueway. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Adam Lindquist, vice president of Healthy Harbor Initiative at Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, was pleased with the meeting’s turnout, calling it a “terrific crowd for a community input meeting.”

He added, “The plan is not finalized, so all the maps in the presentation are drafts showing potential routes and access points. We are continuing to collect input and feedback from stakeholders and will issue a final plan in June.”

Baltimore Blueway’s advisory team includes Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, National Parks Service, Chesapeake Conservancy, Downtown Sailing Center, Baltimore Rowing, Canton Kayak Club, Ultimate Watersports, Waterfront Partnership, South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, B’MORE SUP, Office of Sustainability, and multiple individual paddle sports enthusiasts.