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Hikers Celebrate Gunpowder Falls Trail Improvements

Franklin Square Hospital Center and park officials re-opened the Heart Smart Trail.

At most ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the only exercise required of participants might be lifting a giant pair of scissors. During Sunday’s grand re-opening of the Heart Smart Trail in Gunpowder Falls State Park, the big scissors were left in the parking lot while everyone took part in a two-mile riverside hike.

Although Gunpowder offers 100 miles of trails for hiking and other activities, Sunday’s spotlight fell squarely on a one-mile path through the state-designated Sweathouse Branch Wildlands Area, alongside Belair Road near the Kingsville-Perry Hall line.

“This is probably one of our most popular trails, especially for dog walkers and locals who can get here easily and enjoy this nature,” says Andrew Hangen, assistant park manager at Gunpowder. “People love the water for fishing and swimming, and there’s some old-growth forest along the trail. But we’ve had to focus our energy recently on sprucing it up a bit.”

The “Heart Smart” part of the trail originated in 2005 as part of a joint effort between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Franklin Square Hospital Center, which is part of the MedStar Health System. “We collaborated with the park so that we could have a place where people could exercise and also learn about their heart health at the same time,” said Franklin Square Hospital Center’s Community Outreach Manager Patricia Isennock, R.N.

Trailside signage gives hikers healthy lifestyle tips related to such topics as cholesterol and diabetes. The signs also offer information about local programs ranging from mall-based fitness walks to blood pressure screenings.

Markers are found every tenth of a mile along the path, allowing hikers to keep track of how far they’ve walked. “We can refer patients from the hospital who are in rehab for any reason—for stroke or heart attack or joint replacement, anything like that,” explained Isennock. “They can come here and check their progress and see how far they’ve gone.”

During Sunday’s grand re-opening ceremony (which Isennock admitted was something of a misnomer, since the trail never actually closed while the path and signage were “refreshed”), park visitors mingled with naturalists, as well as representatives from Franklin Square that included a fitness coordinator and a sports medicine physician.

Christopher King, assistant vice president of community health for MedStar Health, came from Washington, D.C., to join the celebration. “Franklin Square is a true model of excellence when it comes to partnering with the community,” King said. “All of our hospitals look up to Franklin Square because of initiatives like this one. … I encourage everyone to take advantage of the park.”

One of about 16 park visitors who joined Sunday’s two-mile hike, Essex resident Debbie Lupo is a cardiovascular technician in Franklin Square’s Heart Department. “A lot of people are totally stressed and don’t get a lot of exercise,” Lupo said. “Hiking along this trail is relaxing and peaceful, and it’s really beautiful out here. Maybe if people get rid of the stress, they won’t have to come out [to the hospital] to see us!”

Kathy Sanner June 06, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Does the name "Sweathouse Trail" have any historical significance?
Selma Kahl June 06, 2011 at 02:05 PM
Sweat house trail is named for an Indian trail that led to a place where the natives would use hot rocks to create steam. It was much as we use a sauna today.
Loretta Rutkowski July 27, 2011 at 11:35 PM
Loretta - Since I was born on a farm on Forge Road I would see the Sweathouse Road often when going north on Belair Road. Previously it was located at the right side of Belair Road on the corner opposite Huber's farm. It was originally the name for Mt. Vista Road. I have been upset every time I see where it is located now on Belair Road south of Sweathouse Road/now Mt. Vista Road. I feel the same every day when I see the Perry Hall Mansion Historic Marker on Honeygo Blvd. rather than on Belair Road opposite Perry Hall Road where it stood when first erected and for many years afterwards.
Loretta Rutkowski July 27, 2011 at 11:37 PM
Loretta - In my comment above I failed to include "Historic Marker" after Sweathouse Road in the first sentence. Sorry.

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