Keesee and his neighbors along St. Charles Avenue knew of other alleys that had been restored. One in Poncey-Highland was reclaimed with new plantings; another off Virginia Avenue has become a popular path where neighbors have held yard sales. But it wasn’t until a brush fire in their alley last winter that Keesee and his colleagues got serious about making improvements.
“People were camping back there, and they built a fire that got out of control,” said Keesee. “That’s when everybody said, ‘Let’s be proactive.’ We had several clean-up dates in February and March, and then we received a $1,000 Love Your Block grant from the city.”
The money went toward eradicating the undergrowth, adding gravel and taking out some trees. The neighbors also had help from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, instead of money, sent 30 college students to do some of the heavy lifting. The neighbors also decided to drop the word “alley” when referring to the area, and instead, they now call it Maiden Trail.
“There were negative connotations about saying ‘alley,’ ” said Keesee. “And since the trail lines up with Maiden Lane, the named seemed to fit.”
This summer, the trail has developed a following of residents from the surrounding community.
“There are about 500 households withing walking distance of this alley, so there’s a lot of foot traffic back there now,” said Keesee. “We could have fenced it all off and not dealt with it, but we decided to create a situation that invites more people to use it. We changed the alley into a feature rather than an issue.”