Junming Li, who goes by Jimmy Lee, said he knows his English isn’t very good, but he isn’t using words to build bridges in his Berwyn Heights neighborhood; after all, he has built an actual bridge.
The trip from Li’s neighborhood to Indian Creek Trail — part of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System — used to be a risky one, Li said, with the wooded path leading travelers either through a muddy creek bed or over a precarious log bridge. So to make things easier, Li, 64, re-routed the trail and built a wooden bridge to span the creek. Now, his neighbors said, it’s easier for walkers and bikers to get to Lake Artemesia and the University of Maryland, College Park.
“If there’s a really heavy downfall, it would take days to dry out,” Li’s neighbor, Hank Becker, said of the old path, which is on lower ground than Li’s new path and has been in use for decades. “I’m really impressed with the bridge.”
Li, who finished the 650-foot path and bridge, which is about five feet long three feet wide, over three days in May and said he plans to continue to maintain and make improvements. He and his neighbor estimate about 100 people use the route each day to get from southern Berwyn Heights to College Park and the University of Maryland.
The project, which included clearing brush and tree roots, wasn’t difficult for him, Li said, because he spent three years working as a laborer on a farm in Shandong Province in eastern China. He also built culverts out of plastic piping to direct rainwater off the path.
A retired computer programmer at Johns Hopkins University, Li came to the United States from China 23 years ago to study agricultural engineering at the University of Maryland. Li has lived in his home on Goucher Drive for almost 20 years, where he and his wife, Linna Zhang, raised their daughter, Chrissy Li, 33, and son, Talor Li, 17, who was born in the U.S. after the family was no longer subject to the one-child policy, a law in China to control population growth..
“America gave me some good things,” Li said of his son, gesturing toward the path. “I need to return [the favor].”
While representatives of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission could not immediately confirm whether the path is on their land, spokeswoman Anita Pesses said they encourage residents who have issues on parkland to contact the department rather than making changes to the landscape on their own.
Li said his goal was to get the county to build a paved pathway, and he won’t have long to wait. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is slated to begin construction this summer on a bike trail — part paved path and part boardwalk — to connect Nevada Street to the Indian Creek Trail. The new trail will not go over Li’s trail, but will reroute bikers and pedestrians to another section of the Indian Creek Trail.
“It’s going to be a lovely trail to connect our communities and connect Berwyn Heights to the trails,” said Prince George’s County Councilman Eric Olson (Dist. 3), who has been trying to get the project started since he was on the College Park City Council in the late 1990s. “It’s part of making our community more pedestrian and bike-friendly.”