By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
But little thought has been given to the cost of operating the whole 6,000-acre expanse as a park. City council member Ed Oakley (District 3, west to far southwest), chairman of the council's Trinity River Committee and chief drummer for the project, says to me, "I think the whole idea is keeping the forest in its natural state...I don't think there's any plan to just go blaze trails through there and have a huge amount of operating costs to operate anything."
Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity River project, says she thinks the anticipated uses of the forest will be relatively low-cost. She mentions "eco-tourism, bird-watching and appreciating the big trees."
But she does not know where the operating funds will come from. "As far as operating and maintaining the Great Trinity Forest, I guess that would be a park department question."
The park department told me that various elements of the plan are "under negotiation," but a spokesman conceded that the forest itself has not yet been "designed" as a park and has no budget.
Let me go back to my adventure for a moment, if I may. I'm noodling around on the map, and I find my way down to the end of Riverwood Road in the triangle formed by Loop 12, C.F. Hawn and Interstate 20. Here, I get out of the car and stand on the cornice of a high bluff above the river. The view to the west is broad, green and magnificent. The ground at my feet is a solid carpet of roofing material, and when I lean out over the edge, I can see a mound of roofing material far below. Brave roofer, he was, backing up to a bluff like this.
While I am here, a gentleman in a white city of Dallas pickup truck appears. I am unable to get his name. He is curious about me, I think, but otherwise friendly enough. He says that he knows the Great Trinity Forest like the back of his hand. I ask him what I may hope to see if I venture out into the verdant expanse I see beyond the bluff to the west.
"Drug labs," he says.
Oh. That's actually worse than three-legged chow dogs. And, by the way, now there are two police helicopters looping expectantly above me.
Back at my desk again, I conduct a study of the crime-reporting districts that make up the Great Trinity Forest. By my count, 1,418 crimes were reported in that area last year, including 133 aggravated assaults, 86 individual robberies, 10 rapes and five murders.
Kind of makes you see things more from the Sheriff of Nottingham's point of view, eh?
Now I know that my good friends, the defenders of the forest, will argue that almost all of these crimes probably occurred in the neighborhoods around the forest and not in the forest itself. Since the forest has no legal or formal boundaries yet--as far as I can tell, it really doesn't have a legal existence--it would be hard if not impossible to make that calculation. But I must say this: Even if every single one of the 133 agg assaults, 86 stick-ups, 10 rapes and five murders took place in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the forest, that news would not put me in a big bird-watching or eco-tourism frame of mind.
I can be ordered to do things like poke around in the Great Trinity Forest because of my unfortunate choice of professions many years ago. But before the city could even suggest that everyday people begin to view this area as any kind of park, the city will have to pony up an enormous annual budget--let's take Cedar Hill State Park and double it to at least $1.6 million a year for the Great Trinity Forest--in order to solve the security problem alone.
I also feel strongly that they will have to do something about the automobile, truck and tractor tires, unless the eco-tourists of tomorrow are especially interested in steel-belted radials. In several days of poking around, I did get a little less chickensy and a bit more adventurous, and I did forage my way out into the forest about as deep as you can go. Wherever I was, if I stopped, stayed very still, held my mouth a certain way and peered into the forest ahead of me, I could spot tires. It's amazing that people have even been able to get tires into some of those locations. Substantial trees are growing through tires.
And roofing material! Now, I have to be careful here, because some of my best friends are roofers, and I know that some of the smartest, most independent thinkers in the world go into roofing. But I gotta tell you. There are roofers in this city who must have worked all day long and totally destroyed their pickup trucks in order to dump their loads in the farthest depths of this area and avoid a $15-a-ton dumping fee at the McCommas Bluff landfill. That is definitely an IQ thing.
In some areas of the forest, decades of dumping have produced an otherworldly terrain evocative of nuclear holocaust. I am thrashing through wiry brambles, trying to find my way to Lemmon Lake, when my boots scrunch against another odd soil type. I bend down and scoop up a handful of dirt to sift and sniff. Quick little daggers of pain like bites make me throw it down. A tiny red balloon of blood bubbles up from my palm.