Showdown at Winfrey Point

Yet another episode in the saga to preserve nature in Dallas.

Last week's big battle over a plan to use parkland by White Rock lake as overflow car-parking for the Dallas Arboretum sort of came out of nowhere. I'm sure somebody out there had to be thinking, "What's an arboretum?"

Please. You don't have to put your hands up.

But there was a long back story leading up to this fight, going back more than a decade or maybe a couple million years, depending on how you measure. And that story is way more interesting than the fight itself.

Jared Boggess

First of all, we have no idea what kind of place this was when Europeans first began to settle. This was prairie. Vast prairie.

Last week, Becky Rader, a naturalist and teacher-historian, read me passages from letters a young man wrote to his parents back east, describing early Dallas. The first letter was dated April 21, 1872:

"Look with me across southward to the river and see the beautiful river bridge spanning the Trinity," he writes in his letter home, "and the long causeway leading to the forest on the other side. Then look with me to the east far up Commerce and Main Street, and they stretch out through the little cottage groves, cedar forests et cetera to the prairie, away yonder, then see the flowers everywhere, the beautiful sandy roads."

In a letter dated May 12, 1872, he writes, "I would have been delighted to have had you along to have shown you the thousands of acres of wildflowers blooming over the lovely rolling prairie."

She cited earlier accounts reporting that when the buffalo arrived here on their annual migrations it took the herd three days to pass through Dallas. That's millions and millions of animals. She told me about teaching kids that lesson.

"Their eyes just get huge," she said. "They think, 'Herds of bison here?'"

The patch of land at White Rock Lake that city officials want to turn into a parking lot is a tiny window on that enormous past. She explains to her students that the name of the lake means something. It isn't just a real-estate name.

White Rock refers to the white rock escarpment, a chalky substrate that rises up within a few feet of the surface, making the area right around the lake worthless for deep-plow farming. That's why it was grazed instead of plowed and why the original soil is still intact today.

In 1939 the Dallas Park Department adopted a formal policy by which White Rock Lake was to be kept natural. The city abandoned an earlier plan for real-estate development around the lake. It bought out and knocked down private cabins and boat houses.

In the late 1990s Rader, who had returned to Dallas after living in Europe, saw city tractors mowing the wildflowers at Winfrey Point, a hilly peninsula that juts out into the east side of the lake near one end of what is now the Dallas Arboretum. She helped assemble a team of experts who persuaded the city that Winfrey Point needed to be managed as natural prairie, not lawn.

"We had ornithologists come in, entomologists, soil people, insect people, plant people, prairie people. They all came in and taught us about the different ecosystems of our area."

Rader says park department field staff, once on board with the native prairie concept, became skilled, diligent allies in the fight to protect Winfrey point from various urban depredations.

Almost as soon as the native plants were allowed to flourish and bloom, wildlife began coming back in the area around the lake. "It just kept going on from there," she says. "It's been fabulous. It's amazing. Cooper's hawks are now nesting again at the lake. Barn owls are now nesting again. We have grass sparrows that come in and winter in the prairie areas."

Rader still prowls the lake — she grew up near its shores — and sometimes buttonholes the runners, walkers, cyclists and picnickers to ask them how they feel about the unmowed prairie areas by the lake. "They tell me, 'That's why I come out here,'" she says.

Small wonder, then, that the appearance of red plastic survey flags in the grass at Winfrey Point about a year ago sent chills up the spine of Hal Barker, who lives right across the road and acts as a kind of unofficial guardian of the prairie. Barker, a research historian with a background in construction, immediately recognized the pattern set out by the survey flags.

"It was a road cut," he says.

Somebody wanted to put a road into Winfrey Point. He got on the phone immediately to City Hall, where officials, he says, told him they had no idea whose flags they were.

"I said, 'Oh, don't give me that bullshit.'"

He filed a demand for information under the Texas Public Information Act and eventually unearthed plans showing that the park department was looking at a proposal to build a parking structure on Winfrey Point for the Dallas Arboretum.

The arboretum is on land at the southern end of the lake off Garland Road, originally two grand estates deeded to the city long ago and chosen 35 years ago as the site for a municipal botanical garden. In the early 1980s the land was turned over to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society, a private entity.

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28 comments
Cjbwalton
Cjbwalton

COME OUT TONIGHT AT 6!! Members of the Save Winfrey Point movement will be protesting the Arboretum's plans to privatize Winfrey Point at the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce Meeting at Winfrey Point from 6:00 to 6:30 pm tonight. In attendance will be Councilman Sheffie Kadane, Parks Director Paul Dyer, and District 9's Park Rep Gerrald Worrall. The East Dallas Chamber of Commerce is a private organization and the meeting is private, but we do plan to exercise our right to assemble in the parking lot.

Documents have recently been uncovered that prove the Arboretum is attempting to privatize all of Winfrey Point by getting the Dallas Board of Parks and Recreation to put the area in the Arboretum's PD or Planned Development area. Maps shows plans to move ball fields, pave parking lots and build a parking garage at Winfrey Point. Despite the denials from the Arboretum, the plan is far advanced after 18 months of clandestine meetings and White Rock Park lovers are mighty upset about it.

I have let all area news channels know about the protest.

Cristi
Cristi

Thank you for writing such an informative article. Matt White is correct in his assessment of the Arboretum as being sneaky. There is another story to be written based on the emails, notes, and over $100,000 spent on plans to create parking at Winfrey Point with a substantial impact on the bicycle and pedestrian traffic around White Rock Lake from the Stone Tables (near Lake Highlands Dr. to Winfrey Point). Imagine 1200-1400 cars using Lawther as the way to access parking at Winfrey Point! The Arboretum and Parks Department have tried to pacify us saying this level of vehicular traffic would only occur during peak times of use. But these peak times of use coincide with peak times of use by cyclists and pedestrians - namely weekends and evenings! So instead of hearing the honking of geese at Sunset Bay we would hear the honking of 1200-1400 cars trying to navigate around the pedestrians using the same road. Talk about safety issues. All to access PAID parking?? Really?? This story would probably read like the screen play for a soap opera...

Donna Harris
Donna Harris

I've hesitated to comment because I was a little taken aback by this article.

I say this with utmost respect to Jim. This article was a little and thin and insulting. Why wasn't anyone interviewed who is fighting to save Winfrey Point? Chris Herron, Brian Fears, Donna Harris, Ted Barker, Chip Northrup, et al?

We are not saving it for the prairie blackland, we are saving it for the land, period. We are saving it for the right of all people to use it freely. We are saving it for the wildlife who manage rodent control in our city. We are saving it as a legacy to our children and their children so they can use it freely. We are saving it to preserve Dallas' history! We are saving it because it is the right thing to do!

As much as it pains me as a native to say, Dallas is topographically challenged - some might say ugly! White Rock is the one thing that breaks that stereotype. I would personally hate to see it ruined by concrete or bars. Bars and clubs we got plenty of! Beauty - not so much!

Some of us have even offered our professional expertise, in offering parking solutions that use common practices in the travel and tourism industry, for high traffic tourist attractions, to no avail.

I sincerely appreciate all the pieces that have been written on behalf of Winfrey Point, by the Observer, but this article where Matt White states "I think the issue is being too narrowly attacked," he says. "It's parkland that is being taken away. It's city property that has been given to the citizens of Dallas to use freely. It's being taken away for a private enterprise." was the thinnest.

Matt is obviously not keeping up and, to my surprise, neither is the Observer because we've all stated many times that White Rock is "our" Central Park.Our parents said it before him, while paddle boating at White Rock Lake, but that's splitting hairs and not productive.

At last weeks meeting regarding trail improvements and the dog park, I suggested it might be time to form a safety PID consisting of neighborhoods surrounding the lake to fund a Central Park-esque police patrol. The reason I said that is because many of the issues that are a huge concern have to do with traffic control within the lake, runners and walker's safety from bicycles, cycle safety from cars, safety on the playgrounds, safety surrounding the dog park, safety through proposed trails through the forest, the homeless and litterbugs. After listening to everyone, it all boils down to patrol, whether on horse, car, bike or motorcycle, in my opinion. It was obvious, the Observer was not at that open meeting.

Although I appreciate their efforts, I'm disappointed the Observer had the opportunity to utilize their print to historically document the fight "today" by professionals who are well versed in social sciences, the law, the city's history and the travel and tourism industry. The paper trail to city staffers? I sincerely appreciate the efforts from 20 years ago, 30 years ago and beyond, however, we are talking about today, right now, our future and the effort that is being done to protect it now.

Our missions is stated clearly on our web site www.savewinfreypoint.com and and on our official facebook page http://www.facebook.com/SaveWi..., not to mention all of the blogs. If you would like to roll up your sleeves, we welcome you!

Dalguy
Dalguy

The Arboretum's new "Children's Garden" will truly be Six Flags Over White Rock Lake.

Marcus Baker
Marcus Baker

The purpose of an aboretum is to educate people on what they can plant in their yards, and have a successful outcome, in the area in which they live. The issue now is that there is a water crisis, so the public needs to be educated on what they can plant that doesn't need a huge amount of water, and can take the heat. The plants that meet these two criteria are native plants primarily; and there are native trees, shrubs, flowers, perennials, and grasses available at nurseries, all the plants that people generally want in their yards. The arboretum has huge areas of exotic annuals (those from other parts of the country and world), and plants that are native to the east of Dallas, such as azaleas, hostas, dogwoods, etc, all of which need acid soil and lots of water. The arboretum displays very few plants that do well in alkaline soil, which is what exists in Dallas, and a lower amount of rainfall than east Texas, and all points east to the Atlantic, have, so the people in charge of the Arboretum are not living up to the original purpose of an Arboretum. If there are invasive plants in the Winfrey Point area, the Arboretum could restore it to a native prairie, which is being done in many parts of the country. It's relatively simple and inexpensive, and would have a much higher educational and ecological value than making a parking lot. It would also restore some credibility to the people running the Arboretum.

Joe Tex
Joe Tex

Winfreygate :

Parking on wildflowers to go look at glass flowers . . .

Beda
Beda

It surprised (and dismayed) me to learn that DABS is a private organization and not run by the City and getting dollars from the revenue of the place.

Tedbarker
Tedbarker

The PARD staff should not be involved in any pruning. Kurt Kretsinger brought to the public's attention of the cutting down of two 100 year old oak trees at the Bath House all in the name of pruning.

Erich S.
Erich S.

"It's parkland that is being taken away. It's city property that has been given to the citizens of Dallas to use freely. It's being taken away for a private enterprise." - that's what this is all about.

Trenatolliver2
Trenatolliver2

So, let me get this straight...the "naturalist" they hired supports a parking structure there? Doesn't seem natural to me. City of Dallas has gone rampant on destroying what little nature is left in the city. Just yesterday I filed a complaint against Parks and Rec for tree "pruning" (how they described it) at Lakewood's Tietze Park. In reality what they have done is destroy and amputate beautiful 80-90 year old oak trees for no reason. Sickening how little disregard they have to allow this.

Linda Sale
Linda Sale

Have always loved White Rock Lake and have told people how we have a natural wildlife setting located in the central part of Dallas and how fortunate are the residents of Dallas and when this article mentioned it is the "Central Park," of Dallas that was right on. Young people, old people, rich people, disadvantaged people, people of all walks of life who may not be able to travel for whatever reason can come and enjoy the natural setting for free. I would love for someone to tell me who has the right to take this away from the citizens of Dallas. Hopefully, the people of Dallas will wake up and be up in arms and not allow this to happen. This would be an atrocity.

Kiona
Kiona

Boycott the Arboretum and make sure the public knows why.

Norma Minnis
Norma Minnis

Thank you, Jim Schutze for writing this great history. Thanks to all the people who fought the city and the Arboretum to preserve the Winfrey Point area. And a special thanks to social media. It only took two weeks to bring this to a halt.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Man, when these people die, God is going to have to have a lot of kleenex nearby to deal with all their tears from taking the wrong road.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

I attended today's Gas Drilling meeting with the City Council. If anyone is interested in Winfrey Point, then you need to be at the next one. This is not just about gas drilling, this is a precedent setting process that has ramifications for the entire Dallas environmental profile. If drilling is allowed in the Trinity floodplain, that garage will get built, and God knows what else is flying under the radar ee dont know about. Watch.

There was a lot of revealing stuff to come out in today's meeting, too much to tell here.Just say, it was revealing and that residents in District 9 and all of Dallas have a problem sitting down there and you know who I'm talking about.

concerned citizen
concerned citizen

It seems the City of Dallas, Ms. Suhm and "preferred" developers rules are different than the Citizens rules, policies and procedures. The City of Dallas seems to conveniently bend the rules when it applies to them. The City of Dallas talks about engaging neighborhood associations and promoting neighborhood involvement, but that is not what their actions say when things are approved quietly behind closed doors. Look at Winfrey Point, Oak Cliff, Bishop Art's, Dallas Farmers Market, etc.

Tedbarker
Tedbarker

Well said, well said, huzzah!

Replay
Replay

This is all soooooooooo Dallas.......these kind of people are so full of themselves.........they sneer at those of us who do not share their "vision"..........ARROGANCE! plain and simple.

Joe Tex
Joe Tex

Winfreygate will continue until Mary Vinegar finds another place to park tour buses

Since she's due to retire, that will either be her crowning achievement

Or her ignominious legacy

Donna Harris
Donna Harris

The real showdown is, in a city where budgets are thinning, can we afford to give our park lands away to wealthy private non-profits in our prime locations? I get helping emerging areas like South Dallas or Southeast Dallas, but because we continue to offer senior tax exemptions for homeowners and they make up 70% of property owners, those of us in the 30% cannot afford to carry wealthy organizations on our prime land. They should pay us for the use, bend over backwards to manage their operation environmentally efficiently and do what is best the surrounding neighborhoods, Dallas taxpayers and our tourists, instead of avoiding meetings, not returning emails or pone calls.

lorlee
lorlee

We in my neighborhood have to keep a sharp eye on our little park as well since the park employees don't really know anything about trimming and pruning. They are just handed sharp instruments and let loose. Any number of times I have to go out there and stop them from buthchering our crepe myrtles. They cut down 50 feet of hedge and natural barrier between the park and people's houses before I happened to see it. Saved 150 feet.

Tedbarker
Tedbarker

And Thanks to Norma Minnis and all her associates for years of advocacy at White Rock Lake and the surrounding community.

feldnick
feldnick

Drilling in the Trinity floodplain? That is a TERRIBLE idea, but not surprising. Finally, the people with money have found 'value' in the Trinity, but it doesn't involve majority of Dallasites.

a song for perry
a song for perry

Jim and Perry sitting at Winfrey,K-I-SS-I-N-G,First Perry reads the article,Then he wants to marry,but Jim says NO,because he's already attached silly Perry!

lyrics by Joni

 
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