While Dallas Chokes on the Trinity, the Suburbs Show Us How It's Done

Hop in the canoe with Schutze as he cries himself down the river.

Let's go back to hell first, see how things are going down there. Then we'll visit heaven. Promise.

We are trudging in together, you and I, one very hot recent afternoon. If you think back, we have actually visited hell several times. But today, for some reason, as we hike down this bed of coals they call a path, hell feels hotter than hell.

The gate to hell is just back behind us, in a rear corner of a little public parking lot across the street from the DART station at 8th and Corinth, near the Townview school campus in Oak Cliff. The gate was open, and a sign said we could come in to walk on the new "Santa Fe Trestle Trail." I am beginning to think it should be renamed the "Santa Fe Highway to Hell."

This is a trail? Not any kind the Indians ever followed. The city of Dallas built this. It is a band of white-hot pavement broad enough to qualify as a freeway in much of the Third World, hot enough to burn the toes off of bare feet. They do have nature plaques along the way. But if this is some guy's version of nature, he must spend the rest of his time in a dust-free microchip factory.

Psst. We're going to take a little detour halfway down. Don't tell. It's against the law.

We leave the Mother Nature Toll Road now, slip beneath a DART rail bridge, slog down through some desiccated ruts, make another Lawrence of Arabia trek across a dusty bench and here we are, with a fine view of the Trinity River and the new $4.5 million man-made "Whitewater Feature," artificial rapids also built by the city.

Looks like a gigantic cement truck sneaked in here at two in the morning and took a dump in the river. What a mess. This so-called whitewater feature opened a year and a half ago and was supposed to transform this entire bleak stretch of river — really a man-made drainage canal between towering mud berms — into a little bit of Colorado-style canoe-and-kayak heaven.

Instead it's canoe hell. We are sneaking in because we're actually banned from being here. Everybody is. Turns out the White-Water Dump In the River was built all the wrong way, creating dangerous currents and eddies nobody planned on, making it so dangerous for canoeists that the city had to ban the public from even being here, let alone canoeing or kayaking.

The city is a year and a half into this. Not one damned thing has been done to fix it. Now we wander out onto the edge for a look-see. Nope. Nobody has touched it.

The city has denied all access to paddlers here, even if the paddlers promise not to go through the feature and swear all they want to do is launch their boats below it so they can paddle through the Great Trinity Forest. That's why we had to sneak in.

There's a road and a parking lot here, but they have it chained off. The hike we just did was half a mile, so carrying an 85-pound canoe and a bunch of gear on a day like this would pretty much kill you, and then, after you were dead, you might get arrested.

The city wants people to forget this is even here. But that is why you and I are here. We remember this hell of a mess, do we not? We must never forget.

The city has also banned paddlers from putting in at Sylvan Bridge, the nearest upriver launch site, because of construction there. So basically City Hall invested $4.5 million in a fake rapids and wound up utterly destroying canoeing and kayaking on the Trinity River all the way through the core of the city.

Hell and damn.

Back at my office, I check to make sure. Frank Librio, spokesman for the city, tells me by email: "The City remains concerned about the turbulence ... city is still negotiating with the designers ... city cannot move forward ..."

Nothing! Nothing has happened. The thing hasn't moved off the dime in 18 months. Hell!

Look, we can only take so much hell at one time, you and I, and I did promise I would take us in the other direction. So I call my friend and frequent source of river wisdom, canoe outfitter Charles Allen of Trinity River Expeditions, and tell him I just have to find even a little bit of good news about the river. Somewhere, somehow.

Well, sure, he says. Allen is a big man with droopy moustache, a weather-creased face and the loose rangy gait of a mountain man. I am to meet him at California Crossing Park at 8 a.m. a couple mornings from now.

So a few days later at a quarter to 8 here we are again, you and I, bumping down a mile of real bad road somewhere near Northwest Highway and Interstate 35E, dodging cement trucks and 18-wheelers. I see a sign, make a turn, and all of a sudden we're in California Crossing Park, a soft little patch of green embracing a century-old dam on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.

Out on the weathered ramparts of the dam, a sun-stained old man and a barefoot Tom Sawyer of a kid are fishing with bobbers. Here comes Charles crunching down the gravel in his big battered van with the perennial two canoes on top. We walk the park for a little bit, and he tells me how this was where the 49ers crossed the river to go to California during the Gold Rush.

It's also probably where John Nealy Bryan, the father of Dallas, crossed when he abandoned his role as patriarch of our infant city and struck out for gold instead. While Charles talks, I'm thinking. Somebody should put up a plaque: "Here the moral traditions of Dallas began."

Ten minutes later we're cruising north into Farmers Branch. Charles is wheeling that big white schooner up ramps and around corners so fast I can't keep track of where we are. He smears both large hands smoothly over the wheel like he's finger-painting.

We are now parked beneath multiple fly-overs of the President George Bush Turnpike, less than half a mile northeast of its intersection with the leg of Interstate 635 that goes out to the airport. The address of this place on Google Maps is 1111 Valley View, Farmers Branch, but that's pretty approximate. The only precise directions I can give you would be coordinates: 32 55 01.03 N, 96 56 01.45 W.

This is the John F. Burke Nature Preserve on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. It flows south from Lake Lewisville about 27 miles to its confluence with the main river in West Dallas, near Irving Boulevard and Loop 12.

And this is heaven.

You and Charles and I strike out on foot. Dense forest swallows us along with the shriek and roar of the freeway far above our heads. All we hear is looping birdsong and dry insect chatter.

This is one of a dozen beautiful little riverside parks and natural areas that Charles shows us on the Elm Fork today, tucked away in these suburbs north of Dallas. Along this stretch of the Elm Fork, when the water is not high, the Trinity is sinuous, wreathed in green and softly burbling.

Charles is especially high on the city of Farmers Branch. It's been able to leave some areas like this one in a truly natural or at least natural-like condition, avoiding the temptation to mow, pave and build. It makes him wish Dallas could get over its obsession with signature bridges and fake white water.

"Just leave it alone," he says. "Maybe put in a few nature trails, start encouraging some city of Dallas Boy Scouts to get involved."

No. He means that. John Burke, the guy for whom this place was named, was a Scout leader. The Scouts have been very important in the development of all of these suburban parks. Maybe that's why the scale is human and natural and nice instead of Park Cities FAAAAABULOUS!.

Pam Smith, landscape manager for the city of Farmers Branch, is partially responsible for keeping it that way. She says the city spent $40,000 on a base-line study of the John Burke Nature Preserve, 104 acres of trails and riverside open from dawn to dusk. The main trails were put in by city employees working their regular shifts. The rest has been up to volunteers.

So, for the price of one fake white-water feature that doesn't work, we could do more than 100 nature preserves like this one.

Let's try not to be bitter, OK?

There's a slight caveat: Eric Neilsen, of the Dallas Downriver Club, says inexperienced families with little kids can't just come out here and toss their new canoes in the river. They should practice first on White Rock Lake, he says, or maybe call Charles to outfit them.

But the experienced canoer? "They will not have a problem," he says.

So now it's a week later, and I can't stop thinking about that wonderful little nature preserve under the freeway fly-overs in Farmers Branch. Something about the way Farmers Branch has approached it expresses the modesty and good taste you always hope nature will inspire. It's heaven.

I also can't stop thinking about hell. Dallas is trying to keep people from even seeing that wrecked white-water deal like the city is some coal mine in Kentucky trying to keep people fenced away from its slag ponds.

I was nice. I showed you heaven. So here's the deal: Don't forget hell. Please.

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29 comments
Yakkin guy
Yakkin guy

Amen, Marc the Sharc! Couldn't have said it better myself. Amazing how many yakkin' "experts" there are that have trouble getting in and out of a bathtub!

Flipit
Flipit

CB, I have been there at all levels. I've been through and played on every feature. I have gone through all the channels. I have flipped, I have swam, I have pulled my buddies and their equipment out of the water. I have never seen a close call. As for the 'paddler with actual skill that damn near died', yeah, I read about that. Where were her partners to watch her backside? Ten minutes?!?! First rule of kayaking: never paddle alone.

Human Being
Human Being

Jim, the Santa Fe trail is great for jogging or biking, which is what it was primarily designed for. It's not exactly a nature trail, but I don't think that was the point. It connects a good chunk of the city to White Rock Lake.

Bitha
Bitha

I travel all over the country and live in a nice cool climate but the internet allows us to go to other places and read what they think is important and dallas use to have its act together but someone convinced you to open the floodgates and let in those who are welfare lovers and this is just another case of it and I thought boston was bad yeech!!!!

Bitha
Bitha

thats because you socialists want the government to control everything if its needed some private enterprise will take care of it and then the customers or lack thereof will dictate oh and here is the one you will really like: if the PRIVATE COMPANY f ks up they can be taken to court unlike your beloved government who has immunity

Marc
Marc

Actually, Farmers Branch is ambidextrous - it can chew gum and walk at the same time. Some cities can actually work on many projects simultaneously, believe it or not. Dallas is one such city - our leaders are simultaneously considering three incompatible projects for the Trinity River at the very same time - a toll road between the levees, a "world class greenbelt park" between the levees and frac'ing between the levees. Who said our leaders have no vision or innovation? Thank you, former Mayor Tom Leppert and current City Manager Mary Suhm, for putting us on the wrong track into the future!

Flipit
Flipit

Don't forget Chuckie asked to have those channels added, thus completely altering the original design of the playpark (and I have paddled there dozens of times from 400cfs up to 3000+cfs)(and coincidentally am also a resident of Farmers Branch).

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall

But everyone knows you have to do hard to access big showy projects to be "world class". What good are nature parks in obscure middle and lower-middle class areas that cater to the common folk?

Larry
Larry

Dallas - world class screwups. Boneheaded, vainglorious etc. etc. And the cheerleaders at our only Daily never see it. The death of Journalism at the Snooze.

Sacmankc135
Sacmankc135

THE city that does NOT work because it is run by MORONS who couldn't wipe the shit from their own ass if the instructions were printed on the paper.

Apowell
Apowell

Scouting a rapid before paddling it is an well known and respected tradition amoungst paddlers. Anyone with a lick of river sense knows this. As is portaging, these two concepts can come in mighty handy when paddling a river of greater gradient then that of the Trinity. ..So basically what you are saying is that the larger community of casual canoers is too damn lazy to portage these patheticly tiny rapids and that out of the miles and miles of flat water the Trinity has to offer 100 feet or so of tiny rapids created for the use of playboaters is not allowed. Let me explain the concept of a man made wave..It's created for playboaters to play in. Now be a good little flat water paddler and go look up the word "Portage"...

Subnx
Subnx

Ok Daniel Boone when you break your neck I assume that you won't sue the city to win the litigation lottery at the expense of the taxpayers.

Beerme
Beerme

But Bobby said mama would never allow drilling on Elm Fork...?

Johnny Lee Lewis
Johnny Lee Lewis

I wonder why all the enviromental-patients think fracking is a new occurrence. Fracking has been done all over the Monroe La. Gas Rock since the early 1950s. The fracking is done below water tables in every instance and we have not had one contaminated well of record. No flames coming out of kitchen sinks. I am sure Texas has the same long history and experience.

Mike75201
Mike75201

It isn't ONLY in city parks, Mary, but that is one of the major concerns we have with the proposed fracking ordinance. As a matter of fact there are areas all over West Dallas (outside of designated parks) where fracking leases exist. And those are only the ones we know about. Leases on private land are not listed on the map, so we aren't sure where those leases might exist.

Apowell
Apowell

you have got to be kidding me.. How pathetic are you? .. I've walked down to this white water park and do not see anything dangerous about this place. It's because of people like you who fear anything over the size of a ripple that this park isn't finished yet. It baffles me to no end how a city would listen to such a boob. The rapids at this park barely rank a class 2 wave.. Dangerous? Give me a break.. If its so dangerous then you should portage it.. It's very obvious you have little if any paddling skills.. go do some research and stop lieing to these people.. Don't listen to him folks, He's clueless..

Mary
Mary

Jim, I guess no one has told you that the city council (at the staff's recommendation) is currently looking at allowing the natural gas drilling (aka "fracking") to be allowed ONLY in city parks, especially the "non-active" ones. Look at the map and you will see drilling sites all through California Crossing, LB Houston Wildlife Preserve (betcha didn't know THAT one even exists!), the Trinity floodway and W. Dallas. Cheers! :-) Mary

Paul
Paul

But now we know how many holes it takes to fill Albert Hall ...

Dr. Clarkus
Dr. Clarkus

how could anyone possibly know that?

Born in Dallas
Born in Dallas

This is precisely why we can not let the city touch any part of White Rock and for the parks department, watch them like hawks.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

I am very happy to hear about the parks coming in north of California Crossing. When I worked in Las Colinas, I would sometimes walk the trails near California crossing during luck or after work. It is amazing what can be done when the city is not trying to grandstand and be "world class."

Abc432
Abc432

I wonder how many potholes $4.5 million would fix.

Apowell
Apowell

Daniel Boone? Putz.. Break my neck? doubtful..and for you information Texas water laws protect state, city and county from lawsuits contrived by idiots who actually think they are not resposible for themselves when they embark on a Texas Water Way..Duh.. moron.. As for breaking my neck , shit happens but in that wave, it would be a very freakish accident. like I said it's if anything it's class 2.do some research and quit your millie willie whining and let the city open the damn thing so we (paddlers with actual skill) can have some fun...

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

I'm from Monroe and the fracking was indeed different. Those people live off the land and you would certainly hear about it if the contamination levels were like those seen here.

Marc the Sharc
Marc the Sharc

Please explain this comment: "It's because of people like you who fear anything over the size of a ripple that this park isn't finished yet." The park IS finished, or at least it is as far as the City of Dallas originally planned it to be. I have heard more than one Councilmember state, publicly, that the city is not going to spend one more dime on this thing, and that, if necessary, they will sue the engineering firm that designed it and the construction company that built it to get them to remediate it to make it safe so that it can be opened. It is now more than a year late, and there is no end in sight. And, your statement about people with limited paddling skills is just plain stupid - the whole purpose of the "safe bypass channel" is to accommodate those who do NOT have what you suppose to be YOUR expertise and skill. The TPWD Trinity River Paddling Trail, from Sylvan Avenue to Loop 12, was planned long before the City of Dallas decided to put its brownwater park in the middle of it, and none of you buffoons who think you are paddlers has the right to tell others to portage anything. The brownwater park is NOT natural in any way, and it is never going to work because it will constantly silt in after every flood making it even less challenging than it was before. The fish ladder that causes the turbulence in the "safe bypass channel" was put there because the brownwater park illegally disturbed the marine biological environment in violation of federal law.

JimS
JimS

With all due respect, next time you want to check out some water, try paddling it instead of walking down to it and looking at it from the shore. The problem here is not the wave itself but the canoe bypass on the east bank, specifically a very powerful whirlpool eddy at the bottom of the second (lower) bypass. The wave may be fine for experienced paddlers, but the purpose of the bypass was to maintain a safe passage for families in canoes, just as was there before this construction. It wouldn't make much sense to build something for the relatively tiny contingent of people who paddle playboats if doing so would destroy access for the much larger community of casual canoers. Anyway, walking down to it to check it out is pretty lame. You know what, Apowell: you really do not sound like a guy who knows a whole lot about rivers,

registered voter
registered voter

We are world class--it's just the third world! registered voter

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

Did you at all read about the 'paddler with actual skill' who went through there and damn near died? You want to tempt fate with your expertise? Go for it. Just have a friend watching on the bank who can call 911 to rescue you.

 
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