Up a Nice Creek, With a Paddle

Up a Nice Creek, With a Paddle
Dylan Hollingsworth
The view of White Rock Creek at one time. It’s much better now.

This, believe it or not, is an entire column about me paddling a canoe up White Rock Creek. Me up a creek with a paddle. That's gonna be it.

Our lack of curiousity about the local terrain probably has served to protect some of its most interesting and fragile venues.

Well, wait. Of course I do see certain metaphysical significance. You don't think I would just take off and devote a workday afternoon to paddling up White Rock Creek if I couldn't guarantee my editors some metaphysical significance? In fact I was inspired to do it by my column last week in which I spoke with D Magazine publisher Wick Allison about his total turnaround upside-down flipperoo on the Trinity River toll road, which he now adamantly opposes. Allison spoke in round rippling tones about urban blight caused by freeways in Dallas and about doing something else, something better, with that land.

Especially because the toll road issue involves the Trinity River — the single biggest natural feature in the local landscape — I just want to make sure we also understand the value of doing nothing. By that I mean the value of leaving the land alone, working only to preserve and protect Mother Nature instead of slutting her up with architectural decoration and follies.

In particular, we need to shed a certain stubbornly ingrained notion that we have no natural landscape at all in Dallas, no out-of-doors worth going outdoors to see, that nature is a thing at the end of a plane ride. We are surrounded by natural beauty, but we never have had much respect for it. Ironically, our lack of curiosity about the local terrain probably has served to protect some of its most interesting and fragile venues. Anything the bulldozers came up against that could not be turned into a strip shopping mall or a subdivision, they turned away from, so it's all still out there. The trick sometimes is recognizing it beneath the white drifts of Styrofoam cups and rusting bones of abandoned shopping carts.

I would have paddled down the Trinity for you with Charles Allen of Trinity River Expeditions. He's sort of the latter-day Davy Crockett of Dallas, the urban pathfinder who knows where the city's bones are buried. But I didn't have time for the Trinity this time, and White Rock Creek makes the same point.

I did it the first week in May when the creek was deep green and loud with jungle-echoing bird calls, the air laden with the deep sweet fragrance of wild blossoming trees. And except for some trash along the banks and caught in trees, the creek was wonderfully free of debris.

Relatively wonderfully. You may have seen Dylan Hollingsworth's devastating photos of trash-jams in the creek published four years ago on Unfair Park, our news blog. I actually used to break through those in my canoe. Reminded me of a voyage I took once for a story on an icebreaking Coast Guard ship in Lake Superior. You just bang through.

I hope you also saw news coverage last fall of a great volunteer cleanup effort involving photographer Justin Terveen, former City Council member Angela Hunt, several White Rock Lake support groups and the city of Dallas Park and Recreation Department. People were out there scooping tons of really nasty-looking stuff into their canoes.

Had I been there (I was not), I would have had a sharp eye out for one of those water moccasins I see occasionally on the creek. If you're a Yankee like me and you don't know yet what a water moccasin is, it's a snake the same size around as Josh Brent's biceps with a white mouth and fangs so scary just looking at them will make you think, "Oh, and I did so want to enter the afterlife with clean trousers." But they leave you alone if you leave them alone. Thanks to those selfless efforts last year and continuing work since then, the great bulk of the trash is clear from the creek.

By the way, I hat-cammed my trip for a video that's even more boring than this column, which you can find on YouTube by Googling "Jim Schutze White Rock Creek." I don't know why it's so loud. Some of the noise is traffic and airplanes, but most of it, believe it or not, is wind in the trees. Look, it's a hat-cam. Originally my video was over four hours long, but the last three hours and forty minutes were of the inside of my pocket. I did a lot of very difficult editing on this thing, all for you.

Let me tell you my favorite part of the whole trip. You can sort of see this in one part, but not very well. It's at about one minute six seconds into the video. Listen for high-pitched cheeping and then look along the banks for little tiny things skittering along the water.

Apparently the day I went up the creek was wood duck swimming lessons day. Around almost every bend, I came upon families of wood ducks. For a nature-lover I'm a terrible naturalist, and I don't really know much about wood duck family structure, but it seemed to me there were both male and female adults guarding coveys of anywhere from five to 10 tiny wood ducklings. This is how it went:

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15 comments
Aztransplant
Aztransplant

New to the area. The video was a nice introduction of the area by canoe. I was out there last weekend riding around the lake for the first time and now am learning what activities are possible there.

Gorgon
Gorgon

Jim, can you identify the bridge landmarks in the video?

northrup49
northrup49

Have rowed from the White Rock Boathouse up to NW HIghway before the new bridge - which has cleared the way marvelously. Creek banks look remarkably clean of debris, so here's to that.  How far up did you paddle ? Looks like Royal Lane ? 


Bret_Bolton
Bret_Bolton

Good to see you paddling some more JIm, 


I'm likely about to do the FW/D trip again let me know if you want to go.



Carlsmith
Carlsmith

I kayak down White Rock Creek from White Rock Lake weekly.  I'm not sure how you were lucky enough to miss all the trash. When I take friends with me, I always comment about all the trash and sort of apologize for it.

ladypegasus
ladypegasus

And this is why I spend my free time kayaking all the wonderful hidden riparian wild places in and around the metroplex, and why I feel so strongly that we must protect these places.  Most people have no idea how many there are. And the only one I can no longer access is the one that goes through downtown Dallas. (Sylvan ramp is gone)  Even that one is beautiful once you get down on the river. The trees block out most of the city so that even there, right next to the city, it is still possible to forget you are in a city.

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

Absolutely wonderful to read a column that does something other than either celebrate the uber-power of bling or expose petty criminality while the big fish all stay hidden in their skyscraper fisheries. 

Having grown up a block away from White Rock Creek, I have memories of building a raft out of discarded railroad ties, buying dinghies from the Army Store and storming the beaches of White Rock Lake after perilous journeys through the "deep swamp" around Mockingbird, only to surprise some couple in the middle of a nooner make-out session.  I've swung from ropes into the creek, fired BB guns at US Army National Guard units trekking through the woods (I got my behind chapped for that one) and remember making a heroic dive into some vines while playing Army myself, only to discover I'd landed in the maw of enough poison oak to kill a horse. 

Dallas has a lot of natural beauty.  If we could get rid of the real estate developers, we might be able to preserve some of it. 

sidewalkastro
sidewalkastro

40 years ago I used my dad's small duck hunting boat to go up White Rock creek. This is way before all the north Dallas development. No trash to be seen at all.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

re:  "we need to shed a certain stubbornly ingrained notion that we have no natural landscape at all in Dallas"

No reasonable person anywhere in Dallas believes that.  The author is just being a drama queen. 

StowellCA
StowellCA

My husband, 6yo son and I paddled White Rock Creek on May 11 for the 1st time and LOVED it. We saw the ducklings, saw lots of families of turtles and thankfully only heard of, but did not see the water moccasins. We were saddended by the trash floating in the creek and grabbed what we could reach in the water and canoed it back out. We'll take a trash bag next time for sure. We loved getting to canoe under the Mockingbird, Northwest Hwy and Lawter/Goforth (?) bridges, especially since the last one had a horse crossing over top. We also enjoyed talking to fishermen and watching their catches. VERY special in the middle of the city.

Most unique, was when my son begged to go 'under' a tree that had huge branches drapping into the water. We canoed back and did it, but to my excitement looked up under the canopy and discovered it filled with black berries… MULBERRIES! In the middle of the city, on a canoe, while watching turtles, I was able to teach my son how to eat mulberries straight from the tree, just as I did as a kid [in case you are worried, it's been 2 weeks and we are all fine].

Greatness in this wild urban area we love… East Dallas. Preserve White Rock Lake Park.

BenS.
BenS.

@Gorgon 


The first footbridge is between Skillman and Abrams, back behind the old Tom Thumb/Simon David. Merriman Parkway is the best street address.


Bridges from the lake are:

Mockingbird, Northwest Highway, Lawther, DART Blue Line, Skillman, White Rock Creek Trail, Abrams, Fair Oaks, Greenville, Royal, DART Red Line, Central Expressway, Forest, LBJ, White Rock Creek Trail(again).


White Rock Creek can be paddled as far as about Village Creek's mouth without a problem(behind the old Tom Thumb). You have to get out and walk under the Abrams bridge, from there less water is available. Royal Oaks Country Club has a dam.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Gorgon

Gotta check map. Last was Mockingbird. One is a trail bridge. I'll check it out and get back to you. 

TexMarine
TexMarine

@becoolerifyoudid  "By the way, I hat-cammed my trip for a video that's even more boring than this column, which you can find on YouTube by Googling "Jim Schutze White Rock Creek."

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

@TexMarine @becoolerifyoudid  Thanks!  I skimmed the article and missed that and the video wasn't up when I clicked before.  Sadly, I actually seek out the hat cam to the detriment of my reading comprehension. 

 
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