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City Acknowledges "Renegade" Workers Did Cut Down Trees in the Great Trinity Forest

City Acknowledges "Renegade" Workers Did Cut Down Trees in the Great Trinity Forest
Photos courtesy Rawlins Gilliland

A few weeks ago we looked into whether some Park and Rec workers got a little too chainsaw-happy in the Great Trinity Forest -- specifically, near the soccer and baseball fields in the Gateway Park on the west side of Jim Miller Road. It was brought to our attention by, among others, frequent KERA commentator and friend of the show Rawlins Gilliland, a self-proclaimed "tree-a-holic" who lives nearby and stopped the workers from taking down any more trees. At which point Willis Winters, Park and Rec's second-in-command, explained that after a preliminary investigation, trail maintenance workers raised the tree canopy at the request of Dallas PD, which had noted "ongoing illicit activities in the park and in the woods."

That's the same thing Mike Hellman, manager of planning and acquisitions for the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, told Winters in a report dated July 28, which Winters forwarded to Unfair Park and which follows in full. An excerpt:

In response to requests from the Police Department, park staff began to clear out undergrowth, consisting of invasive privet, vines, and dead wood that has fallen to the ground. The low hanging tree canopy was pruned minimally to a height of approximately 6-8 feet. Also, few dead trees were removed. There was no removal of any protected trees, or any live or healthy trees.

But, so happens, that was not the case. Winters called yesterday to explain that after further investigation late last week, his folks went back to the site for a closer look. At which point, city forester Karen Woodard discovered that Rawlins was right all along.

"There was indeed another area further up the hill, toward the Scyene Overlook, which we do consider part of the Great Trinity Forest," Winters tells Unfair Park. "We heard there was some additional pruning that was not brought to Mike's attention. Our urban forester went there late last week and said, 'Boy, this is an issue,' and we now see what the concerns were."

Just one of several photos of cut-down trees Rawlins found in the Great Trinity Forest
Just one of several photos of cut-down trees Rawlins found in the Great Trinity Forest

Hellman then went back to the site and found the very same tree stumps Rawlins posted to his Facebook page only this morning. Several large trees, some as large as eight-inch caliper, had been chopped down. In the Great Trinity Forest. Says Winters, "There was no reason to take them down."

So, then, how did this happen? How did Park and Rec workers decide it was a good idea to begin destroying trees in a forest?

"There's not a whole lot to mow right now," notes Winters, who says a park mowing team was to blame. "The grass is dead all over the city, so since they're not spending much time on mowing, they're starting to undertake what we do in the winter, tree-pruning activities, and this particular team took it upon themselves to do this pruning without the consent or input of their supervisors or the consent or input from the urban foresters."

That, he says, will stop. Immediately. At least, that's the plan.

"This was a renegade pruning operation that no one knew about and that was not reported back through the chain of command till we found out about it late last week," Winters says. "There was unfortunately some damage done. We're taking steps to make sure it wont happen again, but I wanted to acknowledge it did happen in this one area and was not endorsed or coordinated ahead of time with any of our forestry supervisors."

Below is Hellman's original report dated July 28.

From: "Hellmann, Michael"
Date: July 28, 2011 7:54:52 PM CDT
To: "Winters, Willis", "Tarpley, Debra"
Cc: "Dyer, Paul", "Brescia, Carolyn", "Jenkins, John"
Subject: Re: Status information

I have visited the site and have reviewed the reasoning behind the work. Here are my findings:

There is a creek that runs in a north-south direction, for approximately 750 linear feet, in the center of Gateway Park on the west side of Jim Miller Road. The park is developed with two soccer fields, a baseball field, parking lot, and picnic tables, which are on the west side of the creek. There is parking and a soccer field on the east side of the creek. The park is heavily used. It is currently operating at full capacity during this visit at 7:15 pm Thursday evening. Every available facility is being used by children, adults, and families.

The creek edge, which is approximately 25 feet from creek to open area, is heavily grown with a mixture of trees and low growing vegetation. This dense edge renders the creek virtually invisible to view from within the park and creates a dense hiding area for illicit uses. In fact, my inspection revealed a multitude of items not compatible with the park environment, including evidence of drugs, trash, human feces, and homeless encampments.

In response to requests from the Police Department, park staff began to clear out undergrowth, consisting of invasive privet, vines, and dead wood that has fallen to the ground. The low hanging tree canopy was pruned minimally to a height of approximately 6-8 feet. Also, few dead trees were removed. There was no removal of any protected trees, or any live or healthy trees.

Two small sections of the creek edge was treated before crews were stopped (I assume), including a 100 foot section and a 30 foot section. This treatment resulted a clear view into the creek area from within the park.

It is my opinion that this work is being done correctly and in a very prudent manner: improving visual security, removal of invasive Privet and vines, removal of dead or very poor trees where necessary, and pruning low hanging limbs. By no means can this work be characterized as "clear-cutting." I believe this work enhances the park, not only for visual security, but to open the creek as a visual amenity and a natural area of interest. Any argument that the work is removing low growing wildlife cover is greatly offset by the security concerns. I feel that the entire length of the creek in the developed portion of the park should receive this same prudent treatment, or at least several more "visual openings" to realize the benefits described above.

Please let me know if you need any additional information.

Mike


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