This past weekend accountant-cum-outdoorsman Ben Sandifer, author of the Dallas Trinity Trails blog, donned his Carhart overalls and led a small cadre of nature types and SMU engineering students down to Big Spring, the site of preservationists' ongoing but apparently successful battle with City Hall.
Initial surveys put the modest seep -- once home to Dallas founder John Neely Bryan, a rare urban water source that people haven't ruined -- in the path of the Texas Horse Park, but plans have changed. Now, the city is working to protect it.
As Sandifer led the group through a wet meadow to showcase a beaver dam, he gestured a few paces into the woods, toward another potential trouble spot. It's just trees and underbrush right now but soon, whenever it can find the money, the city wants to put down a 12-foot-wide ribbon of concrete as part of the Trinity Spine Trail, which will stretch from White Rock to Interstate 20.
Sandifer thinks this is a terrible idea. So do a lot of his comrades, men and women who devote themselves to the study and enjoyment of the Great Trinity Forest.
The primary concern is with the environmental damage that comes with putting what is basically a small road through land as wild as anything you'll find in a major city. Beavers, otters and mink frequent the area, as do a wide array of birds: wood storks, ibises, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, some from South America that summer here. Then there are the plants.
"The impact's to the forest," says Tim Dalbey. "What they do, when they go in to build these trails, they spare nothing doing it. It's like building a road." Trees are cut down, native grasses are cleared to make room for equipment, then the rebar and concrete. "All kinds of invasive species get in there and grow because they've opened the canopy up," Dalbey said.
That's the beginning. "My true concern is not the construction but the destruction that the concrete trails bring with it after completion," Sandifer writes in an email. "As evidenced from past phases of the Trinity Trail system, Phases I and II, they have become havens for crime, vectors for illegal dumping, firearms being discharged, general mayhem, prostitution. I call it poor land stewardship and management."
Cars, too, which Sandifer often sees driving throughout the forest, since there are no barriers at the trail heads to stop them.
Chris Jackson with DFW Urban Wildlife doesn't think the trail will have much long-term impact on animals.
"Much more concerning to me than the impact on the area's wildlife is just the potential folly of building more trails through such isolated and potentially dangerous areas," he says. "I'm not yet convinced that the city appreciates its responsibility for ensuring public safety in these places. Nor does it yet seem to be fully committed to the maintenance of existing parks and trails or to the stewardship of these public lands."
Finally, there's the question of who will use the Trinity Spine Trail. The stretches that are already there are mostly empty. Maybe that will change once people realize they can ride their bikes from I-20 to the arboretum, but don't bet on it.
None of these guys are opposed to trails per se, not even when they're made of concrete. They just think they should be placed on utility rights of way and other places where the trees have already been clear-cut, as some, but not all, of the Trinity Forest Spine Trail is.
For the stretch near Big Spring, Dalbey says there's a route where the city could break off of Elam Road and head across toward U.S. 175 with minimal damage.
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"A lot of it's disturbed already," he says. "You could do that and still get the Trinity Forest bottomland experience."
He's not optimistic. The city decides to build a trail, and it builds the trail where it wants.
"If there's any green space down there, I guarantee you they'll find it and fuck it up."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.