You deserve to know, I guess … I GUESS … that the new golf course built by a bunch of rich corporate types in the Trinity Forest in southern Dallas has carried out a major restoration project, creating 70 acres of blackland prairie habitat outside the playing area on what was once a landfill.
Brian Trusty, regional vice president of the National Audubon Society, told me about it in a recent conversation about the Trinity River:
“Dallas is a major urban sprawl in what has become one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America,” he said, “and that is blackland prairie.”
Blackland is a subset of the tall grass prairies that span the center of North America from Manitoba to the Texas Gulf Coast. It gets its name from the heavy clay soils, sometimes called gumbo, that once covered 15 million acres from the Red River to San Antonio. Huge urban areas now have covered much of the blackland prairie with concrete and rooftops.
Trusty said Audubon, which has a center next to the golf course, started working with the golf course designers as soon as plans for it were announced in 2012. “We recommended all the seed mixes, their mowing practices, their uses of pesticides and irrigation.”
The result was that the golf course wound up creating 10 times the amount of blackland prairie on land it controls than Audubon itself has been able to create next door at its own center.
“This is the 10th year we have been at Trinity River Audubon Center,” Trusty told me, “and we have managed to restore about seven acres of blackland prairie. In one fell swoop, the golf course created 70 acres of prairie.
“All that nonplay area around the golf course, not in the greens and the fairways, that’s all blackland prairie. They reconstructed blackland prairie more than anything, because we know that was a landfill. They came in and they built 70 acres of blackland prairie into that site.”
I don’t know what greens and fairways are, and I don’t have time to look them up. I’m very busy. But it’s something about golf. And, in fact, by talking to me about golf and its connection to bird-watching — we’ll get to that — Trusty was telling me a whole lot of stuff about the world that I don’t necessarily know.
But a safety note first. I don’t think the golfers should look at the birds while they are playing golf. It just sounds like a bad idea.
What Trusty and I were really talking about was the Trinity River and a topic I have discussed with you here before on a number of occasions, the so-called re-wilding of the floodway through the center of the city. I guess I have always suffered a certain bias on that idea.
I always assumed most of the people who were in favor of turning the area along the river into a nature preserve were mainly old, ex-hippie tie-dyed beardos, because … well, I’m interested in it. But then Trusty tells me the golfers are re-creating a key habitat for migratory birds, and I am forced to reconsider some of my own most dearly held prejudices.
“Texas is one of the birdiest places in the country,” Trusty told me. “Over 98.5 percent of long-distance migratory bird species in North America are represented in the migration that runs through Texas.
“If you go to the Texas coast, the coastline is critical habitat in the migrations of these birds twice a year. If you zero in on Dallas, the Trinity is historically a great migratory stopover site as these birds are working their way south and then back again up north.”
Especially among younger people, the demographic interested in nature in general and birds in particular kind of covers the waterfront from modest to high income. But taken all together it’s big business. A 2013 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that birders five years ago were spending over $40 billion a year on birding.
In 2016 the same agency raised the economic impact of birding to $80 billion a year. Forbes magazine says the national economic impact of golf now is $84 billion a year but headed in the other direction. Wow. So birding will eclipse golf? I mean, I fully expected that, of course, but only after the revolution.
Trusty told me that Audubon is interested in what happens along the Trinity for all of the above reasons: “If development is occurring in the floodway on the river, we want to see the balance of how it can be done. We want to see great healthy habitat at the center of it.
“Public use and enjoyment of it is also important. We want to see resiliency and sustainability. I think all of that is possible.”
The re-wilding effort on the Trinity would be an attempt to turn the 10,000 publicly owned acres along the river into one of the largest nature preserves in any urban area in the world. The land is suddenly available because of the recent collapse of a 20-year political campaign by people who wanted to use the floodway for a freeway.
I wrote here a couple weeks ago about a little brouhaha that occurred when people doing research about re-wilding held a seminar for scientists on the same weekend that a public event was being held by another group planning a formal park along the river right downtown. Mark Lamster, architecture critic for The Dallas Morning News, painted the re-wilding effort as operating in conflict and competition with the formal park and suggested it was gauche for the re-wilders to hold their event on the same weekend as the park planners.
Trusty told me the same thing. He said he hopes to work with the formal park the same way Audubon worked with those golfers. And I have to admit, somebody who can work with golfers probably can work with anybody. I do wonder, when the birders get together with the golfers, will the birders have to do the same amount of drinking? Will they want to? What do I know? Very little, it seems.
"If you zero in on Dallas, the Trinity is historically a great migratory stop-over site as these birds are working their way south and then back again up north.”— Brian Trusty
But as all of these ideas develop, this much becomes more and more clear: In terms of its ability to improve the kind of city this is, the long-range value of that land along the river will lie somewhere in the vicinity of nature and habitat restoration. That’s where the biggest bang is to be found.
And golf, well, it’s awful about the golfers fading away, isn’t it? Maybe we should whip up some sort of little marker, something to commemorate their contribution, just to have it around for when the time comes. “Golf, 1497-2022. Nice Pants.”