City Dawdling Leaves Trinity Canoeists Up Shit Creek

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Steve Ford is president of the North Texas River Runners, a kayaking group that has been at odds with canoe paddlers over the white-water feature. What canoeists may see as an In-Sink-Erator, Ford's group views as a hell of a lot of fun. But he said last week he's ready to bury the hatchet and seek some kind of sane compromise.

"I don't really know enough to know how the thing got botched," Ford told me. "I think what we have is a bunch of very well-meaning people pulling in several directions and not working it out."

So, by the way, what does the city say it's doing about it? Well, first of all, they don't say. Last week I asked Judy Schmidt, marketing director for the city's Trinity River Project; Willis Winters, assistant director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department; and Frank Librio, the city's director of public information, if they could tell me what's going on.

Schmidt and Winters did not acknowledge my request. Librio did. He said he'd check with the city attorney and get back with me the next day. But he never did.

Now, maybe you can sort of see how if I were not in my current meek and mild mode on my knees with my paddle in my hand and my other hand out-held begging, doing what the paddlers all asked me to do, I might throw out a couple of terms here, a couple of adjectives. But, no. I am not going to do that.

I will tell you that the last time the city staff briefed the City Council on this issue, they told them that the white water thing was "tied up in litigation." Last week I asked the city people to tell me what litigation. Tied up where in litigation? Is there a lawsuit against somebody? What do they mean, "tied up in litigation?"

I never got an answer from them, but I can tell you what the answer is. There is no litigation. No lawsuit. There is no one to sue, unless the staff wants to sue themselves, because the whole thing is entirely their own damn fault. No, cross out "damn," please. Instead I will say I believe they are faced with a dilemma of their own contrivance.

The white-water feature was designed by an outfit in Colorado that does these things around the country. I talked to them a year ago and asked them why all of their other projects in other states are made out of beautiful boulders but the one here is made out of concrete and steel rebar and looks like a big concrete In-Sink-Erator.

They said that was a good question. They said they had nothing to do with the final design. The city later admitted that the design was modified to save money. What that tells me is that the In-Sink-Erator problem came out of city staff's decision to take over the design. Why on earth a bunch of city employees in Dallas would think they knew how to design a white-water feature for kayaks I cannot for the life of me even imagine, and the only answer I can come up with is that they must be totally ... totally ... overconfident.

But this is where we are now. Ford, the kayak guy, told me his group thinks the white-water feature is very usable for their specific purposes, which involve maneuvering small specialized boats in turbulent waters. They wear protective clothing to guard against broken bones and water-borne disease.

I have said in the past I thought the people who do that kind of kayaking are a tiny minority of the many people who would like to navigate the river. Please allow me to semi-withdraw that observation at this point. No matter how few they may be, if the "play-boat" kayakers can use the white-water feature, then I think their presence on the river will help enhance the public image of the river as a cool natural resource, and that is all to the good.

I have also said in the past I think the city needs to fix the so-called "canoe bypass" portion of the feature, which is the Cub Scouts-cap-eating part. I guess that's just asking too much for the time being. Maybe the feeling is that we have extra Cub Scouts, so why not take a chance? Anyway, I would also like to withdraw my remarks to the effect that not fixing the canoe bypass is a case of sheer ... sheer ... sheer well-meaning but misguided thinking. Fine. Don't fix it.

Here is what all the various paddlers I talked to last week told me. They wish the city would simply provide an easy path around the white water feature for portaging (carrying) canoes. Unlock the gates. Stop threatening to arrest paddlers and birdwatchers. In other words, find a reasonable compromise. Get the river open again. And, possibly, every little chance they get, stop being such total douche-bag arrogant bureaucratic idiots.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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