City Hall

How About a Decent Pause to Consider Names for the Park Along the Trinity River?

So in the way things have been done around here forever, a rich lady has suggested to a former City Council member that a bridge on the river — a major feature of the as yet unnamed Trinity River park — be named for former Mayor Ron Kirk, who for 20 years has been a stalwart of the movement to kill the park. 

Of course it would happen this way. Not a month ago, I told you how Kirk joined former Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson in publicly humiliating a Canadian consultant for daring to suggest that the park was an important thing, when everyone knew, as Kirk and Jackson reminded everyone, that the important thing was the new expressway both men badly want to see built through the area.

The highway they want to see built would require the partial demolition of the historic span that the rich lady thinks should be named for Kirk. As soon as news of this idea became public, the ubiquitous, pseudonymous and omniscient web commenter Wylie H. commented that only in Dallas would we even consider naming a historic structure for the man who tried to wreck it.

But me, I’m going to try to be fair. Eventually. Not at first but in a minute. After I get done venting, which is going to take a minute, I have something serious I want to say about naming things for people along the river.

Kirk and Jackson have believed for 20 years that a proposed six to eight-lane high-speed limited access expressway along the Trinity River is an essential ingredient in providing for the vehicular needs of the future. I have disagreed with them for 20 years.

Kirk’s a lawyer and diplomat. Jackson is a university system chancellor. I am an old hippie. In the field of vehicularological logisticality, I think we’re about even, and each of us is entitled to his opinion. I’m actually not talking about that, for a change.

I think what I am talking about is simple history. Since the campaign for the great Trinity River project got underway in 1996, the historical role of Kirk and Jackson has been to fight for a highway along the river first, and, wherever that proposed highway’s interest’s collided with the interests of the park the rest of us wanted to see, their role has been to fight the park.

I think they may want to say they have been for the road and not against the park, but, yeah, that’s like saying you’re for the Cowboys but not against the Redskins — good argument until game day.

The recent appearance by Kirk and Jackson was an excellent example. At that one they were against the opposing team including the coach and the coach’s sainted mother. Down to the level of “turning radii” (don’t ask) and service road lengths, Kirk and Jackson didn’t want one damned thing done along the Trinity River to help the proposed park if it might impede in any way their expressway or the speed people would one day be able to travel on it. At that meeting the rubber met the road, and they were the rubber.

So I ask, given their personal histories and the long very important civic history of this debate, how can it possibly be appropriate to name important elements of that park that we still hope and pray we’ll have one day for the very people who have fought to kill it?

How about this? Maybe this is a less negative (fairer) way to look at it: Why couldn’t they name their expressway for themselves?
Seriously. That would be a truly fitting memorial. It makes sense in most of the world that a great public work should be named for the champions who fought for its creation. I don’t think I even know anybody who would object to naming it, “The Lee Jackson and Ronald Kirk (in alphabetical order) Memorial Big Fat Honking Highway.” We could have enormous statues of both men, one at one end and one at the other, each of them giving the finger to the park.

But, no, not the park: We can’t name the park after either one of these guys. Naming the park after them is a deliberate provocation, a small-minded gesture of disrespect to the people who did fight for the park. It’s that rich lady giving the finger to all of us. How is that nice?

If we’re going to start naming, let’s do it in some semblance of order. We should start by naming the ceremonial entrance to the park. No name could possibly be more appropriate there than that of Angela Hunt. Beginning when she was a tough smart 20-something newbie on the City Council, without flagging or failing, Hunt has been the park’s fearless champion, its warrior queen and eloquent poet laureate.

If there is ever a grand park out there — and the jury is still very much out – Angela Hunt will be one of two true sine qua nons, the but-for elements without which the park would never have come into existence. If the park is ever made, it will be because Kirk and Jackson failed to kill it and Hunt and one other person kept it alive. She gets a really huge statue in which she is smiling graciously, as she always is in real life, pretending not to notice what those naughty boys up on the expressway are doing.

As for bridges, trails and other features of the park, it’s not a terrible idea to name some of those, as well. This battle over a park along the river has without doubt been the single defining struggle of our time in this city, and it’s a good idea to memorialize it in ways that might help preserve certain lessons learned.

Council member Sandy Greyson fought the long fight for this park at Hunt’s shoulder and has the scars (somewhere) to prove it. When the order goes in for statues, her name should be high on the list. I could see council member Scott Grigg’s name on something, maybe that bridge, and certainly the support of council member Philip Kingston deserves a tribute. Council members Mark Clayton and Adam McGough should not be forgotten.

Then we have the long list of citizen soldiers in this war — so long, in fact, I’m almost afraid to start naming for fear of leaving out obvious choices. I think of Dr. Mary Ellen Bluntzer, David Gray, Nancy Bateman, Don Henley, Mary Vogelson, the Barker brothers, Jim Flood, Sam Coats, Anna Albers, Jim Blackburn, Joe Wells, Ben Sandifer … I’m going to stop here, so I can issue a group apology to all those I have neglected from my own weakness of mind. Speaking of which, I think Laura Miller certainly deserves a special place, too.

But then there is the other guy. Ned Fritz. I’m sure all of the people named above including the ones I forgot to name will fold their hands before themselves, drop their heads and take two steps back at the mention of Texas’ great hero of conservation and environmentalism, without whom there wouldn’t even be a river.

Fritz fought two great wars for the Trinity. The first in the early 1970s was a successful, long and bitter battle to defeat an effort to convert the entire length of the river from Dallas to the Gulf of Mexico into a concrete shipping canal.  His second great campaign began 20 years later when he saw some of the same forces — some of the same names and faces, in fact — marshaling to turn the river’s banks into an expressway.

He named the Great Trinity Forest. He launched the anti-highway movement, gave it a theory and even more important gave it a heart. He was a larger-than-life heroic figure — taught George H.W. Bush to fly in WWII, was an adviser to LBJ, founded the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, now the Texas Conservation Alliance, founded the Natural Area Preservation Association, now the Texas Land Conservancy, and did more than any other person to save the Big Thicket, Texas’ enormous and unique bio-diverse wonderland in the Piney Woods of Deep East Texas.

Here is how serious I am about this and how sincere I am, in fact, about wanting to be fair for a change. I want to make this writing my public request, here and now, that anybody and everybody whom I have mentioned so far in this column agree to go on a naming strike. Everyone who might be named, could be named or should be named in the park should refuse to be named until the name Ned Fritz has been honorably memorialized.

My own nomination would be to name the park for him. I truly believe that the man who fought for the grandeur of nature itself will be remembered as the man who gave grandeur to the city.

But some people will not agree. So maybe we should wait. Pause. Step back with some modesty and not start hanging hats on hooks just yet. What’s the rush?

Let’s at least do first things first. There is no more important question to resolve than whether the park should be name for Fritz. If not the park, then something else important and visible should carry his name.

But let’s do this with some modicum of respect for each other. Let’s talk about it. Toward that end, I wonder if anybody on the City Council would be interested in setting up some kind of structure and process for the naming of things, both on the expressway and in the park? Would that not be fair? Was I not fair about this, eventually?

Fair, maybe, but I have to admit: Ned Fritz Park. Maybe Ned and Genie Fritz Park, because she was a big part of the battle, too. Now there’s a name worth tearing somebody’s eyeballs out for.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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