Twenty years ago, White Rock Lake was a dump. The park was run-down. The lake itself was half-filled with silt. The main activity out there at night was people having intercourse in cars and then going to the bathroom on the lawns of nearby houses. Good times.
The strong souls who lived near the lake banded together in a magnificent effort to "Save the Lake," as they called their campaign. And they pulled it off. It's a really wonderful chapter in the city's history, a story about something small and people-driven going right in Dallas for a change.
The lake was dredged. The park was cleaned up with a great deal of volunteer effort that's still ongoing. The cops convinced people that fishing and picnicking are more fun than having intercourse. Well, wait. I'm not sure how that one worked exactly.
All I know is that you go out there now, and you see people having a wonderful time running, biking, picnicking, sailing, fishing. The lake has become the closest thing we've got in Dallas to a wonderful central park.
But now, wouldn't you know it, just when everything is all lined up properly and in place, the Park Cities Arbo-Calatravitites are descending on the lake like Attila the Hun to wreck it with their savage love.
First they wanted to pave Winfrey point so they could turn the Dallas Arboretum at the south end of the lake into even more of a manic Disneyesque theme park. Now the intrepid Barker brothers, the two men who uncovered the Winfrey Point plot, have stumbled on yet another scheme to crap up the lake with a lot of development.
Highland Park Crew, a rowing club that recently changed its name to "Dallas United Crew" (yeah, right), has been negotiating for months with Dallas Parks director Paul Dyer to build a giant floating structure -- it looks like a cruise ship in the plans -- at the north end of the lake between the White Rock Boat Club and the Corinthian Club. (Disclosure: I am a recently joined member of the White Rock Boat Club.)
Dyer, of course, is the fellow who dealt behind the scenes for years to deliver Winfrey point to the Dallas Arboretum for a parking structure, a plot foiled only when the Barkers got onto it through a Public Information Act request. (The Barkers are investigative researchers by trade who happen to live by the lake and want to save it from sexploitation.)
They now tell me that Dyer is refusing to turn over the proposed contract he wants the city council to sign with the Highland Park rowing club. They did succeed in prying loose emails in which the Highland Park club berated Dyer and staff for taking too long to come up with an agreement for them to sign, complaining that he was interfering with their fund-raising efforts. I asked Dyer about it yesterday and am awaiting response.
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But here's the overall picture: the people who live near the lake and the people who use the lake love it precisely for the quiet, modest human-scale place that it is. It's the ones who don't live near it -- frequently those who live in the Park Cities -- who want to go out there and junk it up with parking structures and cruise ships.
Unfortunately Dyer and the Dallas Park Board have always been lie-downs for the latter crowd, the junker-uppers. If those people ever get their way, the lake will be strangled by fudge shops, wine bars and liposuction/Botox clinics.
At some point somebody has got to find a way to protect the real asset. That asset is green space, bird song, children rollicking, families grilling, runners huffing and puffing, bikes whirring - the quiet, modest things no bigger or fancier than a smile.
Years back, the people who loved the lake thought they got rid of the barbarians for good. Well, guess what. They're back. And this time they've got money.