Ben Sandifer isn't the Great Trinity Forest's only guardian angel. A small but dedicated contingent of amateur naturalists and environmentalists have devoted themselves to exploring and preserving the thousands of acres of wildlands that follow the Trinity River through southern Dallas. But Sandifer is their leader, and he has emerged in recent years as the forest's most forceful advocate.
This wasn't Sandifer's intent when he first plunged into the forest. A corporate accountant by day, he was basically a weekend warrior, albeit one prone to wandering off established trails and taking breathtaking photographs, which he would post on his Dallas Trinity Trails blog.
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But Sandifer's hobby has become increasingly political as City Hall has latched onto the Great Trinity Forest as a potential boon to economic development in southern Dallas. As the city began work on a massive equestrian center, a world-class golf course and miles of concrete trails, often with little regard for the environment, Sandifer began lobbying to protect threatened areas.
When the city has been caught despoiling some fragile corner of the Great Trinity Forest -- something that's been happening a lot in recent months -- it's generally Sandifer who's blown the whistle. Thanks to Sandifer's bird-dogging, Big Spring, one-time home to Dallas founder John Neely Bryan, won't be inundated by horse crap. It was also Sandifer who discovered that a city contractor drained an ecologically fragile wetland pond and who helped raise the alarm when the city clear-cut a few hundred acres to dredge up dirt for the Great Trinity Forest Golf Course. He's also been a key behind-the-scenes ally to folks like Rhadames Solano, the former North Dallas High School cross-country coach whose fighting the condemnation of his modest, Hispanic-oriented sports complex, and Kevin Woods, a Pleasant Grove horseman who operated a nonprofit for local kids until the city ran him off.
We recently asked videographer Sarah Passon to accompany Sandifer on a mini-tour of the Great Trinity Forest. The idea was to showcase Dallas' oft-ignored natural beauty and contrast it with the impact of the city's efforts in the area, meanwhile capturing some of the passion of the forest's defenders. Take a look: