The Great Trinity Forest Ain't So Great

As I hike down from the high embankment of the levee and out of the Great Trinity Forest, rain and dusk pushing me on, not to mention mosquitoes, I find two cop cars waiting for me on the tarmac below—a discovery that does not surprise. In fact it warms my heart a bit.

The parking lot where I'd left my car, after all, is just outside Turner Courts, a public housing complex in the Bon Ton area near Rochester Park at the bottom of Old South Dallas, a district long bedeviled by drugs and crime. And right now it's getting dark.

One cop has his window rolled down waiting for me to walk over to him. He wonders—I gauge all of this by his facial expression—if I stole the car, if I am trying to get the car stolen, if I have been out there in the woods burying somebody or, judging by my wet mud-streaked mien, if I recently have been disinterred myself.

"Hi," I say.

He stares. He's a white guy, short blond hair, maybe 32 years old.

"What are you doing?"

"I was out hiking on the Buckeye Trail," I say.

He stares, waiting for me to make sense.

I know, of course, that my statement is neither simple nor innocent. I'm an old white guy in nylon rain pants with hiking poles. I might as well be Rollerblading through Turner Courts in a Speedo with a martini in one hand and a parasol in the other.

My statement is a test. The city says this area, long a disused dumping ground and floodway inhabited by snakes, insects and meth cooks, is now a vast urban forest and park area. So great. Here I am in my dorky little white convertible and my Sierra Designs trekking togs on an April evening—out for a damn hike, you sons of bitches.

If it's a park, OK, I'm here to do park things. I mean, what the hell? Is the city going to put up signs that say, "Caution: Some people who enter this park may be killed for their watches"?

"Is that your car?" asks the cop.


He looks me up and down, eyes unblinking.

"What is your last name?"

I tell him.

"Do you know where you are?"

Oh, great. Next he's going to ask me what month it is and who's the president of the United States. Maybe I should get used to this. In a few more years this is how people will greet me.

"Yes," I say.

He cranes around with a certain look. He wants to say, "Planet Earth, right?" But instead he says, "OK." Very much in the tone of, "OK, it's your funeral." But he doesn't say that, either.

I say, "Thank you." And I mean it.

Both cops watch while I pack up. I can't quite get the nylon rain pants off over my muddy hiking boots, so I wind up holding the ankle of my right leg in both hands doing a little flapping, one-legged hop-scotch around the open trunk of the car for a while.

They stare. Not a crack of a smile. They just want me the hell out of here.

This was my second afternoon of adventure in the "Great Trinity Forest." My outing on the day before ended in a very similar fashion. I emerged from a different portion of the forest to find a private security person parked next to my car with his window rolled down staring at me as if I had just floated to Earth with an umbrella for a parachute.

On that afternoon I also said, "Hi."

He also said, "What are you doing?"

I said, "Hiking."

He began to pull away slowly, the tires of his oversized pick-up sputtering on the gravel. "I was wondering," he said.

Ah, wonder. Isn't that what nature is supposed to do for us all?

The Dallas Morning News ran a story April 7 under the headline, "Nature Center, other projects blooming in Great Trinity Forest." The first line was, "Note to hikers and bikers, birders and boaters: The pace is picking up in the Great Trinity Forest."

So, fine. I dug out my hiking boots and my poles and even my special blue water bladder and decided to put the Great Trinity Forest to my own personal test. My wife won't be seen with me with the blue water bladder, which she says looks like an enema bag. Well, you know what? She wasn't invited.

The "Great Trinity Forest" has always been more of a concept than a reality. We're really talking about 6,000 acres of floodway along the reaches of the Trinity River through poor, sometimes very tough areas in the southern half of the city. Much of it was cleared for farmland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then in many places developed as neighborhoods. Most of the area was abandoned and allowed to "return to nature" within the last 40 years.

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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