The Great Trinity Forest Ain't So Great

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Although groves of hardwood forest occur in the area, the larger share of the land is second or third growth dominated by invasive species such as Chinese privet, considered an aggressive weed in much of the Southern United States.

Even the name, "Great Trinity Forest," is of fairly recent and somewhat disingenuous origin. I spoke with Jeanie Fritz, wife of Ned Fritz, the dean of Texas naturalists, who remembered that the name was dreamed up 10 to 15 years ago by environmentalists as a political ploy.

"The thinking was that, if we could name it, that would be more of an incentive to preserve it," she said.

If the greens hadn't "saved" the area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have clear-cut it, then paved and graded it to create a broad smooth drain for the river, designed to move flood waters efficiently out of the city.

The greens won that one. The area was preserved from "channelization," the term for what the Corps does if you let them. But then more recently and in a great irony, the name, Great Trinity Forest, was adopted more or less whole-cloth by the other side, The Dallas Morning News and the public works lobby pushing for the Trinity River Project. Even though the project, in their view, was mainly about roads, bridges and levees, they seized on the concept of a vast, forested park in the southern half of the city as a selling point to overcome environmental objections to the plan itself.

They won that one. The plan won. It survived last year's referendum to kill a major toll road through the center of a manicured urban park downtown. Now, downriver from there, we're supposed to have this forest—in fact, a forest in which we can hike. And the Morning News says we already almost do.

Last week on one of my forays, I hiked in to try to get a look at the Trinity River Audubon Center, a $14 million nature center being built by the city. I was within 30 yards when two guys in hard hats came scurrying out to the edge of the construction clearing to ask me who the hell I was—a familiar experience for the Great Trinity Forest hiker, I found.

I said, "Hi."

The nature center, which will be operated by the Audubon Society, is already an imposing presence, prow-shaped, like a ship sailing on a sea of green. After I had evaded the settlers and was safe again beneath the cover of the invasive foliage, I spied out from between the leaves, pursing my lips silently to sip from the tube of my blue water bladder, gazing at this mighty structure arising from what was once a noxious landfill.

I felt a moment of awe in spite of myself. This place when it opens will provide the opportunity we lost when the Dallas Cowboys decided not to build their new football stadium at Fair Park in South Dallas. The Audubon Center will provide a hard physical linkage between the two mutually foreign spheres of our long benighted city, drawing north into south and thereby tying the two together in some small way.

The Great Trinity Forest is really the Great Trinity Metaphor for all of the city's hopes and fears, the whole catalog, everything from snakes to race. Only by treading the same ground can the two halves ever be bound together. And when everybody does start treading, I highly recommend one of these blue water bladders.

In places the trees were thin and the grasses rose to my hips and even shoulders. I thrashed ahead with walking sticks, announcing myself to all crawling things of the Earth. The flying insects were knocked back a bit by a brief cool spell...but only a bit. I imagine during much of the year it's going to be like my native climes in Northern Michigan: If you want to survive out there you'll have to go dressed as a beekeeper.

And here's the point. All of a sudden, very unexpectedly after wandering without a hint of path or trail, I came across a lovely little jewel of a pond, silent beneath caressing branches. Somewhere in our city.

The Morning News is crazy. The forest park isn't even close yet. It's going to cost us 10 hundred kabillion dollars to make it safe or even remotely plausible for people to park their cars and wander around out there with their families.

The whole forest thing was a scam by the people pushing the road project. Before that, the whole forest thing was a scam by the people resisting the road project.

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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