D Magazine has invited experts to discuss returning the Dallas Trinity River corridor back to its natural landscape. Above, wading birds in the Great Trinity Forest. Photo courtesy of Ben Sandifer/DallasTrinityTrails.blogspot.com.

Feb. 27, 2017

North Texas Wild logoTwenty years. For 20 years the citizens of Dallas have waited for city officials to treat the Trinity River as something more than a drainage ditch. To that end, bond measures passed in 1998 — and then the civics mire began.

Developers viewed that soft, wide swale of a prairie river floodplain as a blank canvas upon which to create a theme park of a park. Whitewater features! Promenades! Lakes, landscaping and lighting! Enterprises! And a six-lane tollway with access lanes! The clipped grass, concrete paths and petite trees would attract festivities every week. Watercolor renderings were proffered by developers portraying a gauzy, clean, contained world of gussied up nature and humans, complete with jugglers under the overpass. 

Wha? Isn’t this the floodplain that fills levee to levee when big rains come? The last flood in spring 2015 leveled greenery and left behind 12 to 20 inches of silt and snags of trash, downed brush and road-construction debris that covered acres. The weight of the water when the levees were full was about 87 million tons per acre. These floods are not rare. 

Not shown in those blissfully inaccurate renderings was how in big rains drivers would risk death if the eyesore barricades meant to keep floodwaters in place failed and inundated the tollway. The whitewater features, promenades, lakes, landscaping and lighting would be damaged or destroyed. Yet nowhere in the city officials’ plans exist contingencies for this or a budget for the phenomenal level of maintenance these artifices require. 

Enough! Said the editorial staff of D, who laid down the gauntlet. Bolstered by ideas generated by UTA school of architecture’s Kevin Sloan, a landscape architect and urban planner, the magazine is hosting Envisioning the Trinity: Theme Park or Natural Wonder on March 8 at the Joe C Thompson Amphitheater in Dallas. Much of the March issue of D is dedicated to the Trinity. 

Sloan proposes returning the river to its roots. Writes Peter Simek of D: “The only possible landscape that is beautiful and tough enough to contend with the drought and deluge cycle, and the formidable engineering forces of the floodway, is the original landscape. Rewilding the Trinity with a blackland prairie and wetland nature project is the safest, most cost-effective and most creative solution for the Trinity Park.” 

Other groups concur, such as the Blackland chapter of Native Prairies Association of Texas in their press release: “We welcome the Blackland Prairie’s return and will aid it in every way we can. Before settlers reached North Texas, the Trinity River floodplain was thick with big bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, eastern gamagrass and other natives. Rabbits and deer roamed amid the long strappy leaves soaring six feet tall or more. At the approach of a bobcat or coyote, large flocks of quail, doves and other birds fluttered into the sky. When the wind kicked up, they undulated like waves in a sea of green. Pocketed like jewels in the grass were shallow lakes redolent with wildlife. In the fall, golden and rust colored seed heads made the floodplain glow and attracted huge flocks of waterfowl.“

Great Trinity Forest turtleMore than a rewilding of the Trinity, much as Houston did with Buffalo Bayou, Sloan proposes the effort be part of a Dallas-Fort Worth Branch Waters Network — essentially connecting humans to their watershed, a radical and even spiritual act. This fractal branching pattern of rivers, lakes and creeks served as human conduits before roads and it remains that way for wildlife. Branch Waters Network would formally connect them all. In addition to the central Trinity area, an initial focus besides is to link major waterway-based parklands (such as Samuel Grand-Tennison, White Rock and William Blair Parks in Dallas; and Birds Foot, Campion and Spring Trails Parks in Irving) and the upper Trinity parks and lower Trinity preserves. These aquatic conduits would project further into the suburbs and beyond. More on D’s “Wild Dallas” vision here.

Three-toed box turtle foraging in the Great Trinity Forest. Courtesy of Chris Jackson/DFWUrbanwildlife.com.

“The project could have started nearly two years ago. That’s because when federal authorities approved the Environmental Impact Statement for the Balanced Vision Plan, they approved a stage-able, road-less version of the Trinity River park that could be realized with the $47 million that still remains from the 1998 bond package, writes Simek of D. The Balanced Vision Plan is really a federally approved road map — complete with engineering and hydrological studies — that allows for a staged ‘rewilding’ of the entire Trinity River floodplain.” 

The symposium will cover these issues and more. Don Raines, Michael Bastien and Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, designers and consultants who worked on the Balanced Vision Plan, will discuss its possibilities. Dallas Park Board member and master naturalist Rebecca Rader, Audubon Texas’ Urban Conservation Program manager Dr. Tania Homayoun, horticulturist Dr. Robert E. Moon and Sloan will bring to life the Trinity’s watery ecosystem and how to make the most of its natural potential. Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs, former Dallas City Councilwoman Angela Hunt and Texas State Rep. Rafael Anchia will address the politics required to make those dreams a reality. 

Rewilding, writes Simek, “makes nature the priority. It would give Dallas an opportunity to show the world a solution that no other world city can ever have—a nature reserve within walking distance of downtown.” 

Attend on March 8 and expect to be inspired by the possibilities. 

Envisioning the Trinity: Theme Park or Natural Wonder

About: The event will bring together some of the most knowledgeable voices on the Trinity River, from the naturalists who have studied its delicate ecology to the planners who have wrestled with the difficult engineering and hydrology questions that must accompany any future plan for the river.

Hosted by: D Magazine

When: March 8, 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Where: Joe C Thompson Amphitheater, 2711 N Haskell Ave, Dallas

Cost: Free



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