If you’ve ever wandered along the White Rock Creek Greenbelt or jogged along the Preston Ridge Trail, you know what many neighbors are discovering: Our city’s trail system is becoming like our highway system at rush hour, clogged and crowded.
But good news is on the way: The city and county have taken notice, responding with new trail construction almost everywhere we look. Bond dollars are being funneled into projects that will enable more of us to access the trails without having to drive to an entrance, and will connect the trails in Far North Dallas as well as linking us with trails in other sections of Dallas.
Read on to discover where we’ll be able to hike and bike next, right here in our neighborhood.
Soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts — they’re all useful, says Rick Loessberg, Dallas County director of planning and development, but they benefit only the athletes who play those sports. These traditional recreational facilities can’t compete with the universal appeal of a trail.
“Trails cut across a broad spectrum of the population,” Loessberg says. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, what month of the year, you’ll find people pushing strollers, older people taking walks together, kids on their rollerblades, children walking home from school, the guys who look like Lance Armstrong in their skin-tight uniforms, people running because they’re trying to stay in shape or because they’re training for the White Rock Marathon …
“So you have this incredible group of people using the same 12-foot stretch of trail.”
Fifteen miles of new trail has been added in Dallas since 2005, making our system a grand total of 100 miles, says Michael Hellmann, the city’s park planning and acquisitions manager. That won’t be enough for the clamoring masses, however. Another 10 miles will be laid down over the next three or four years, and city and county plans ultimately call for 250 miles of trails in Dallas.
Eventually, it will be possible to travel from southern Plano all the way south of the Trinity River without ever leaving the trails. That’s pretty impressive for a city second only to Southern California in its connection with the automobile, Loessberg says.
“DART has made inroads to help change that, but the reality is, if we want to go pick up a loaf of bread, we’ve got to go get in our car,” Loessberg says.
“If you talk to people in other cities, Dallas is one big sprawling area of highways and cars, and they’re not necessarily off base in that portrayal.”
The influx of people from other cities with more comprehensive trail plans helped to raise awareness that “Dallas was behind the times,” Hellmann says. But it took more than a comparison game to get the city up to speed — it took people not only wanting trails but using them, too.
For starters, people are growing more and more concerned with their health, Hellmann says, and trails provide a convenient way to get out and exercise. People also are starting to “think green,” he says, and are looking at trails as a means of alternative transportation, such as riding a bike to a DART rail station to get to work. Once the Cottonwood Trail construction is complete, for example, users will be able to travel from our neighborhood to the Forest Lane DART station near Texas Instruments’ campus.
And perhaps the biggest driver for trail construction is their role as a catalyst for economic development. The best example of this is right along the Katy Trail, where real estate prices have jumped 25 percent over the last nine years, and houses are now being built to face the trail instead of backing up to it.
“Years ago people would think trail systems would just bring in crime, but what’s actually happening is quite the opposite,” Hellmann says. “These trails are so popular and heavily used that they actually work as a built-in crime watch system.”
The first phase of the Katy Trail was completed in 2001, and was so successful that “everybody jumped on the trail bandwagon,” Hellmann says. That spurred his creation of the Dallas Trail Network Plan, the master plan for the entire city, in 2005, with additional updates made last year.
And unlike other well-intended but ill-fated comprehensive city plans, “it’s not just on a shelf gathering dust,” Hellmann says. “It’s actually being implemented.”
A Bird’s Eye View Of Our Neighborhood Trails
How will the city’s and county’s master plans impact our neighborhood over the next few years? Here’s a quick glance:
Preston Ridge Trail
“Our neighborhood offers a lot of great things, but ample green space isn’t one of them — but when you have lemons, you make lemonade.”
That’s Friends of Preston Ridge Trail board member Matt Bach summing up the green space shortage issue we face in Far North Dallas.
“Because we have to make the most of what we do have, everyone has started looking at land with fresh eyes. We’re starting to see new uses for land that we overlooked before.”
Like that TXU easement that runs along Meandering Way: For decades, neighbors just saw this as an unsightly strip of power lines. And so that strip of green space was turned into the Preston Ridge Trial.
This sprawling concrete path begins just north of Coit and Spring Valley roads, and then runs parallel to Belt Line Road and Meandering Way. About a month ago, the trail’s final phase was completed, extending it to the George Bush Turnpike at Hillcrest.
“Now what was once an eyesore is just seen as a great trail that just so happens to have power lines over it.”
The trail will not likely be extended any farther north or south, but there have been talks of branching the trail off east and west.
“There is a trail that runs right in front of UTD, and it’s so close to the Preston Ridge Trail that it seems silly not to connect them,” Bach says. “People are starting to connect those dots.”
White Rock Creek Trail
We may not have any major bodies of water in our neighborhood, but one good downpour near LBJ Freeway and Park Central Drive can change all that. That’s where the White Rock Creek Trail crosses under the freeway, making it a flood hotspot when the creek overflows.
“We are especially seeing a lot of erosion on the north side because that’s the direction the water is running,” Kleinman says.
That poses a big problem because this is the side of the creek where the existing trail runs. The solution? Move the trail.
“We are actually moving the trail to the other side of the creek. We are building a bridge that crosses over the creek and ends at Hillcrest and LBJ,” Kleinman says.
While the bridge won’t necessarily help ease flooding, it will help keep the trail from being eroded. Construction on the new White Rock Creek bridge already has begun, and it should be complete within the year. But that’s not the only facelift the White Rock Creek Trail is getting. The trail also will be widened along the Anderson-Bonner Park stretch, near Medical City. This portion of the trail will be widened from eight to 12 feet.
“There won’t be designated bicycle and pedestrian portions, but by widening it, we hope there’s more room for everyone to use it.”
Construction on this widening project already has been approved, and should begin this spring.
The Preston Ridge and White Rock Creek trails are both great, but a lot of neighbors feel they’d be even better if they were connected. That’s where the Cottonwood Trail comes in: This four-mile route will connect the Preston Ridge and White Rock Creek trails — ultimately making for one continuous 35-mile trek stretching from Plano to downtown Dallas.
The north end of the Cottonwood Trail starts on the west side of Central Expressway near Spring Valley Road, and then follows the Cottonwood Creek under the High Five interchange. It will feed into the White Rock trail on the east side of the expressway, between Forest and Royal lanes. A good portion of the Cottonwood Trail is already complete, but portions still need to be built, like a 3,500-foot section along Coit and Spring Valley roads in Richardson, and the White Rock trail connection, which should both be finished by spring 2010.
The 12-foot wide concrete-paved Cottonwood Trail also will have two esplanade plazas with benches, WiFi and a pedestrian bridge over Cottonwood Creek. There also are a few additional trail enhancements in the works — like lighting, doggie bag stations, more benches, and water fountains — but those are contingent on funding from neighborhood groups.
MORE TRAIL FACTS:
A Little Help From My Friends
The Dallas Park and Recreation Department maintains all of the city’s public parks and paths, but a select few are pampered — that’s what friends are for.
“Most every major trail we have tends to have a ‘friends’ group, and it has brought support to a much higher level,” says trail and park project manager David Recht. “It’s important, if folks want to see the trail plan get implemented, to get involved and make sure their council members see that important aspect of quality of life in their neighborhood.”
Four major “friends” groups are currently active — Friends of the Katy Trail, Friends of the Santa Fe Trail, Friends of the Trinity Strand Trail and, the closest to our neighborhood, Friends of the Preston Ridge Trail. These groups not only create political awareness of trails but also contribute hundreds of volunteer hours and raise millions of dollars for trail construction and amenities beyond what government money can do.
To date, the Friends of the Preston Ridge Trail have planted 1,381 trees and shrubs, and another major planting is slated for this fall. This volunteer group has organized trash pick-ups, and brought in benches, bike racks, a bulletin board, water fountains and additional landscaping.
“Anything that gets you out of the mindset of ‘my responsibility ends at my property line’ is a good thing — and this trail is a vehicle to do that,” says Friends of the Preston Ridge Trail board member Matt Bach.
“This is our community; we all share it. I would encourage everyone to jump in and help in some way.”