A spot of hidden City land along a stretch of the Trinity River’s Elm Fork, in-between I-35E and Storey Lane, in northwest Dallas comprises acres of heavily wooded, boggy bottomlands located where Bachman Branch joins the river. A section of the Trinity’s original riparian meanders remains, framed by the undulating terrain of a floodplain.
White egrets explore the shallows as a red slider turtle breaks the water just offshore. An avian ruckus arises in nearby Fishing Hole Lake, most likely songbirds mobbing a bird of prey marauding their nests. The tapping of an unseen woodpecker resounds through the woods. A bobcat print is visible in the mud. The area is notable not only for its wild surroundings, but also because it is free of trash.
GroundWork Dallas makes sure of that. On the third Saturday of the month, their Green Team youth groups, along with volunteers from Meetup and Master Naturalist groups, descend upon this slice of urban wilderness for cleanups.
“It was amazingly filthy two years ago," says Executive Director Richard Buckley, standing along the original Trinity in what he hopes will become known as the Frasier Dam Recreation Area. “You could not look anywhere along the shoreline and not see trash.“
Buckley involves everyone he can in the trash-reduction effort: upstream landowners and businesses, the committed kayakers, canoeists and even fishermen that ply the Elm Fork. He advises, “If it weren’t for volunteers, we wouldn’t be here.” They have extricated everything from refrigerators to Styrofoam cups, all of it deposited by the Trinity and its tributaries. And every month, the river brings more. “The amount of trash that flows in is crazy,” says Buckley.
Once the Frasier Dam area is made safe, beautiful and ecologically healthy, GroundWork is committed to opening the public land up for fishers, boaters, mountain bikers, hikers, runners, bird watchers and nature enthusiasts. Green Team members and volunteers brave poison ivy and slithery creatures to reclaim the old trail system from rampant undergrowth and invasive privet. In the process, they learn design and construction techniques perfected in Buckley’s Lone Star Trail Building School.
Groundwork Dallas specializes in soft-surface trails. “Everything we do is as friendly to nature and the animals associated with it as possible, so we don't disturb them,” says Buckley. Once completed, the trails will last for years without dirt maintenance, even in floodplains. “I am huge on proper drainage,” insists Buckley. “When building natural surface trails, you must pay great attention to water flow, more so than with a road or concrete trail.”
Green Team members also assist with the construction and installation of trail and water-side benches, along with picnic tables, observation decks and blinds. Regular testing of Trinity and tributaries is a big part of their efforts. Occasionally, naturalists are brought in for ecological lessons.
Camaraderie abounds, but there's a practical side, too. Green Team members are coached in vocational recreation opportunities, preparing them for the jobs expected to open up in federal land bureaus like the National Park Service as the last of baby boomers retire.
With GroundWork Dallas’ big plans, the need for volunteers is unquenchable. On first Saturdays, the group tackles Hines Park, a small wetlands-focused area off Harry Hines at the Webb Chapel Extension. On second Saturdays, it’s the Buckeye Trail, in the Great Trinity Forest.
Garrett Boone, co-founder of Texas Business for Clean Air, an avid birder, and Groundwork Board member is a tireless advocate for the Elm Fork corridor and wants to make the 4,000 acres stretching along the I-35E corridor from Frasier north to the L.B. Houston Nature Area off California Crossing into a national-park-quality attraction.. “His vision for the Elm Fork is to build connecting natural-surface trail systems through the forest, linking scenic points of interest, “ says Buckley. “ He wants to get the public out into the great nature Dallas has to offer, because they won’t care about what they can’t see,”
For more information, visit GroundWorkDallas.org and Meetup.com/Groundwork-Dallas-Changing-Places-Changing-Lives.
For more stories like this read Natural Awakenings Dallas-Ft Worth magazine at NADallas.com