He has strong, sometimes controversial, beliefs about how to make White Rock a better place, and he means business
The white-haired man standing at the peak of Winfrey Point could pass for any casual trail walker or bird gazer.
Wearing a crisp T-shirt, shorts and a smile, he’s more amicable than his recent string of emails have made him seem, but he means business. His eyes fall on the freshly fashioned baseball fields below, and the smile disappears.
What sets Ted Barker apart from the passive meanderer shows in his eyes. It’s a look of disapproval, disgust even.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he says.
Something about those fields has his blood boiling. It’s not that he dislikes baseball or kids. In fact, he says he loves that the Dallas Little League built the youngsters new fields — he even came out to watch them play opening night. But, as he recently told a television news reporter, “It took them days to destroy what it took hundreds of years to make.”
Barker complains that the contractors dumped dirt piles that are killing protected prairie grasses east of the lake and just north of the Dallas Arboretum.
“What ticks me off is, why did they dump it on the grassland?”
Barker, who runs a nonprofit for Korean War veterans out of his lakeside apartment, spends most of his days at White Rock, often with his poofy mutt, Mr. Woogie in tow, noting in painstaking detail the problems he observes. Then he emails those findings to staffers at the Dallas Police Department, City Hall, Dallas Park Department, homeowners associations, members of the media and anyone else who might take note.
“I know I’ve irritated everyone to pieces,” he says, “but brevity in dealing with a government does not work.”
And though he can be longwinded, abrasive and incessant, he often makes sense, and he has helped force worthwhile ideas to fruition.
When asked about Barker, city staffer Jill Beam, an events and reservations manager, says she hears from him all the time. Once a week?
“Well, I haven’t heard from him yet this week,” she says.
But then, it’s only Tuesday. She says while he’s relentless with complaints, he sometimes raises valid concerns. Barker’s concerns are many: “stupid citizens” who ignore “No Vehicles” signs and park on the grassland; municipal vehicles that drive over the wildflowers; race organizers who mark the road with spray paint (“Folks, enough is enough,” he wrote Beam regarding the “abuses by the running clubs with paint”); overflowing trash cans; filthy park restrooms; and — the worst offenders in Barker’s book — “speeding packs of professional cyclists”.
On that, he says to city staffers and police, “Enough is enough. I must insist that you immediately address this situation and stop the practice of high-speed activity on any hike and bike trail.”
His rants often make the evening news — Barker sound bites have punctuated TV reports about baseball field construction delays, cycling accidents and White Rock trail lighting plans, to name a few.
Grass fields that once served as parking lots for lake events are now off limits, in part because of Barker’s complaining about runners parking on the grass for races. It’s even more offensive, he says, when people who are attending fundraisers to benefit the lake park on the grass.
“The White Rock Lake Festival is always a serious mess,” Barker says of the annual event at Boy Scout Hill, south of Mockingbird along East Lawther.
“The police only half-heartedly control traffic and allow parking and pedestrians to trample the supposedly protected prairie grasslands. The irony stings.”
Beam says Barker’s concerns about the grassland are valid.
“I agree,” she says. “People probably don’t need to be parking on the grass.”
Barker says he was impressed with the changes he saw at this year’s festival.
“There’s been a dramatic improvement.” He adds that the Dallas Running Club has been cooperative in educating its members about not parking on the grass.
For years Barker, who worked for the city in the late 1990s when Ron Kirk was mayor, says he brought to light the need for an emergency locator system at the lake.
“You see those signs along the trail?”
He points to a spherical sign that reads, “Your 911 location is WRT 109.”
“That’s so 911 can know where to send the emergency vehicles if you call,” Barker says. “Before, you call 911, and they don’t have an address and don’t know where to send help.”
Until an issue hits the evening news, Barker says, the city often doesn’t listen to him. That’s how the signs got there, he says.
A dog attacked his brother, Hal, along White Rock Trail. Hal called for help, but the operator couldn’t get a location.
“That’s what started it all,” Barker says.
The dog attack turned into a bigger news story about safety issues.
“It took three years to get the system into place, but I think this is one example of how something good came of all the complaining.”
His main beef now is with the cycling groups. Barker, a cyclist himself, says there should be a speed limit of 10 miles per hour for cyclists on the trails. Even before a tragic accident in October on the Katy trail, in which a speeding cyclist struck and killed a runner, Barker had been meeting with city officials and Dallas police in an effort to reduce the speed on the trails. Barker says he has put in untold calls and emails, and has addressed the city’s park board regarding what he calls a “dangerous” situation.
So far, he says, “problems have been discussed and interim remedies decided upon” but nothing tangible has come of his efforts. “There is still no ordinance for the hike/bike [trail] — free-for-all allowed,” he says.
Dallas Police Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence, who used to command the Northeast Patrol Division, says he frequently has talked to Barker. “A lot of what [Barker] says makes sense. He’s not crazy. But that type of speed limit probably won’t make sense here,” Lawrence says.
Barker has helped the Park Department plan a safer bike route on the north side of White Rock Trail, according to assistant department director Willis Winters.
“I haven’t had that much direct interaction with Barker, but he does include me on all of his emails. He did prove to be very insightful when it came to planning a new, safer bike route along part of the trail; unfortunately, it won’t be implemented until Northwest Highway [construction] is complete.”
Willis says different people probably have different experiences with and opinions about Barker. And Barker doesn’t mind being perceived as pushy.
“I learned how to work the system,” he says. “You don’t get anything by being polite.”
His only agenda, he says, is to convince people to treat White Rock the way it deserves to be treated. The city and Park Department have done some marvelous things at the lake, Barker says, but they need to be pushed when it comes to overall maintenance.
“This should be the gem of our city. This park is a jewel that should be treasured,” Barker says. “I know I come across as ultra-negative, but there is just no other way.”
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