It all goes back to when a group of about 15 people wanted to buy one little sign that told people not to throw trash in the lake.

 

          “We never planned on being a group,” says Marci Novak, founder of grassroots-volunteer organization For The Love of The Lake. “We just wanted to do a little something for the lake.”

 

          But that little something blossomed into a big something Novak never imagined. 

 

          Now, 10 years later, by working hand-in-hand with the City of Dallas, For the Love of the Lake (FTLOTL) has become a neighborhood institution — one of the most important keepers and advocates of White Rock Lake and the park that surrounds it.

 

          “The volunteers that represent all of the groups that make up For The Love of The Lake have had an enormous impact on the quality of lake life,” says District 9 Councilman Gary Griffith. “It’s a very vital group for sustaining the life that we like to have in East Dallas .”

 

          In its 10-year existence, FTLOTL has been responsible for cleaning up litter at the lake, establishing about 45 active Adopt-a-Shoreline groups, placing more than 550 trash and recycling bins throughout the park along with drinking fountains, benches with bike racks, “cool sprays” for runners, picnic tables, marquees, landscaping, outdoor fitness circuits, a children’s playground and, of course, those anti-litter signs — but instead of just one, there are now 24 of them.

 

          The organization also has been instrumental in the development of the White Rock Lake Museum at the Bath House Cultural Center and in securing and erecting a life-size bronze statue to commemorate the Civilian Conservation Corps.

 

          And then there are the Second Saturday Spruce-ups that have become a monthly tradition for so many neighborhood residents committed to pitching in to keep our neighborhood’s most precious natural resource looking good.

 

          “It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s exhilarating and it’s quite amazing,” says Novak about FTLOTL’s 10th anniversary. “I’m so proud. It’s been a labor of love for a lot of people around here.”

 

 

‘IT WAS A WRECK’

 

          Novak’s favorite line to describe the work her organization has done for White Rock Lake is: “We’ve been able to transform it from an eyesore to eye candy.”

 

          Eyesore is a pretty apt description of White Rock Lake back in 1995. Novak says although the City of Dallas had passed a bond providing money to dredge the lake, it still didn’t address some of the more immediate and obvious problems: pervasive litter, graffiti, lack of functioning drinking fountains, playgrounds that were old and decrepit, buildings falling apart.

 

          “The park was a wreck,” Novak recalls. “Although it was fantastic that the City stepped up with the money for dredging, it still wouldn’t be able to address all these issues. The Parks Department couldn’t keep up with the massive influx of trash … people were just so frustrated.

 

“We just wanted to do a little something — just so we could feel a little better, like we tried.”

 

          So Novak and her group of 15 met in her living room and decided to put on a concert that would hopefully raise the $500 or so needed to buy one anti-litter sign.

 

          “We knew nothing about fundraising, concerts … mailing lists,” she laughs.

 

          But something worked. The group ended up selling 1,000 tickets to their first concert and raised more than $23,000.

 

          “It shocked everybody. It shocked us,” Novak says. “I think it was because people so loved the lake and wanted an avenue to do something.”

 

          The first thing the group wanted to do was install new trash cans — ones that wouldn’t be knocked over to spill out trash everywhere — and recycling bins. According to Novak, City employees told her it would never work, and even the group had some reservations about the project.

 

          “We thought it would take forever,” she says.

 

 

Enlisting the Neighborhood

 

But something happened to jumpstart the project, and it fueled the organization to continue making improvements at the lake: Within one week, a new 7-Eleven store just opened at the spillway offered to sponsor 200 trash cans and Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) provided a grant for 100 recycling bins.

 

After that, FTLOTL was on a roll, and the group hasn’t stopped since.

 

One of the things that has kept FTLOTL moving for so long is the willingness of its volunteers to step up and take on leadership roles.

 

Steve Tompkins took over as president of the organization after Novak, serving from 2001 to 2003.

 

“My goal was to try to transition the role from the founder of the group to a doable job for mere mortals,” he says.

 

Although he says he was proud to serve as president, Tompkins is most proud of the projects he has coordinated during the past eight years. They’ve been his most gratifying work within the organization, he says.

 

For example, he recently coordinated the efforts of a dozen University of Texas Dallas soccer players in painting the retaining wall at the spillway.

 

“Forever, that wall has been a hodgepodge of mixed colors, like looking at an unattractive quilt. Now thanks to the volunteerism and energy of those young men, that entire wall is that uniform, tan color you see on various concrete walls and train trestles on that side of the lake,” Tompkins says.

 

It’s the same color as the train trestles and concrete wall running the length of the dam that he also organized, with the help of Jesuit’s then-high school freshmen in the case of the latter. 

 

“I chose that color, and now it has become the ‘standard issue’ for those kinds of structures. That makes it easy for FTLOTL or the Parks Department to cover up graffiti as it occurs,” Tompkins says. “I am proud to have been a contributing factor to these accomplishments.”

 

After Novak and Tompkins, FTLOTL has had three more presidents: Maria Richards, Rich Casey and current president Kevin Felton.

 

Felton, whose wife Shari actually started volunteering with FTLOTL after the original John McCutcheon concert 10 years ago, says the organization is really all about the trash.

 

“Really, it’s that less glamorous project, such as picking up trash, that’s gratifying. To see people come do this — just for the reward of knowing that the lake is better — I think that is the most important thing,” Felton says. 

 

In fact, when his term as president is over, Felton says he can’t wait to have more time to get back out on the water to pick up trash in his canoe.

 

The folks of FTLOTL are celebrating their anniversary with the same concert they held 10 years ago: John McCutcheon, a six-time Grammy nominated folk musician, will play Saturday, Dec. 3, at Winfrey Point on White Rock Lake (see sidebar for details).

 

          The money raised by the concert will be used to help fund the latest major FTLOTL project, Celebration Tree Grove, an endowment fund created to replenish and maintain the lake’s tree population. The grove will be planted in a field near East Lawther and Poppy.

 


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