White Rock Lake’s top 10 priorities

Several improvements are complete, but there are more to come. Here's a look at each high-priority project, what it will cost and where it stands.

The city’s high-priority projects

The redesign of the Garland Road spillway, arguably White Rock Lake’s most recognizable and idyllic attraction, is finished. Next spring, Dallas will celebrate the lake’s centennial, marked by the original completion of the spillway in 1911. Though it is a cornerstone of progress at the signature park, the spillway renovation — a $16.7 million effort that includes new retaining walls, trail and parking lot improvements, and fresh signage and landscaping to name a few — is only one of several White Rock Lake projects that the City of Dallas has planned for the near and distant future. Late last year, the Park Department, along with the White Rock Lake Conservancy, a fundraising organization whose board members promise to help raise funds for the projects, presented the top 10 priorities. Here’s a look at each project, what it will cost, and where it stands.

1. East Lawther Trail and parking reconstruction

All three phases of the East Lawther Trail project will include parking lot improvements, new parking lots and trail entry marker additions. The City of Dallas, from the previous bond program, allocated $1.8 million for phase one of the trail and parking reconstruction, for the area from Mockingbird Point to the Bath House Cultural Center. The total estimated cost for this phase is $3.8 million. The plan is to rebuild the existing trail, and revamp parts that are unused and broken up (the stretch up Boy Scout Hill, for example) rather than building a new trail along the shoreline (as the city did along the west side of the lake). Also included in phase one is a pedestrian overpass from Mockingbird Bridge to Boy Scout Hill, and native grassland designation for certain areas.

Sponsored Message

Phase two will encompass the area from the Bath House to Lake Highlands Drive. This phase includes improvements to the Big Thicket area — the building and playground will remain, but playground improvements, trail access and new picnic stations are in store. Phase two costs are estimated at $1.5 million, and as yet no money is allocated for it.

Phase three focuses on the area from Lake Highlands Drive to Emerald Isle, and includes a planned sailing club parking zone near the Corinthian Sailing Club, and boat ramp improvements. The estimated cost for phase three is $1.9. $7.2 million more is needed in order to make all three phases happen. Despite needing much more money, the city has moved ahead with the design, Winters says.

2. Stone Tables

Built around 1930, the Stone Tables — accompanied by a bridge over a nonexistent pond, a bathroom building and a pavilion — are some of the oldest structures at White Rock Lake. The tables, which sit along East Lawther Drive and can be seen from Buckner, serve as a popular gathering area, even though they are run-down and the old lily pond is long dried up. A $1 million restoration of this area would include refurbishing the historic structures and replenishing the lily pond. To date, no funds have been allocated for this project.

3. Fishing piers

Dreyfuss Club Rendering

The fishing piers at White Rock Lake are old — so old, in fact, that they need to be rebuilt from scratch, says Willis Winters, assistant director of Dallas Park and Recreation. There are eight piers, which will cost $200,000 each to repair. That’s $1.6 million for the entire project. No money is yet allocated for this.

4.Dreyfuss Point

The burning of the Dreyfuss Club in 2006 was a catalyst for forming the White Rock Lake Conservancy, a group that aims to raise funds for lake improvement projects. Right after the fire, City Councilman Sheffield Kadane said it concerned him that no funds were available to replace a building as significant to our neighborhood as the Dreyfuss Club. So Kadane, along with former City Councilman Gary Griffith and others, started organizing. The group has been working with a City of Dallas architect over the past several months on a design for the new Dreyfuss building, which will occupy about the same space as the former club, and may be a little bigger. “Our building and grounds committee meets and talks with the city and its architect at least quarterly,” Griffith says. “We wouldn’t start fundraising until a final design is determined and our board formally votes to engage in the project.” The cost of rebuilding the club is estimated at $3 million, and the city has not allocated any money for the project.

5. Reflection Point

Plaza Solana

Plaza Solana, a stone scenic overlook near the boathouse on the East Lawther side of the lake — situated between the Tokalon and Lakewood Boulevard connections to the trail — was phase one of an overarching Reflection Point project.

Plans for the next two phases of Reflection Point include additional seating; improvements to the trail, walkway and landscaping; and construction of a Lakewood Gateway that would connect the neighborhood to the trails and lake. The trail from Reflection Point will eventually connect with the Santa Fe Trail that will run through East Dallas and to Deep Ellum.

The first phase of the project, Plaza Solana was partially funded with private donations, and partially funded by the city’s bond program. Another $1.5 million is needed to complete the project, and no funds are yet allocated for it.

6. Dog park

The White Rock Dog Park at Mockingbird and West Lawther was built on a shoestring budget, Winters says. Neighbors love it, but it’s far from user-friendly, especially on rainy days when it tends to flood.

“White Rock Dog Park needs a lot of work,” Winters says. “We need to expand the paddocks; add new parking; add more amenities, shade and irrigation; open the park up to the shoreline; clean up that shoreline; and make it more of a visual commodity.” The good news is that $800,000 in bond money has been allocated for this project, but another $2 million is needed  to make everything happen. One planning meeting has been held regarding the dog park remodel, Winters says, and another is being planned for this month.

7. Lighting master plan implementation

After some public debate, the Dallas park board last summer approved a comprehensive plan for lighting at White Rock Lake. The plan calls for extra lighting in certain areas, such as Winfrey Point during events only; and for the trail to be lit only in designated spots — near curves, intersections, parking lots, piers and areas with highest potential for high traffic and collisions. The estimated cost is $1.8 million. So far $400,000 is allocated for the project, which will cover the first phase that includes limited lighting near the spillway.

8. Furnishings and signage
The Dallas park department and White Rock Lake Conservancy will work together to improve park furnishings and signage, a roughly $800,000 cost. New signage and furnishings on the west side of the lake will be consistent with the rustic stone theme along the east side of the lake.

Celebration Tree Grove

9. Reforestation

The furnishings and signage project also includes reforestation at a cost of $750,000. So far, no money is allotted for either of these projects, but thanks to help from For the Love of the Lake, reforestation efforts are well underway. In 2006 the nonprofit, along with the park department, established the Celebration Tree Grove, which recognizes folks who donate funds for new trees, or those whom the donors wish to memorialize. The grove, boasting myriad types of trees including cypress, oak, elm, cherry, buckthorn and holly, offers a central area for honoring tree donors, rather than having multiple plaques around the lake and park. This donor-recognition system has since been implemented in parks throughout the city, Winters says.

10. Water quality improvements

In the 1940s, swimmers splashed with impunity in

suggestion for water quality improvement

the White Rock Lake waters. Today, though the lake is a hub of activity, you’d have to be crazy to actually go in the water. It’s filthy. Aris Tsamis, who has owned Mariner Sails for 15 years, has been lobbying for the city to allow windsurfing on White Rock, and though he came close one time, and even was allowed to hold an exhibition windsurfing event once, Tsamis repeatedly was informed by the city that it was too dangerous. “I finally gave up,” he says.

The push for windsurfing at the lake, though it didn’t pan out, forced the city to take a look at water quality and tack it onto the list of top priorities. According to a plan presented by Winters last December, a series of floating wetlands could serve as a design aesthetic as well as a habitat- and water-improvement measure. In order for this plan to move forward, Dallas Water Utilities would need to approve it, and an ecological restoration consultant would then help develop the plan. The design alone would cost $400,000.

Now that we’ve nailed down the priorities, the issue of funding remains.  Altogether about $21.5 million is needed for the White Rock top 10, and only about $3 million is available. Money comes from two sources, Winters explains — bond programs and private funding. When organizations such as For the Love of the Lake, White Rock Conservancy and White Rock Lake Foundation raise money for a project, it can serve as leverage for a higher allocation of funds in the next bond program. Or, a group might turn its fundraising focus toward a project that is partially funded by a bond program. “In the past we have been successful [both] leveraging bond dollars once the private sector has provided a portion of funds, and the other way around,” Winters says.

The 2011 White Rock Lake Centennial event planning has been bumped to the top of the to-do list for some groups such as the White Rock Conservancy. Hopefully, those festivities will serve as an opportunity to help fund the aforementioned projects, organizers say.

“We are in the strategic planning process for what will be a months-long celebration,” says Rachel Fitzgerald, the White Rock Lake Conservancy’s executive director. Councilman Sheffie Kadane has appointed a Centennial Host Committee to plan a series of events during 100 celebratory April-June 2011 days. Though specifics have not yet been determined, “there could be rowing and regatta events, races and concerts to name a few,” Winters says, “but they will be fundraising events, for the most part, that will go toward the top 10.”


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  • David Simmons

    If you look at the history of the lake, dredging has been required every 15-20 years. It was last dredged in 1996. The mouth of the lake South of the new pedestrian bridge is now back to only about 4-5 feet deep and holding trees that wash down during heavy rains. There is nothing planned in the foreseeable future for build up of silt. We’ll over pay when we start seeing the mud and trash flats again in that area and the mouth of Dixon.

  • George Lass

    Over the years I have learned that the only way to deal with the races is to wait until after 10:00 on the weekends to start my ride. That way the only thing I have to see is the trash they leave behind.

  • Mike

    Having just returned from yet another aborted Sunday morning bike ride at White Rock Lake – cut short by my inability to do a complete circuit of the lake due to street closings to accomodate runners – I say a hearty “Amen” to No. 3 above. Last time I checked, White Rock Lake was still a public park, not a private race course for the various running clubs in our area. Way too often on spring and summer weekend mornings, East Lawther, and sometimes West Lawther, is closed down for a race/run, and access to the lake is blocked at all but a few entrances. This makes it very inconvenient for those of us not part of one of these organized groups to use the lake during the relatively cool morning hours during summer. I would limit these types of runs to one weekend morning per month.

  • Christina Hughes Babb

    FYI — I am listening and reading and working on answers and responses to questions and concerns noted here!

  • lakewoodhobo

    Thank you for this insightful piece of reporting. I’m also in the camp that thinks the redesigned Dreyfuss Club looks odd, though I want to see more renderings before I make up my mind. Why not something along the lines of the Filter Building or, better yet, an Art Deco structure like Bath House? Not every new building in Dallas has to look like a glass box.

    Also, I would love to read more about the plan to improve the water quality. What do those floating wetlands do? How much will it cost to improve the water up to acceptable levels?

  • Jason Fitzmaurice

    But this isn’t like the Perot extortion bid. I’m simply suggesting a city owned restaurant those two locations are isolated, they either have or will have a single structure there anyway, this wouldn’t be building some additional ugly building. And A small high end world class restaurant where wealthy people drop a load of money, being used to fund the improvements that allow everyone to use the lake seems like a win win.

    Still to me the biggest issue is parking is priority 1, water quality pro
    irity 10. That seem backwards to anyone else?

  • George Lass

    Jason’s restaurant proposal reminds me of what Ross Perot tried to force the Dallas Arboretum to do in 1985. Thankfully that never happened.

  • CitizenKane

    1. Allow limited high rise residential development overlooking the lake at Garland Road; charging a tax on the development and residents with a view. Use the proceeds for lake only improvements.

    2. Ban “pack” riding on bicycles.

    3. Limit weekend events (“marathon to save the planet”) kinda stuff to only 10 weekends out of the year. If organizers want to really “save” the planet or somthing, let them do it on a weekday!

  • Jason Fitzmaurice

    Two things come immediately to mind.

    1. You just have to love that the water quality is point ten, and parking lots are point one.
    I just think that says so much.

    2. The Dreyfuss Club. Either this location should have a restaurant built there,or Winfrey Point should be converted to one,The revenue stream that could be generated for the city with a high end romantic restaurant overlooking the lake would be tremendous and could be a great funding source. Imagine some of the funding fore fishing piers, the water quality etc, being paid for voluntarily by people willingly paying top dollar to eat there. I know they bring in money as rental sights, but nothig like could be brought in with 6-7 days a week of say 200 dinners.

    Just a thought,

  • Diorae

    lets take this bike thing one step further. How about just a bike path for all those who think their Lance Armstrong. I am a bit tired of having to watch every running step in fear one of these wannbes will run the whole group over.

    Did you know there is a speed limit on the trail?

    Lighting would be good. Sensible lighting that is. Hip height for the pathways and noting taller then 24 feet for the parking lot and street. The blinding effect will be eliminated and the houses that surround the lake will not be anymore intruded upon then their neighbors own floodlights.

    The lake has the potential to be a real crown for the city. Clean up Garland Road by the spillway and it will definatly have a chance. As well as along NW highway. Liquor stores, really??

  • CitizenKane

    This is the best piece of “reporting” I have seen in the Advocate to date.

    Very informative…good work…thank you for posting.

  • Greg Bevel

    Instead of waiting for someone to get killed on their bicycle, let’s push to widen the high traffic bike and car routes on the West side of the lake by adding a bike lane protected by a barricade on the side of the road.

    Starting with Winstead Drive between Garland Road and White Rock Road; White Rock Road from Winstead to W. Lawther Dr; West Lawther to the bridge leading into the Park. . . of course, if you are riding a bike and you go north at that point on Williamson Road, you’ve just got a death wish or something. . . so add in Williamson Road up to Mockingbird.

    There is plenty of room on the lake side of all of those streets to widen the path to include a bike path which would reduce, by large margin, the car/cyclist conflicts on the roadway.

    I drive that route daily by car but I won’t ride my bike on those roads, because I don’t have to, but many bicyclist do use those road instead of riding slower on the congested jogging trails. And almost daily I witness both bad cyclist behavior, and bad drivers decisions which lead to close calls on a frequent basis.

    Beautification of the entire White Rock Lake area is, and should be, a top priority for the City of Dallas as well as the residents that use White Rock Lake’s facilities, but safety along that stretch of these roadways should be an equal if not higher priority.

  • Mary Doster

    I have been thrilled with everything being done at White Rock Lake. To be honest, I was surprized that anything under the direction of the city of Dallas could be done so perfectly. Then I saw the monstrous design being considered to replace Dreyfuss in the Advocate and I came back to reality. That’s Dallas alright! I smell something fishy and it isn’t coming from the lake.

  • Please Keep it looking Like WPA/CCC

    From where in the world did that proposed design for Dreyfuss rebuild come from. Who is behind that hideous design?

    It looks like it could be a cousin to the Emerald Isle hir rise proposal.

    Why not just rebuild the old one w/appropriate adaptations for ADA etc.

  • George Lass

    Reading the last sentence of item 8 (Furnishings and signage:
    “New signage and furnishings on the west side of the lake will be consistent with the rustic stone theme along the east side of the lake.” and looking at the rendering of the new Dreyfuss building being proposed for item 4, I sense a major disconnect in objectives.

  • This is an interesting an informative article. I would like to point out one of the most substantial improvements to White Rock Lake which, while not mentioned in the article, is in the background of the photograph at the top of the web version of the piece: the White Rock Boathouse and the restored Filter Building.

    The White Rock Boathouse has given collegiate, secondary school, and masters rowing and sculling a home at White Rock Lake, including a program for Dallas public school students. The 22,000 square foot boathouse was constructed from one of the abandoned settling tanks of the old waterworks facility. This spring, the Boathouse sponsored its first White Rock Sprint Championships, which brought over 100 crews to the Lake for a day of racing on the only regulation 2,000 meter 6-lane course in Texas.

    The Filter Building, once a bricked-up decaying shell, has been fully restored and can be rented for receptions, meetings, parties, and exhibitions. It has a spectacular view of the Lake, and has become extremely popular. All proceeds from Filter Building rentals benefit the White Rock Boathouse Juniors Rowing Program and the Dallas Parks Department.

    The area where these facilities are located once was one of the more dangerous parts of the Lake; before its restoration, the Filter Building was covered with gang graffiti. Today, couples are married at the Filter Building and families fish from the Boathouse docks when the crews are not using them.

    All of this was accomplished with private donations of some $2.6 million and huge donations of time and effort by the Board and members of the Boathouse.

    To learn more about the Boathouse and the Filter Building, please visit there websites:
    http://whiterockboathouse.squarespace.com/
    http://www.thefilterbuilding.com/