It’s surprising how many people in the neighborhood don’t even know that such a place exists.

Nestled in Lakewood, just minutes from the intersection of Mockingbird and Abrams, there is a remote getaway. A group of small lakes lined with mature trees and houses. Welcome to what one newspaper writer in the 1950s called “the Venice of Dallas.” Children spent their afternoons swimming and fishing, families hosted lake parties with neighbors, and every backyard had its own diving board.

Today, you’ll still find some of the original residents from when the neighborhoods were first developed. New families have moved in over the years, but children still boat and fish. The area surrounding the neighborhoods has grown and developed beyond what was ever anticipated. Where a pasture once was, there are now grocery stores and retail centers.

“Abrams was just a little one-lane road. One lane going north and one lane going south,” says homeowner John Benda.

Benda has been living in the neighborhood for 55 years. He remembers when it was developed, when the school was built, and when he had to go to Abrams Road just to check his mail.

“It really hasn’t changed that much,” he says. “It’s still a nice, little neighborhood.”

Saving the Lakes

These days the residents are working to preserve the integrity of that nice, little neighborhood. The lakes offer a unique living experience in a surrounding that is comparable to a wildlife refuge. It’s not uncommon to sit down for breakfast and watch a flock of ducks along the bank or walk outside to see a heron fly to a nearby tree.

“It’s quite serene. You don’t even know you’re close to a major thoroughfare,” says Steve Hukill, president of Lange Circle Lake Homeowners Association.

Hukill considers the area a natural habitat for local wildlife, including a large bird population, possums, raccoons, squirrels, beavers, fish and turtles. It is an oasis in a city of more than one million people.

“It’s a nice eco-space,” he says. “Hens have even laid eggs in the bushes along the basin. We want to keep the wildlife here. It’s nice for children. This area is a unique experience for living in the city.”

Lange Circle Lake is just north of Mockingbird. The Hukills are one of 24 families who live along the lake. Similar to other lake communities, the age of the residents vary. Some have lived there for 25 to 30 years, others are young couples just moving in. But all of the residents share a similar concern: how to preserve the lake and community within an area that is surrounded by growing development.

With the increase of city development, the lake community has had to adjust to excess run-off, trash and silt. And during the commercial development of the area, the city constructed a drainage system that runs into Lange Circle Lake. To filter out silt and settlement, the city also built a settlement catch basin. As development increased, so did the run-off, leaving the drainage system and the lake as the main receptacle of trash, silt and settlement.

The catch basin, not large enough to accommodate the excess run-off, added to the problem; sediment began to build up, flowing into the lake. Homeowners removed sediment once before, about 15 years ago, as a short-term solution.

In 1998, Lange Circle Lake Homeowners Association asked an expert in hydrology erosion control to analyze the silt and sediment build-up in the lake. The specialist estimated 10,000 cubic yards of sediment would need to be excavated — at a cost of $250,000.

A second study examined the lake’s flooding conditions, development history, flooding history, flood control and flood control alternatives. The study suggested three courses of action to be taken: 1) divert the water to a new area, 2) build a catch basin upstream, and 3) maintain the water quality, i.e. trash/debris control.

Realizing that the situation was not limited to their lake, Lange Circle homeowners then partnered with BlueFair Lake Association, and began to share information and resources.

“There are ways to control the sediment that are better than what is currently being done,” Hukill says. “It’s not just our lake. The problem is much greater.”

BlueFair Lake, located along Yosemite Drive, is a creek-fed lake. At one time, it was close to 18 feet deep. There was even a 20-foot diving board at the deepest end. The deepest end today reaches 15 feet; but the shallow end, filled with silt and sediment from the creek bed, is only six inches deep.

As the Abrams/Mockingbird area grew, more trash and silt ran off into the lake by way of the creek, which runs behind Albertsons. After heavy rains, the creek bed began to erode and would flood the lake with run off from the developed area, including chip bags, soda cans and water bottles. The BlueFair homeowners have been working together and with local merchants to restore their lake.

“Albertsons has been great,” says Terry Young, president of BlueFair Lake Association. “This past summer, they spent an afternoon helping us clean trash out of the drained lake. We took out dozens of bags of trash.”

Because the property lines meet in the middle of the lake, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the homeowners. Each lake is considered to be privately owned. However, the lakes were constructed before the onslaught of commercial development in the area; they were not designed to handle the mass development of a growing city. As more area was paved over, more water rushed in to the creeks, springs and lakes at a greater volume, bringing with it more run-off and erosion.

“There are three things to consider to fix the problem — trash, silt and flood control,” Young says.

Looking for help

Because of the complexity of the problem, the homeowners asked the City for assistance. In March, BlueFair Lake Association and Lange Circle Lake Association asked to meet with their City Councilman and the City of Dallas Water Department.

“We know that individually, we cannot restore this lake to its original condition,” Young says. “And we know the limits of what the city can do to help out private homeowners. But collectively and cooperatively, we can work to revive this urban habitat.”

Terry Young invited city officials to take a tour of the creek to see the erosion created by excess runoff upstream. Steve Hukill presented the results of the hydrology and flooding studies for his lake. Together, the homeowners asked the City for assistance. And both Homeowners Associations contacted Texas Parks and Wildlife to better understand the effects of urbanization on the lakes’ wildlife.

“We’re building more progress, but slowly,” Young says “We want a positive solution for homeowners and wildlife. It’s going to require some City help and assistance for a long-term solution.”

A little do-it-yourself project

Just a few streets away, residents of Lake Azteca are in the process of renewing their neighborhood. In August of 1999, homeowners decided to drain and excavate their lake. In a three-week period, 600-700 dump truck loads (6,000 cubic yards) of silt and sediment were removed from the lake. What had been the deepest end at only four to five feet, filled up to 15 feet deep.

“Everyone agreed to the dredging,” says Vince Shilling, president of Lake Azteca Homeowners Association. “It wasn’t an inexpensive thing to undertake.”

But with excavation came the renewed interest in the lake. Homeowners built a retaining wall along the lake to support the existing one. The city came in and made a larger storm drain for the lake. Residents began to add pools, patios and decks to their backyards to look out over the lake.

“It’s been neat watching the new things people are doing,” Shilling says. “It’s been a good project to help us get to know each other better. This area is so different from a Plano. It’s a little bit of country in the city.”

Eye on the future

With the support of homeowners, businesses, the city and state agencies, Lakewood’s lake communities are ensuring that the beauty of their environment will be preserved for the next families who move in.

“People end up being long-term residents because it’s such a wonderful environment,” Hukill said. “It’s close to everything — shopping, schools, major thoroughfares — with the added bonus of environment and wildlife.

From aesthetic standpoint, it’s tough to beat.”