If you’ve ever wandered along the White Rock Creek Greenbelt Trail or looped around the lake, you know what many neighbors are discovering: Our city’s trail system is becoming like our highway system at rush hour, clogged and crowded.

But good news is on the way: The city and county have taken notice, responding with new trail construction almost everywhere we look. Bond dollars are being funneled into projects that will enable more of us to access the trails without having to drive to an entrance, and will connect the trails in our neighborhood as well as linking us with trails in other sections of the city.

Read on to discover where we’ll be able to hike and bike next, right here in our neighborhood.

Blazing Ahead

Soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts — they’re all useful, says Rick Loessberg, Dallas County director of planning and development, but they benefit only the athletes who play those sports. These traditional recreational facilities can’t compete with the universal appeal of a trail.

“Trails cut across a broad spectrum of the population,” Loessberg says. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, what month of the year, you’ll find people pushing strollers, older people taking walks together, kids on their rollerblades, children walking home from school, the guys who look like Lance Armstrong in their skin-tight uniforms, people running because they’re trying to stay in shape or because they’re training for the White Rock Marathon …

“So you have this incredible group of people using the same 12-foot stretch of trail.”

Fifteen miles of new trail has been added in Dallas since 2005, giving our system a grand total of 100 miles, says Michael Hellmann, the city’s park planning and acquisitions manager. That’s won’t be enough for the clamoring masses, however. Another 10 miles will be laid down over the next three or four years, and city and county plans ultimately call for 250 miles of trails in Dallas.

Eventually, it will be possible to travel from southern Plano all the way south of the Trinity River without ever leaving the trails. That’s pretty impressive for a city second only to Southern California in its connection with the automobile, Loessberg says.

DART has made inroads to help change that, but the reality is, if we want to go pick up a loaf of bread, we’ve got to go get in our car,” Loessberg says.

“If you talk to people in other cities, Dallas is one big sprawling area of highways and cars, and they’re not necessarily off base in that portrayal.”

The influx of people from other cities with more comprehensive trail plans helped to raise awareness that “Dallas was behind the times,” Hellmann says. But it took more than a comparison game to get the city up to speed — it took people not only wanting trails but using them, too.

For starters, Hellmann says, people are starting to “think green,” and are looking at trails as a means of alternative transportation.

Neighbor Steve Cospolich has been known to bike the Katy Trail from his White Rock Lake area home to his downtown Dallas office.

“From the looks of the bike rack outside my building, I’m not the only one,” he says. Lately, though, Cospolich has needed to use his car more often, since his wife gave birth to twins last year.

“I love riding my bike into work, but some days it’s just not realistic.”

These days, the avid exerciser uses the trails primarily recreationally.

“You can’t underestimate the value of having a safe place to run and bike, free from car traffic,” Cospolich says. He believes the growing and improving trail system plays a big role in increased outdoor activities among Dallasites. Hellmann supports this notion. People are growing more and more concerned with their health, Hellmann says, and trails provide a convenient way to get out and exercise.

Perhaps the biggest driver for trail construction, Hellmann says, is their role as a catalyst for economic development. The best example of this is right along the Katy Trail, where real estate prices have jumped 25 percent over the last nine years, and houses are now being built to face the trail instead of backing up to it.

“Years ago people would just think trail systems would just bring in crime, but what’s actually happening is quite the opposite,” Hellmann says. “These trails are so popular and heavily used that they actually work as a built-in crime watch system.”

The first phase of the Katy Trail was completed in 2001 and was so successful that “everybody jumped on the trail bandwagon,” Hellmann says. That spurred his creation of the Dallas Trail Network Plan, the master plan for the entire city, in 2005, with additional updates made last year.

And unlike other well-intended but ill-fated comprehensive city plans, “it’s not just on a shelf gathering dust,” Hellmann says. “It’s actually being implemented.”

A Bird’s Eye View Of Our Neighborhood Trails

How will the city’s and county’s master plans impact our neighborhood over the next few years? Here’s a quick glance:

White Rock Lake Trail

Known to many area runners and cyclists as “The Loop”, it’s a 9.33-mile circle around White Rock Lake. The Loop is in various stages of construction to create safer, more user-friendly trails.

A large chunk of the White Rock Lake trail improvements have involved widening and redirecting portions of the trail on West Lawther, which were completed last fall. The next section the city plans to tackle is on the east side of the lake, stretching between the pedestrian bridge just south of Mockingbird and Winfrey Point. Reconstruction between the bridge and the Bath House Cultural Center should be complete by 2010.

When construction is finished, users will enjoy an uninterrupted 12-foot-wide asphalt path bordered by a foot-wide concrete buffer; remodeled parking lots with more parking spaces; a new pedestrian bridge near the Chapel Hill lot and a revamped bridge at Fisher Road. They will also enjoy several new benches and water fountains.

Though not officially part of The Loop, the off-the-path, pedestrian-only nature trails near the Old Fish Hatchery are worth a venture — if you’re feeling adventurous.

Loop 12 Bridge

In order to reach White Rock Lake Park, trail users must cross Northwest Highway/Loop 12, after which they re-connect to the trail along Lawther, underneath Mockingbird. These days, cyclists, pedestrians and horse-and-riders using the trail have to cross the busy thoroughfare, but a $30 million Texas Department of Transportation project is underway along this stretch of Northwest Highway. Part of the project includes a pedestrian walkway where the westbound lanes are now located. The bridge, scheduled for completion in 2011, will allow easy connectivity between the White Rock Creek Greenbelt and White Rock Lake trails, and will lessen the chance of rainwater submersion of this flood-prone area.

Katy Trail Expansion

Lakewood resident Steve Cospolich enjoys taking the Katy Trail into the Victory/Downtown area, but he doesn’t like trekking several miles of residential streets in order to access the popular path. The cyclist, runner and commuter says that increased safety is, in his opinion, the number one benefit of living near a bike trail.

“My primary reason for using the trails is for exercise — for health reasons. It is so nice to be able to ride my bike without having to worry about cars.”

Soon Cospolich will have to face little or no interruption between his home and the traffic-free trail.

In April, new construction will begin to extend the Katy Trail east across Central  Expressway along McCommas. It will then run north toward Glencoe Park, cutting between Hotel Palomar and Public Storage on Mockingbird Lane. Another section of trail will then be built along DART rail lines connecting Mockingbird Station to the White Rock DART station at the corner of Northwest Highway and West Lawther. Once completed, these two sections will be united by a pedestrian bridge over Mockingbird Lane.

This $12 million project should be complete within two years.

Santa Fe and East Dallas Veloway

Some East Dallas residents and city officials have been working for years to jumpstart the long delayed Santa Fe Trail, which will give Lakewood-area residents a trail connection close to home. Councilwoman Angela Hunt has said the delay is related to problems coordinating with the Texas Department of Transportation, which will fund a portion of the project. Rick Loessberg of Dallas County takes it a step further, putting the blame squarely on the TxDOT’s shoulders.

“Everybody likes to pick on them, and it’s warranted in this case,” Loessberg says. “They’ve taken a long, long time reviewing plans.”

The Santa Fe is part of a larger project dubbed the East Dallas Veloway. The first part of the path begins just outside Deep Ellum and stretches to Randall Park, near Glasgow and Santa Fe in Old East Dallas. Later, construction will begin on the extension from Randall Park to the southern tip of White Rock Lake’s trail. Each phase should take about a year to complete, according to project manager David Recht. He says the trail will be comparable by design to the Katy Trail.

Even more than creating a common area for the community to enjoy and connect, the push for the long-anticipated Santa Fe Trail and East Dallas Veloway is about improving air quality and giving people an opportunity to ride a bike or walk instead of driving, says Greg Furman, co-founder of the Friends of the Santa Fe Trail.

“Our city faces many issues these days — density, fuel costs, and environmental concerns,” Furman says, “but the Santa Fe Trail, along with connecting trails throughout the city, could be a multifaceted solution to several problems.”

Once the Santa Fe Trail is constructed, it will connect to the White Rock Lake Trail near Fair Park, and trail users will be able to travel from Deep Ellum all the way to Far North Dallas without interruption.

The Foremother Of Trails

The White Rock Creek Greenbelt Trail was the first major trail in Dallas, built in 1982 as mitigation to a sewer line project along the creek, says Michael Hellmann of the Dallas Park Department.

The trail connects North Dallas to White Rock Lake Park, beginning at Valley View Park north of I-635. The concrete path is 7.5 miles long and 8 feet wide (the new standard is 12 feet, Hellmann says.) Trail users can park and access the path at Greenville-Royal or Merriman near Abrams. Or for a longer trip, they can cross Northwest Highway at Lawther and connect with the DART light rail at the White Rock Station.

A Little Help From My Friends

The Dallas Park and Recreation Department maintains all of the city’s public parks and paths, but some are pampered — that’s what friends are for. “Most every major trail we have tends to have a ‘friends’ group, and it has brought support to a much higher level,” says trail and park project manager David Recht. “It’s important, if folks want to see the trail plan get implemented, to get involved and make sure their council members see how important it is to quality of life in their neighborhood.”

Four major “friends” groups are currently active — Friends of the Katy Trail, Friends of the Preston Ridge Trail, Friends of the Trinity Strand Trail and, in our neighborhood, Friends of the Santa Fe Trail.

These groups not only create political awareness of trails but also contribute hundreds of volunteer hours and raise millions of dollars for trail construction and amenities beyond what government money can do.

As the city moves toward completion of the first section of the Santa Fe Trail, the Friends are gathering input and learning what amenities and design elements are important to neighbors. Friends founder Greg Furman says he’s working hard to get the community excited about the new trail. “We are planning some community events, including a fun run, to introduce the trail to all.”

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Rare birds, flowers, the occasional fox or coyote — you never know what might crop up along the White Rock area trails. So much flora and fauna frequents our neighborhood’s paved pathways that many regular trail users can identify every type of bird and plant along the way. Somehow, though, our resident experts missed a well-tended batch of marijuana plants sprouting just feet from the trail. Evidently, the crop of 27 seven-foot-tall pot stalks had been thriving for some time. When a horticulturally-educated passerby eventually identified and reported the towering herbs last fall, police seized 75 pounds of pot with a street value of about $2,700.

Source: Dallas Police Department

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