Editor’s note: The following exclusive true story of events took months to compile, organize, and write. It may be one of our longest stories ever, because of its importance to Dallas’ active population. Because of its length, the usual stories and columns were moved to the next issue. We hope you understand and appreciate the below story. — The Bee Keeper
I HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY, …AND HE LIVES AT WHITE ROCK LAKE.
Attending a White Rock Lake Task Force meeting on the lighting of White Rock Lake on February 12, I was surprised there were so many people who deeply dislike runners and cyclists.
Anyone with a vested interest in either of these sports (race directors, vendors, athletes) should be attending these meeting to ensure this public park remains “public.” If the local residents have their way, they would like to shut the lake off to all those who do NOT live on the lake’s shore line.
Somehow, they have equated increased use of the park with danger, not to mention other ills. Anything they could do to discourage people from coming to “their” lake was met at the meeting with applause, whoops, and hollers.
White Rock Lake is a Mecca for many outdoor enthusiasts. Walkers, runners, and cyclists regularly travel to the lake from outside the Metroplex to enjoy the paved nine mile loop of the lake, that can be expanded to three times that distance by adding on neighborhood streets. Some have compared it to the former TV show “Cheers.” It’s where everyone goes and “where everyone knows your name.” Wikipedia says, “Neighborhoods that developed around the lake have become some of the more desired residential areas in the city. They include Lakewood, Forest Hills, Little Forest Hills, Old Lake Highlands, Lake Park Estates, Lochwood, Casa Linda, and Emerald Isle.” Dallas Traffic Coordinator PM Summer reported White Rock Lake, with its present roads and facilities, is large enough for a city with a population of 100,000. Dallas’ population alone is 1.3 million. Much like an over run and crowded school playground, how the lake area is divided up among the interested parties is a tough question. But one thing is certain: White Rock Lake is, has always been, and should remain a public facility. But that may change.
According to Dallas Parks and Recreation head, JILL BEAM, there will be no parking for any event at White Rock Lake starting January 1, 2010, suggesting races might want to bus their people in from outside lots, such as Target on Northwest Highway.
Long time race announcer CLIFF COUCH says he’s been trying to tell people for six years about the take-over of White Rock Lake. Race director Lewis George has said racing at White Rock Lake as we now know it, will end, putting many race directors out of business and closing many races and events.
The meeting took place on Feb 12, 2009, at Winfrey Point, beginning at 5:30 pm. It was scheduled until 7 pm, but went long after active people go to bed. There were 42 people present (17 with the Task Force and 25 spectators who were not allowed to speak). It was chaired by Park Board Member DARREN BORUFF, the Park Board representative for District 9, appointed by COUNCILMAN SHEFFIE KADANE. Word is Boruff is a nice guy. Maybe too nice. He invited those from outside of the Task Force to voice their opinions. His circulated email stated, “The City of Dallas recently assembled a task force to discuss the issue of lighting along the running trails at White Rock Lake. The task force is comprised of neighbors, Park Board members, and various other lake users.” No runners are on the board. “To date, the most vocal of the members have been the neighbors who oppose the lighting. Regardless of your opinion, we think it is important that your voice is heard, too.”
After an informal show of hands during the meeting revealed there were only two spectators, and none on the Task Force, in favor of lighting the lake, it became a campaign against dissenters. I felt threatened, sitting next to well healed men in ties and overly dressed women. Resident and attendee ROBERT RAYMOND explained it this way: “Someone stood up and took a straw poll of those present. He asked, ‘Who is against lighting the entire trail?’ Almost every hand in the room was raised. I estimated 25-30 hands. Then he asked, ‘Who supports the trail lighting?’ Two folks raised their hands. I believe they identified themselves as runners.” …As if the word for “runners” meant diseased vermin.
Let’s give a list of the players in this conflict of interests, this White Rock Lake war. The players are:
The Task Force
While it is a great forum for grandstanding (if you can tie anything to White Rock Lake, accurate or not, you can bring it up in the meeting), it is almost entirely made up of residents (see below), with the absence of a voice from the running or cycling community. The members as officially listed are: the White Rock Neighborhood Association; Peninsula Neighborhood Association; For the Love of the Lake (FTLOTL – volunteers dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of White Rock Lake Park); Corinthian Sailing Club; White Rock Boathouse; White Rock Lake Foundation, and The Greater Dallas Bicyclist Club, GDBC (quite misleading, see JONATHAN SCHLESINGER below.). Their agenda is whatever the residents want, and no one else. It is Chaired by Darren Boruff. Others invited include Dallas Parks and Recreation, bird watchers, the Dallas Police Dept., and Councilman Sheffie Kadane. Not one running organization, club, team, or store, is listed. Selection to the Task Force is also highly suspect, according to area residents.
This group includes wealthy home owners living in one of Dallas’ most affluent zip codes. Most are conservative and many are retired. Many of them were not familiar with landmarks around the lake and needed a map to identify key locations. They contribute directly to the Dallas Parks and Rec Dept and were the driving force for then Councilman Gary Griffin’s $2 million bridge boondoggle that parallels Mockingbird Bridge on the north end of the lake. (The bridge is too narrow to accompany groups of runners or cyclists individually, let alone together. It also puts runners in harm’s way for close to a half mile where the trail to the bridge is unseen from anywhere else at the lake. From that section of trail, there is no access to the road to escape.) The residents’ agenda is to drastically restrict usage of the lake, especially to runners and cyclists. The main players are CHIP NORTHRUP and Sheffie Kadane.
Runners, Cyclists, Walkers, Event Directors
Mostly 25-55 years of age, civic minded, and health/environmentally conscious, most of this group circles the entire lake at least once a week on weekend mornings. (Peak days and times include Saturday and Sunday mornings, 6 – 10 am. During the work week, they use the lake for shorter rides or runs 6 – 8 am, and 6 – 8 pm. Friday the lake is much emptier because it is an exercise “off” day for most of this group.) As a group, they are usually left out of the loop of news that affects change at the lake. This has perpetuated the incorrect idea of them being unorganized, and/or uninterested. The Dallas Running Club (DRC), and local run and bike stores have taken an oddly distant “don’t get involved” stance (reference the recent White Rock ‘n Roll 5 Mile run hosted by the DRC). The training programs that pay to use the lake, such as Team in Training, are oblivious to their surroundings, or impact, something the Task Force preys upon. The agenda for this entire group is simple: enjoy the lake’s roads and trails as long as they can.
A short history of White Rock Lake: Opened in 1911 as Dallas’ primary water supply, the lake was in the outskirts of the city then. The area was used as a giant recreation area with swimming, and massive boats large enough to host dinners and a horn and drum band, which would cruise all night long. Talk about ruining an environment, and yet the wild life that exists now, existed at the lake then.
After almost 60 years, swimming was stopped in the mid ‘70’s because someone remembered the lake was a water supply.
By 1980, it had become a sordid place of illegal activities. People avoided the lake…except runners. The running boom of the late 70’s caused people in search of different places to train and commune with the outdoors. Runners began showing up in droves by ‘86, especially on weekend mornings. But no one wanted to be at the lake after 11 am, because of the “criminal element” that existed there. Soon the runners told the cyclists how there was a way to circle the lake that was relatively safer than the city roads.
With the increase of people at the lake, authorities started to take notice, and patrol more often. As the police became more visible, even more people came, including high school and college running and rowing teams. Upper crust Highland Park, Ursuline, Hockaday, and SMU were some of those schools. By the late 80’s, traveling professional runners knew they could stop off at White Rock Lake for a quiet nine mile loop.
With the lake becoming safer, and cleaner due to Parks and Rec noticing the increase in traffic, others became interested. For The Love Of The Lake (FTLOTL) organized, and property values were on the increase. Soon, the questionable population moved on to other places, liquor establishments on the south end of the lake left, and crime significantly decreased. The Dallas Police Dept assigned dedicated officers and patrols to the lake. The lake was looking its best, when the adjoining neighborhoods realized what a pretty place the lake was, and how much better it would be without the walkers, runners, and cyclists. It wasn’t much later when The Dallas Running Club office was forced to move off the lake, where it had always enjoyed a lake side Park Office building.
Then in 2003, RICHARD WEBER tried to do something that was unprecedented and would galvanize the lake population, setting a template, a battle cry for the following six years.
Weber, who lives on Waterview directly above the Bath House and Big Thicket Cabin, next door to race director James Thruston of Thruston Racing (The Autumn Equinox 15K, The Snowman Shuffle 10K, Jog’r Egg Nog’r 15K, and all of the lake’s duathlons), wanted to raise his property value of several locations he owned along the lake. His idea was to use the local neighborhood government to stop use of the trail and road that crosses in front of the Bath House where he lives. It almost happened with a series of clandestine meetings, until word got out a week before the final vote. The meeting was shut down, and the action tabled, as thousands of runners and cyclists came to voice their opinions and displeasure with such an underhanded and legally questionable move.
Weber was taking a page out of Highland Park’s history of outlawing runners and cyclists on their streets, with a concerted effort by individuals and groups not happy with their lake front property being overrun by exercise enthusiasts. The lake’s residents have since learned and mobilized since Weber tried shutting out runners and cyclists six years ago.
Showing the short sightedness of those who wish to push walkers, runners, and cyclists off this public facility, if this comes to pass, where would those same runners, walkers, and cyclists who used to be at the lake, go to walk, run, or bike?
One thing the general public has never fully understood, accepted, or grasped is this is a group that isn’t going to suddenly stop. Walkers, runners, and bikers have always existed, and will continue to do so. These activities have been going on for centuries (Yes, that includes cycling, too!) in countries all over the world, not just in the U.S., or in Texas, or in Dallas. It’s what people do, exercise outdoors. These activities, nor the people, are not going to just suddenly stop, no more than a writer stops writing or a musician stops playing. It will continue. People will take to the streets of other neighborhoods in an area that does NOT have, or support pedestrian lanes, rights, or laws. You think White Rock Lake is crowded on a Saturday morning? Wait until you see these people on busier streets when the lake is closed or made “semi” private. “Hello, Highland Park!” One would think we were talking about the removal of nuclear waste. Walkers, runners, and cyclists are people who have only the best of intentions.
Much of the Task Force would like to make the lake extremely limited to people outside the area. One prevailing attitude of the Task Force is to make the lake restricted, limiting walking, running, and cycling events and groups to the point of non-existence at White Rock Lake, and to elevate the lake to a special status, above the rest of Dallas’ parks. If this were accomplished, it would be easier to enforce special laws restricting or prohibiting lake shore usage. Resident Robert Raymond spun it this way. “If White Rock Lake is a signature park, if it is a unique jewel, doesn’t it deserve the most specially-tailored, carefully-considered policies and rules that respect its uniqueness?”
MARCUS GRUNEWALD is the race director for The Dallas White Rock Marathon, which uses a loop of the lake as its center piece. “As many of us lake runners know, there are several sections of the path that are fairly dark at night and in the early morning before the sun comes up. Although there are street lights that provide lighting for several sections of the running path, the trail goes into the trees in and along several areas and it gets pretty dark. Initial response from homeowners living in the area is that they are not in favor of additional lighting. One might think this is because they would like to discourage anything that would add to the number of runners already using the lake early in the morning and into the evening. However, White Rock Lake is a City of Dallas park and is not under the jurisdiction of surrounding homeowners.”
Another member at the meeting said, “This lake park should be treated as a wildlife sanctuary, not developed into Coney Island.” Raymond added, “It is this natural aspect that attracts folks in the first place.”
Claims a bald eagle was spotted at the lake gave the Task Force leverage to declare the land was protected because it was the eagle’s habitat, and the eagle is on the endangered species list. It was actually the DMN that announced the eagle. However, when research was done, and it was found to be a false sighting, the DMN retracted the story and claim. The person that THOUGHT he saw a bald eagle, actually saw something else. But that part of the story was never communicated to the Task Force or the general public that use or live at the lake. Or if it was, people ignored the retraction. The land declaration was not reversed. The claim was a false alarm that has been perpetuated by the Task Force for its own use of limiting park use of a public facility.
Another short-sighted view of the Task Force is there is never a connection between lights, police patrols, and crime rate. The statistics that are continually referred to by the Task Force imply the lake doesn’t need lights or police patrol because the crime rate has dropped, not that the crime rate has dropped BECAUSE of lights and police patrols. Robert Raymond: “The police data doesn’t support that we have much evening crime.” Why do you think that is? The Task Force wants to do away with both, lights and police patrols. Where’s the sensibility in that thought? When the Task Force talked about being against “enhanced night usage,” they are also seriously impacting early morning runners.
The Task Force wants to cut the present midnight curfew to a much earlier time. I think most walkers, runners, and cyclists would agree with this since they are generally in bed at a decent time because of their healthier, active lifestyles. What the Task Force misses however, is this population should NOT be penalized for using the park early in the morning, especially during the summer, to beat the heat later on. I know of people using the lake on a consistent basis, at 4 am, and sometimes earlier, depending on their schedule. Close it down at night, sure. But let us use it in the morning, please!
SHEFFIE KADANE, who won re-election in May, is the council member for District 9. Part of that district is zip code 75214, the area immediately surrounding White Rock Lake. According to his web site (http://www.sheffiekadane.com/about.html), Sheffie is presently the President of PICS Investment Company, the Managing Partner of K-B Oil Company, and an Agent/Broker with Ebby Halliday real estate. Some internet information on his district says, according to the last census, the 75214 zip code has a white population of 27,301, and a black population of 1,613. While the average home value in Dallas county is $127,948.78, for the 75214 zip code (District 9) the average home value is $175,700. It is said to be the wealthiest district in Dallas. It should be no surprise a lot of money is donated directly to the Dallas Parks and Rec Dept, which is headquartered immediately north of White Rock Lake, atop Flag Pole Hill. This department is also said to have the largest budget of any Dallas department. Coincidently, Sheffie Kadane served on the Dallas Park & Rec Board from 2003-2006, was Vice Chairman of Planning and Design, was on the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, was the Dallas Arboretum Liaison for Dallas Park Board, and was the White Rock Lake Liaison for the Dallas Park Board. He is closely aligned with White Rock Lake, Dallas Parks and Rec, and the residents.
What began at least two years ago when the Park Dept began denying permits for new events at the lake, and then turned into “Light Wars,” is now being used to levy any charge that sticks, to rid the lake of runners and cyclists.
Specifically, the runners and cyclists are being blamed for the ills of the lake: trash, overcrowding, violence, crime, motor vehicle traffic and accidents, wild animal disruption, plant life destruction, noise, light, air/water pollution, spray painted graffiti, and other marks on the pavement. And by having this active population leave for places unknown and unplanned, it is theorized this is not only the lake’s “only” solution, but that the lake will return to being a pristine environment. Note: it is generally agreed this is the best the lake has ever looked, right now, today. Ever.
Except for the water quality that was drastically changed when the Dog Park off Mockingbird Lane was added and E. coli bacteria was introduced to Dallas’ back up water supply, the lake has never been or looked better. Right now, today, White Rock Lake is the best it has ever been. Ever. Thanks to volunteer community groups such as For The Love of The Lake hosting clean ups on weekends, Volunteers In Patrol (Made up of mostly of runners, they are headed up by MEL CYRAK and patrol the lake, free of charge.), and the runners and cyclists who are in continual procession around the entire lake from at least 4:30 am to 9 pm, seven days a week, through the winter and summer months, the lake has never been safer, cleaner, or more beautiful.
But some of the residents around the lake are acting with the assumption this lake is their private property, even though that is far from reality. At the task force and Parks Dept meetings hosted over the past two years there has been a hidden forceful agenda to restrict and discourage use of the lake’s perimeter.
Two years ago, the Dallas Parks and Rec Dept’s JILL BEAM, then a Reservations Manager, hosted a “Summit Meeting” in January of 2007. Though the original subject for the meeting was to discuss the events calendar, the real discussion centered on how the running organizations were responsible for all the “graffiti,” as they called it, on the hike and bike trail, and road around the lake, “ruining” the aesthetics.
During that meeting, and subsequent research, it was found most of the graffiti was from the utility companies. In fact, race organizers were already taking precautions to make race markings unobtrusive before this meeting. KEN ASHBY, who measures almost every event in the Dallas area, was already using flour instead of paint to mark start and finish lines, and mile marks. The running community was already feeling pressure to not draw attention to itself. They were also feeling environmentally sensitive.
There was also an important manifesto given out by the Parks Dept. NO MORE NEW EVENTS. Further, if a present event falls off, it would not open a slot for a new event. The Parks Dept. said the decision was a result of overcrowding. The event directors, who are in a cut-throat business, looked at one another almost as brothers against a larger foe. Jill Beam, it should be noted, has supposed aspirations on a future political position with the city.
The February 12, 2009 meeting was supposed to be about lighting the lake. Instead, after the informal show of hands from the floor, it became about shutting off and down the lighting project and expelling the number one users of the lake: runners, walkers, and cyclists.
Although common sense would lead one to believe lighting the lake would be a positive thing, the people on the Task Force were vehemently against it.
JONATHAN SCHLESINGER is a cyclist from South Africa, and a “member” of the Greater Dallas Bicyclists (GDB), a group formed in 1973 that, according to its web site, has only 408 members. He is on the Task Force because he lives in the area, not because he is a cyclist. Although the GDB says he is a member of their club in good standing, and was appointed to be a representative of GDB for the Task Force, according to web master GARY BOUDREAUX, “As far as I know there has NOT been a decision or an official stand regarding this issue [lighting White Rock Lake].” Yet, Schlesinger was against the lighting of the lake taking it upon himself to represent ALL cyclists.
He felt there would be too many light poles. The poles would destroy the look and feel of the lake. “I’m not against lighting the lake. I’m against lighting the whole trail.” He added nothing about the safety of those at the lake in the morning before work. Tuesday and Thursday mornings host informal get-togethers for cyclists wishing to loop the lake. All wear the required lights, but many times they can’t see the road or trail due to the absence of lighting. During one point of the meeting, Sheffie Kadane had to stop Schlesigner for being inappropriate.
A web site designed to campaign against the lighting of White Rock Lake with the undercurrent of shutting users of the lake out is: http://www.ladycdesign.com/WRL. “I would be surprised to hear if there is any support for general trail lighting,” said Schlesinger.
Cyclist GARY DUTSCHMANN said “Many of the Mirage Cycling Club members enjoy riding at White Rock Lake. More street lights around the lake could only increase the safety of the area, both with making riders and runners more visible to car traffic, but also guarding against attacks and robbery.”
Some have been critical of lighting the lake, putting aesthetics before safety. As FTLOTL member CLAUDIA WORME pointed out, “Poles by the shoreline would not even look good during the day!” CATHERINE HOLT of the Corinthian Sailing Club complained “The lighted trail surface would be visible all around the lake shore.” Isn’t this is a good thing? Don’t all the world’s sea side cities, and all of this country’s lake side towns have that same situation, purposefully choosing to light their shore line where people travel?
CHIP NORTHRUP is a vocal tour de force on the Task Force, whipping up the rest of the Task Force members into a frenzy baiting the opposition with derogatory remarks, and bad ideas, then disrespectfully stalking the room when the opposition talks. In a letter to Darren Boruff, Northrup wrote the following convoluted note. “Thanks again for chairing the Lighting Task Force. As noted at the meeting, the majority of the Task Force cannot support the lighting of trails in the park. Our main concern is for the safety of park patrons.”
(Wait! What did he say? Did he say “safety?” Did he say he can’t support lighting the lake because of his concern for users of White Rock Lake? Yup, that’s what he said.)
He continued. “As well as the natural ambience of the park at night.” He made sure to copy other sworn members of his side.
But Mr. Northrup’s letter went on to make a point that the police do not patrol the lake on their bicycles at night, before stating the following (his italics): “The reason cited for lighting trails has been ‘to increase night jogging.’ We have not seen any evidence of demand that would justify lighting all 10 miles of the trail. The other excuse invoked was ‘increased safety.’ The park staff have no record of any trail accidents at night – they occur, but most of them aren’t worth reporting. The crime statistics for the last 5 years show a handful of incidents on the trails at night. We do not see how lighting 10 miles of trails would reduce crime or accidents – it would increase them. The key stake holders, the neighborhoods, FTLOTL, boat clubs, etc. are not going to support 600 new lights.” The number one users of the lake are not included.
“Lights can go off at 10 PM per the code. The [parking] lots should not be lit and marked ‘No Parking After Dark.’ Enforcing no parking at night can reduce crime. At no time has it been demonstrated that lighting would reduce crime – when crime at night is negligible. At no time did the consultants make a compelling case that increased usage would decrease crime. At no time did the DPD convince us that the park trails were adequately patrolled at night on bikes. We cannot sign off on a plan that would unquestionably increase crime in the park – based on increased usage. The following would be closer to the consensus of the Task Force: ‘White Rock Lake Park is intrinsically dark and should remain so in order to preserve its unique natural ambience.’”
But that wasn’t enough for Mr. Northrup. On February 24, he wrote an article for the online newspaper, Lakewood-Now.Net, (http://lakewood-now.net/view/article/8472) called “Taking a Dark View of White Rock Lights,” rallying support for his already slanted view of the world, and piggy-backing on the theme of aesthetics, not safety.
In it, he discusses mean and wicked people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Hmm. Sounds familiar. He brings up the lake’s Master Plan, how the proposed lighting “did not comply with the Master Plan Lighting guidelines in that the proposed lights cause light pollution” (But neglecting the fact that the Dog Park off Mockingbird Lane was never included in the Master Plan.); that lighting the lake “lacked evidence that it would reduce crime when crime at night in the park is already negligible;” how the White Rock Lake Foundation got Hossley Lighting Associates “to sell the city a large lighting project without any needs assessment by Parks and completely out of context with the Park’s capital budgeting priorities;” and how Hossley “‘doctored’ images to make the lights appear less obtrusive.” (No less doctored than photos he took himself, or had commissioned, of the lake on a day when the exercising public takes off, to show how the lake isn’t being used.) “The Task Force felt that lighting the shoreline and the nature trails at night would be simply counterproductive; that it would ruin the natural ambience of the lake at night and impact areas that are designated as environmental preserves.”
In the article, Mr. Northrup also showed his sensitive side. “Bicyclists are required by state law to have lights at night, joggers can wear lights, and walkers can easily carry flashlights so there was no evidence presented of sufficient demand to light 10 miles of trail.” He actually blamed those in support of lights, speculating that they thought lights would make the lake safer, and cut down on accidents. How silly of them to think that way!
Echoing those same sentiments at the meeting, Mr. Northrup stood up and exclaimed those using the lake trail are “Just a few eccentrics!” He told those that were worried about their safety, calling for lights on the trail to, “Take a pill!”
In both the meeting and in the article, Mr. Northrup took the Dallas Police to task, for not being able to summon another police officer to the meeting as a test. “An officer from Northeast was asked to summon the bike patrol at 6:45 p.m.,” he wrote, “to demonstrate whether anyone was actually patrolling the trails that night. By the time the meeting finished at 9 pm, no bike patrol officers had arrived because there probably were none in the park that night on the trail.” Actually, the police scoffed at his suggestion and went on with their assigned role of keeping the peace at the meeting, and not performing tricks for Mr. Northrup.
It should be known that Mr. Northrup came within inches of being arrested for destroying park property two years ago. Very late at night, he was going out in front of his property at the corner of Biscane and W. Lake Highlands, to saw off tree branches from trees in the park so he could have an unobstructed view of the lake. This occurred over several nights. His neighbors caught him and reported his behavior before he ceased.
According to patrolling officers at the lake, the residents on the west side were in favor of lighting the lake, until Mr. Northrup became involved. Though he rides a recumbent tricycle with a windshield, the other recumbent riders avoid riding with the cantankerous Harvard Law graduate.
DAPHNE ECONOMOU is an environmental engineer and lives near the lake on Lake Highlands Drive. “I do not believe that the Park Board’s Plan is in accord with the majority of people’s wishes.” One would think she was on the road to inclusion, but that would change.
Using the point that White Rock Lake be a “signature park,” she wanted to know whose signature will be on it. What is the distinguishing style that represents the many diverse people who are patrons of this park?White Rock Lake is a place where people from all walks of life gather to enjoy nature and fulfill their need to feel part of the whole ecosystem.”
Then she wrote, “Statistically speaking, increasing the number of people will result in more crime. It seems that only a small percentage of Dallas citizens are in favor of the proposed lighting project. There are alternative places for those who wish to run and bicycle. The trails could be repaved where they are broken so that the cyclists and runners don’t have to use the streets. Notwithstanding these options, the minority of individuals who want lights could also go to the YMCA/YWCA, a gym, a mall, or other neighborhoods, places that are lighted at night.” Anyone up for marathon training around an indoor track, nine laps to the mile?
She went on to say “Drawing more people into an artificially lighted park at night will drive out the wild life,” especially the coyotes. The coyotes are coming to the lake now as it is, with its urban setting. They are not going to be chased away by the lights. Initially, they didn’t come to White Rock Lake at all, until a few years ago. Although I’m sure the coyotes appreciate Ms. Economou’s efforts, they seem undeterred in their marches around the lake in search of the easy food left by home owners on the back stoop, or by the unfortunate pet left out to wander around freely.
She finished with a note that could, again, be interpreted as inclusion. “Please consider White Rock Lake as a Signature Park that represents humans and nature coexisting.” This is what runners, walkers, and cyclists would prefer, and do daily.
“We started with a democratic and citizen-input-oriented process,” ROBERT RAYMOND wrote. “My understanding is/was that the task force was specifically designed to include a wide variety of interested parties: representing neighbors, neighborhood associations, bicyclers, runners, boaters, dog-walkers, nature-lovers…and Parks, Police, Consultants, and so on.” Except for the lack of input from walkers, runners, or cyclists, he’s correct.
Mr. Raymond reported that when the Task Force people became disturbed at the way the lighting of the lake meeting was going, namely, who asked for the lights and when, “The response was a tepid ‘[Dallas Parks and Rec Mgr.] REGGIE HERD has gotten some calls from runners who want to run at night.’ ” This was “Not a very satisfactory answer,” he said. “No attempt should be made to light all, even portions of the trail. Be consistent and light NONE of the trail.”
Unfortunately, the Task Force also does not want to light ANY of the parking lots so as to give the impression of “perceived safety.” Perceived or not, light decreases the car break-ins. (If the Task Force can’t eliminate the lights, they want the pole size reduced.) Mr. Raymond was also disappointed “a list of all of the participants and their affiliations” at Task Force meetings was slow to be made public. He did make this request: “If there are other folks out there, unseen, and unknown to the Task Force citizen members, but somehow influencing the process and master plan, please bring them to the meetings so we can see them and hear their concerns.”
MARY GRIGGS lives in the Emerald Isle neighborhood bordering the lake, right next to Winfrey Point. She wrote the Task Force to complain about a light at Winfrey Point. She is the President of the Emerald Isle Homeowners Association. She noted the single light didn’t come on during the week, but came on during the weekend, “and remained on all night!” She felt leaving it on “all night, is not only wasteful but extremely annoying to those of us who have to look at it.” Mrs. Griggs did not complain about the drop in break-ins or after hours noise at the lake. Calling the lights at White Rock Lake, “an unbelievable waste of time and money!” she’s also not happy that an area would be torn up if the lights were installed. “As for security, the additional lights could easily attract persons who could now see their intended victims better!” Yes, this thinking really exists.
“It would seem that most level-headed persons would avoid going into a public park after dark to jog or bicycle. I won’t even get into the disruption of the wonderful wildlife habitat in the park.” The wild life would have been disrupted long before the walkers, runners, and cyclists appeared. If the million dollar homes built right on the lake’s edge wasn’t a deterrent to the area’s animals, then the traffic of Mockingbird, Buckner, and Garland Roads likely would be. Walkers, runners, and cyclists have extremely limited impact comparatively, if at all. She finished asking that “a minimum number of lights would be used for security.”
WILLIS WINTERS is the Asst. Director of Parks and Rec. He replied to Mrs. Griggs with the following. “The City of Dallas has been working with a task force composed of area residents and stakeholders that Councilmember Kadane appointed last summer.” Again, there are no official runners or cyclists represented. The task force has met to craft a lighting plan that balances and addresses both the concerns of the neighbors and the needs of the park patrons, with the exception of the number one users of the public facility. At the end of this February 12 meeting, Mr. Boruff pledged that the White Rock Lake Trail will not be lit, except at certain hazardous locations. We recognize that there is non-compliant lighting at the lake and will work to prioritize the removal and/or replacement of this lighting. We will work closely to craft a master plan that adequately addresses lake aesthetics, the impact of lighting on wildlife, dark sky considerations, and the safety and security of lake patrons.” At that meeting, after saying there was $370,000 budgeted for lights at the lake, it was Willis Winters who scoffed at other parks and trails wanting the lights the Task Force was taking out. Katy Trail was one such place that took the lights budgeted for White Rock Lake. With a smile, he proudly announced, “We’re a long way from ever lighting the trail,” as if to say, “This will never, never happen.”
Continually, Mr. Northrup, Ms. Economou, and Mr. Raymond asked during the meeting, where directives and suggestions for lighting the lake came from? There was a gallery of spectators where the two people who were suspected of being “runners” sat and were not allowed to participate in the Task Force’s meeting. Many times one of the spectators wanted to explain to the board who was behind the lighting and patrolling of the lake, but couldn’t. The gallery wasn’t allowed to “rescue” Boruff or anyone on the board that attempted a positive direction of lake usage.
BRANDON BARNETT, a Dallas cyclist and runner, is Director of Real Estate at Retail Outsourcing Services. Not knowing where the Katy Trail lights came from, he said, “I think it would be interesting to look at how many parks in Dallas have lights which are almost never used versus the opportunity to put lights around White Rock that would have a much greater impact on the city. The Katy Trail recently put the lights on the trail and I believe that it has drastically improved the safety of the people who use the trail for exercise.”
Dallas RANDALL TURNER, President of Harvard Companies, Inc, a real estate company, replied to Willis. “Looks like the City gets an F for lighting.” Randall uses the lake at least twice a week, usually in the dark. Once during the week before dark, and once on Sundays before church. Randall’s wife and children also use the lake. One of his gripes is the lights being turned off at the Mockingbird Dog Park parking lot, a place not visible to the surrounding homes. “It’s a liability to the City. Women have been attacked, and break-ins occurred at that lot.” He continued, speaking of home owners and lake users, saying, “You have to look at the lake as a child. Both parents take care of and have access to that child. The best interest of the lake is open and equal access. What makes New York City such a great city is Central Park and its accessibility.”
In his email to the Task Force, Randall wrote, “I typically only have time to run White Rock Lake early in the morning before sun up. Nothing good ever happens in public places in darkness except theft, rape, vandalism and violence. We own over 1.3 million square feet of buildings, parking lots and other properties in and around downtown and it is crucial to the security of Dallas Citizens and our tenants to light those properties at night with high pressure sodium lights on poles. Lighting a public park is for the benefit and SAFETY of all citizens and not just of a privileged few who live along the park. You will save property and people if you act now to light all dark areas of the lake.”
On Tuesday, April 7, a meeting was hosted by Dallas Parks and Rec’s JILL BEAM. Though no public posting of the meeting has turned up as required by law, the meeting addressed race directors who use the lake. No agenda or minutes of the meeting exist on-line, either. It was titled White Rock Lake Running/Cycling/Walking. But its agenda was to discuss parking issues, among other places, at Winfrey Point. “We addressed not walking from Winfrey Point through the prairie grass to the trail,” she said. The local environmental people are blaming “the runners” for ruining the area at Winfrey Point, though no one was told about it and no signs were posted.
She also brought up vehicles driving on the trails. “Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the trails and some of our users are driving on the trails.” It was generally agreed on by the race directors, this happens only when the traffic gates are left open by others. Last of all, she mentioned getting all races to have the same start location. “We are looking at specific starting locations for all races.”
At this latest meeting, it was strongly suggested by Dallas Parks and Rec that parking for all events be off site, that participants be bussed in from elsewhere, such as the Target parking lot on Northwest Highway. It would be a huge additional cost to race directors that would have to pass on the cost to the participants or deduct proceeds from the benefiting charity. Of those that normally come to a race, attendance would easily be cut by 25%. These two things would cause many events to close, and thereby reduce use of White Rock Lake. “The main thing that was communicated was that the park department will not allow parking on the turf/grounds after January 1, 2010,” Jill Beam said.
Randall Turner replied, “Home owners live at the lake. Users have to park at the lake. Once parking is taken away, the parks end up not being used, except by the homeless.”
A short word on the lake’s preserves. The lake’s environment hasn’t been changed by the walkers, runners, or cyclists. It’s been the way it is currently since 1911, when construction was completed as the main water supply for Dallas. If anything, the lake has seen more wildlife enter into the lake area. Most wildlife follows the creeks, either up or down, to the lake. Examples include the recent sightings of coyotes and pelicans that didn’t exist here prior. If anything, the urban sprawl of road and house construction (that additionally pollutes the lake), and the Texas-Pacific and Kansas-Texas rail lines (now part of the Dart rail line) are more obtrusive than a pack of Sunday morning joggers.
Second, it appears some local authority has deemed some of the grassy areas adjacent to the run/bike trail along the lake, as National Grass Lands. In reality, environmental preserves need to be legally designated. To get a tract of land designated as Grass Lands takes years, with approval by the federal government. Chances are someone would have heard of this by now and formal signage would have been in place to alert the public, instead of them being blamed for not knowing. It certainly wouldn’t have been a big surprise to anyone at the April 7 meeting. An area isn’t protected just because someone says so. There are two problems with just sticking a stake in the ground and declaring it as such. One is, if the areas around the lake were designated as such, all the houses within a mile of the lake would have to stop watering their yards, putting fertilizer in their gardens, and turn off all lights and gas combustible engines. (This area would include The Arboretum.) The last time I drove past the houses and cars on Mockingbird Lane, Buckner Blvd., and Garland Rd., this wasn’t the case. Further, there could no longer be any mowing in the area, especially next to the supposed protected area at the top of Winfrey Point where mowing now takes place weekly.
Two annual fishing events are sponsored jointly by the Dallas Park and Recreation Department and Texas Black Bass Unlimited. The Corinthian Sailing Club holds several events each year on the lake, including the Flying Scot Open House Regatta in mid-October, which draws sailors from several states; and the Open Class Regatta on July 4, followed by a dockside dinner and a look at the fireworks from the Cotton Bowl. Both events are open to the public but would be banned if the area was, in fact, an environmentally protected area. The fact the lake continues to be dredged (it’s been done at least three times: 1937, 1974, and 1999) flies in the face of a protected area.
Most agree the home owners and accompanying Task Force are going in the wrong direction. An example of a privatized lake is Lake Ray Hubbard. The home owners occupy almost the entire shoreline. The lake is rendered almost useless to the city, its public, or as a revenue source because events can’t be held there. Further, it is the constant traffic of walkers, runners, and cyclists at White Rock Lake that helps to keep the lake area safe, clean, and even bringing an element of pride to the area.
As for the trash problem runners and cyclists are blamed for creating, ED PARK’s idea has some merit. A “Dash for Trash” 15K fun run. (The distance around the lake trail is 15K, or 9.3 miles.)
“A non-competitive fun run loop or 5K turn around followed by an hour or so of trash pick up. Could offer some consolation prizes like 10, 20, 30 gallon quantity boxes of trash bags or a trash collectable from the lake itself.” He suggests inviting those against the running community to collect trash with walkers, runners, and cyclists, together. “The Nay Sayers will probably leave, saying something like ‘I can’t decide which one smells the worst..the runners or the trash.’ I doubt the trash problem is solely a dumping occurrence by transient visitors and might be attributed to a variety of age old reasons since it appears that several creeks empty into the lake.”
One recent activity that went ahead with its plans, despite the tensions at the lake was the Tour Dallas, Dallas’ only bike rally, which was held April 4. Race Director MIKE KEEL contacted the Lakewood Home Owners Association to alert them of the tour’s bike route going through the White Rock Lake area. White Rock Lake Councilman Sheffie Kadane is said to have had issues about the bike rally’s course. According to Keel, the ride sells Dallas. “This is a good thing for Dallas,” he said referring to the bike ride. “It shows off Dallas.” Keel took the initiative to contact the homeowners group to help ease tensions between users and residents of the public park. It went off really well without any complaints.
By systematically denying event permits to any further events and letting the present ones die off, shortening the curfew, making it harder for present directors and organizations to hosts events, and in general, making the lake less desirable to the number one users of the lake, albeit safe, with the withdrawal of lights and police, the lake becomes de facto private property. The Task Force, representing a select group of the interested parties at White Rock Lake, is accomplishing over a period of years, what Richard Weber couldn’t do on the east side of the lake, only on a larger scale, by essentially buying Dallas Parks and Rec. Dept. with the assistance of Councilman Kadane.
Some ironies are, almost every event held at White Rock is for charity, for helping others. Another is the residents seem to forget the park is funded by the people who use it, and according to the number of people who use the area.
A case in point is the DRC’s White Rock ‘n Roll held on May 2. Approximately 550 paying runners took part in the event to benefit those who are in effect, pushing runners off the lake, or the very least, restricting their use and events. Club President Greg Hall said in an email to volunteer Don Rossi, who refused to be part of it because of the money trail, “I am comfortable they have good intentions and in both cases they are doing good for the community as a whole.” Rossi replied, “Looking past the politics of situations like the recent lighting controversy is what has allowed James Northrup and his allies to impose the will of a small minority on all lake users and all the citizens of Dallas. I can’t be part of such thinking anymore, and had anyone asked, I would have supported a decision by the DRC to withhold donations from FTLOTL and WRLF because of their role in the matter. I suspect many other DRC members feel the same way. How many club members, if any at all, were asked? Hope you will understand that I’m drawing a line on this because someone has to speak up for the runners.” There was no answer to Rossi’s question. What Chip Northrup and others either forgets or overlooks, is the deed to the lake was for recreation. If you will, the parks “JOB” is to encourage park usage. That’s day, night, dawn, and dusk.
It is rude and inconsiderate to the park users when statements such as what Mr. Northrup said during the Feb 12 Task Force meeting, “If they want to feel safe, take a pill.” “If they want light on the trails, let them get a flash light.” And finally, “It’s only a few eccentrics that use the trail.”
It’s inherent upon the park, a public park, to allow citizens beyond the lake’s edges to come and feel safe.
When ideas such as “lights and police protection are not needed since crime has decreased,” you know the information is being spun beyond common sense. An example is that the questionable parking lot photos to show park usage were taken on a Friday morning – a day of the week when the great share of cyclists and runners take off from their activity – and were included in a briefing to Task Force members to show lack of usage of the lake.
If a reasonable discussion is to take place involving the lake, the number one users of the lake (walkers, runners, and cyclists) should be, at the very least, considered, if not specifically invited.
As with any park, the people that work for, around, and with that park, should encourage public usage, with safety (provided by the infrastructure) being paramount. Period. One only has to look at parks throughout the state (Town Lake, Memorial Park), and the country (Denver, Chicago, NYC, Boston) to see what is reasonable and expected.
Yet, White Rock Lake residents have started on what appears to be a deceitful, and some would say illegal, course of action against those who have the best interests of the lake at heart. It’s where walkers, runners and cyclists gather for communal time with others, nature, and their spiritual self. I’ve yet to see these lake users take legal action against the residents, or underhandedly plot to take over the lake from the city. The great majority, if not all, come to White Rock Lake in peace, wishing to enjoy and share its beauty. Unfortunately the residents along the lake don’t seem to have the same values.
I personally know of three female runners who have been raped.
Let me first say, these incidents did not happen at White Rock Lake. Though, I have assisted a fourth victim whose crime did occur there.
The results of such a violent attack are devastating, and long reaching. May you never know its effects.
The case the west side home owners used in the court of public opinion was crime would increase if lights are put in at the lake. Myself, and many others, would LOVE to see the study this statement is based on. But, believe it or not, this argument flew, and the lighting initiative was not only slowed down or halted, but actually reversed!
Not good. This is not good for anyone. In fact, everyone loses. Chase away this group that exercises at the lake, and the surrounding area will also change. Businesses such as Alfonzo’s, Barbec’s, Café Brazil, Another Broken Egg, and Richardson Bike Mart on Garland Road would likely lose business, along with some of the nearby gas stations and convenience stores. Rentals would also likely decrease, causing the lake to become a ghost of its former self. Right now it’s considered the Emerald Jewel of Dallas. But that could become the Dangerously Vacant Hole, instead.
It’s important the city is made aware of the number one users of White Rock Lake: walkers, runners, and bikers. City council members throughout the city, not to mention Dallas Parks and Rec, need to be made aware of what is happening against the will of the greater “PUBLIC.”
Having served on two boards involving the lake, I can tell you first hand, the great majority of decisions made about the lake have never taken into consideration the number one users of the lake. Never.
The lights are good for everyone involved. Even if a few can’t see the light. Contact Dallas Parks & Rec (www.ci.dallas.tx.us/forms/form_pkr.htm), or Darren Boruff (firstname.lastname@example.org)and ask about the next White Rock Lake Task Force meeting.
Residents Respond to Runners Hit by Motorist
To highlight the current thinking at the lake, on November 2, 2008 three walkers were hit by an out of control car, while pedestrians were legally crossing with the light, in the cross walk. The accident occurred immediately north of the lake, at Northwest Hwy and Buckner Blvd, but still within the lake area. The pedestrians had just finished the DRC Half Marathon and were walking back to their cars. The reaction by some of these citizens, some of whom live at White Rock Lake, were shocking. The following are examples of those comments and can be read at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/city/dallas/stories/032209dnentcrash.29cad45.html?ocp=8#slcgm_comments_anchor
“Being a Lakewood resident for many years I’ve seen my fair share of marathons. I remember how extraordinarily disorganized this particular marathon was. The signs to divert traffic were few and far between. Prior notification of the marathon was non-existent. This caused traffic jams which were completely unnecessary. At 9am, my wife and I were stuck on Mockingbird and Buckner for over 30 minutes with no idea if this road was completely closed or what. People were getting upset and started driving over the medians and down the wrong side of the streets. When you create upset drivers due to ineptitude, and mix in runners, I knew then that something was bound to happen. I think the organizers have to bare some of the responsibility when these incidents occur.”
“I hate those runners and bike riders at White Rock Lake. They act like they own the road, completely ignore moving vehicles on a sharing lane. Some are just plain stupid and waiting for disaster to happen. There are people living in the area, and they drive.”
“As a resident of Lakewood, I am amazed at how naive/ignorant the runners are, especially on Saturday mornings in our neighborhood. I was driving this morning in the neighborhood and came across at least 3 large groups of runners oncoming. Quite frankly, as a driver I am not always looking for groups of people and these runners are really sticking their necks out. I’m not suggesting anyone in this article is guilty of this lack of understanding but I’m concerned it’s only a matter of time some runners get hit because they think it’s safe to run in the middle of the road. Concerened!” [sic]
“Runs and marathons in the city of Dallas need to be off the streets, period!!.. this will happen again otherwise.. And you’ll want to blame the driver. But you should’nt be on the road in the first place. I have lived here most of my life and these runs/marathons do not give proper neighborhood notice. Our streets are not a proper place for runners and they never will be. Too much traffic and no notification is gonna equal road rage and death!!!!”
“There is a race/walk/marathon at White Rock almost every weekend in the Spring and Fall. The traffic is horrible and unsafe. Hundreds of illegally [sic] parked cars line dangerous roads like NW Highway and Buckner. Pedestrians cut across these busy roads, not always in the crosswalks. It is a recipe for disaster. This is all done for profit. Even when done in the name of a charity, the organizers are paid well.”
“Each year in Dallas, 30 to 40 pedestrians are struck and killed by cars, and hundreds are injured,…” That’s bull****. I would like to see the data on that claim.”
“Runners and moving vehicles make for as bad a combination as driving and alcohol. There needs to be a place perhaps out of the cities and suburbs for the runner to participate and drivers to be unimpeded by people irresponsible to run or walk in the street; especially, when they run/walk on the right side of the roads not being able to see errant drivers.”
This last comment was one of the very few that positively recognized those almost killed. “God bless the injured.”