Friday, April 22, 2011

Dallas Trinity River Paddling Trail

Texas Parks and Wildlife announced in April 2011, a new addition to the network of state paddling trails, the Dallas Trinity Paddling Trail. Ten miles in length, the trail will take users from Sylvan Avenue to Loop 12 through the heart of Dallas and the Great Trinity Forest.

The new canoe and paddling trail on the Trinity River will add to the 25 other paddling trails in the state. Eight of the twenty six trails are in the North Texas area and include trails in Arlington, Bridgeport, Grand Prairie, Lewisville and Rowlett.

Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp, Trammell Crow Park Dallas, Texas

The Trinity River proper is created just north of Hampton Road in Dallas by a marriage of the Elm Fork and the West Fork of the Trinity. Below Dallas County, the East Fork merges with its sisters, leading to the obvious conclusion that the name "Trinity" derives from three rivers joining as one.

Sieur de La Salle

French explorer Sieur de La Salle called the Trinity "the river of canoes" because it was the major artery through the area for Native Americans.

The Trinity was officially named in 1690 by Alfonso de Leon, a Spanish officer who was sent to raid and capture La Salle's French colony on the Texas Coast.

Historian AC Greene wrote that since de Leon was 200 miles downstream from the three main branches, he could not have known they existed. The Spaniard actually called the river Rio de la Santisima Trinidad, meaning river of the most holy Trinity, probably, says Greene, because he crossed it on Trinity Sunday.

It was 150 years later that John Neely Bryan rode into the Three Forks region and looked down on the river from a high bluff that is now Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. Bryan, the founding father of Dallas, thought the spot ideal for a city. He viewed the river which then flowed about where the triple overpass is situated as Dallas' link with the Gulf of Mexico. Thus did he envision Dallas as an inland port.

Mouth of White Rock Creek at Trinity River, Mile 8.5
That vision died. In 1852, Congress authorized a survey of the river, and an Army engineer's report the next year called the Trinity the deepest and least obstructed river in Texas. Navigation, it was predicted, was practical.

In 1868, a steamer called Job Boat One reached Dallas from Galveston. The trip took a year and four days, much of that time being spent clearing logjams. Other barges and steamers subsequently made the trip, but the northward expansion of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad slowed interest in Trinity River shipping until the late 1870's when dissatisfaction with railroad freight rates renewed interest in river shipping.

The great flood of 1908 forever changed the way citizens of Dallas viewed the river. Widespread flooding, loss of life and property prompted the government to add flood protection levees and channelization of the Trinity River from Bachman Lake to the Santa Fe Bridge south of Downtown.

In the ensuing years, Congress approved two more studies of Trinity River navigation. but it was not until 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson was President, that the Trinity River Project was authorized for construction.

Initial estimates for the project exceeded $1.5 billion and included stream channelization for four parts of the river, a huge reservoir halfway down the Trinity and a pipeline to carry water from the reservoir back to Fort Worth. Much of this work never happened other than a turning basin for ships built on land now used for the McCommas Bluff Landfill.

700 miles in length, the Trinity River is the longest river wholly in the State of Texas. The Trinity has four branches: the West Fork, the Clear Fork, the Elm Fork, and the East Fork.

The West Fork has its headwaters located in Archer County. From there it flows southeast, through the man-made reservoirs Lake Bridgeport and Eagle Mountain Lake then flowing eastward through Lake Worth and then the city of Fort Worth.

The Clear Fork begins north of Weatherford and flows southeastward through man-made Lake Weatherford and man-made Benbrook and then northeastward, where it joins the West Fork near downtown Fort Worth and continues as the West Fork.

The Elm Fork flows south from near Gainsville and east of the city of Denton. The West Fork and the Elm Fork merge as they enter the city of Dallas and form the Trinity River.

The East Fork begins near Mckinney and joins the Trinity River just southeast of Dallas.

The Trinity then flows southeastward from Dallas across a fertile floodplain and pine forests of eastern Texas, many of which were settled during the period of the Republic of Texas. It flows onward south, into Trinity Bay, an arm of Galveston Bay, an inlet of the Gulf Of Mexico, near the town of Anahuac east of Houston.

Dallas Paddling Trail Map

The proposed Dallas Trinity River Paddling Trail will be 10 miles in length from the Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp to the Loop 12 Boat Ramp. Crossing under 15 bridges along the way.

Trailhead location is at the Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp:

3700 Sylvan Avenue Dallas Texas

Loop 12 Boat Ramp address:

4600 Loop 12 Dallas Texas

Trail Description:The first 3.5 miles are inside the Trinity River Levees in what amounts to a man made ditch. There are very few areas to get out of your boat in this area since the banks are steep. The first real chance to get out of your boat if you wish is at the Dallas Wave, just past the DART Bridge. An information kiosk is planned for this location.

Past the Dallas Wave, the river is no longer in a man made channel. The trees are larger, banks easier to manage and you will see more wildlife. The mouth of Cedar Creek just above the Cedar Crest/MLK Bridge is a good spot to stop before continuing further. From that point forward you slip deeper into the forest where the city noise gives way to those of nature.

Past the 310 Highway Bridge it's possible to stop at the Buckeye Trail Overlooks and the mouth of White Rock Creek as you make your way to the Loop 12 Boat Ramp.

The current is usually quite slow, even when the river is high. Expect no more than 2mph of movement downstream. Since the wind is usually blowing from the south, you can expect a strong headwind which can impede your progress and lengthening the duration of the trip by a considerable amount.

In the summer, the best option for paddling the Trinity is to take short breaks under each bridge in the shade. Here you can look up at the resident Cliff Swallow communities that call the bridges home for the summer. At least one bridge also has a resident bat population. If you travel the river in the evening shortly before sunset you can see the bats leave their roosts for the evening.

There are not any good spots to bail the route early or ways to shorten the trip once you pass the Dallas Wave. The distance from the river to a nearby road that can be reached by private vehicle is over 1/3 of a mile in most cases and is not workable. Plan accordingly.

The Sylvan Avenue boat ramp is large enough to launch small boats, canoes, kayaks, small motorboats. Ample parking is available to park vehicles. No water fountains available.

Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp

Note: As of this posting, the Trinity River is closed along a portion of the route between Sylvan Avenue and the Cedar Crest Blvd/MLK Bridge. This is due to construction safety concerns regarding ongoing bridge projects. The Calatrava Bridge at mile 1 and the Santa Fe Trestle Trail bridge at mile 3.5. The city cannot close the river itself to traffic. Just use caution when using the river in these areas.

Closure sign at Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp(mile 0):

Calatrava construction(mile 1)

Warning sign on the river at upstream approach to Dallas Wave:

The signs above were originally placed along the river during the summer of 2010 when the Trinity River was originally moved from the traditional streambed for the coffer dam construction for the Dallas Wave/Standing Wave whitewater project. The signs as of April 2011 are still in place. Overhead construction for the Santa Fe Trestle Trail is ongoing in this area.

The route through this area is to stay on the left hand side, north bank as you approach the Dallas Wave. A bypass channel has been built into the Dallas Wave allowing for easier passage for non-surfing traffic. The south bank features a small landing above the Dallas Wave for portaging if one wants to go that route.

Loop 12 Boat Ramp

Handy links:

Trinity River flow gauge:

Trinity River Gauge at Commerce Street Bridge

Canoe Dallas, canoe rental and guide service for Trinity River

Dallas Wave information

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Garzilla" record sized Alligator Gar caught on Trinity River

One of the largest Alligator Gar ever caught in Texas was landed on the Trinity River south of Dallas by Joseph Williams on April 14th. Texas Parks and Wildlife says that the "Garzilla" was caught alive, weighed and passed away despite attempts to revive it. This gar is a monster. One of the largest ever at 7 feet 9 inches long and over 200 pounds. In order to find certified scales large enough to weigh the alligator gar, they could only find a truck scale. The truck scale measures in 50 pound increments and while the record books will show it as an even 200, the alligator gar was weighed on a reliable but unofficial scale tipping 230 pounds.

Many biologists believe that overfishing and overhunting of the alligator gar on the Trinity River have severely impacted the size and population of the fish.

Joseph Williams with Trinity River water body record Alligator Gar 7' 9" 200+ pounds
The Trinity River is the longest river wholly within the State of Texas. 45% of all Texans get their drinking water from the Trinity River watershed. It's exciting to see such a large fish grow to such size in a river that humans have used and abused for so many decades.

TPWD staff with Garzilla the record alligator gar caught by rod and reel on the Trinity River

The alligator gar is one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America and is the largest of the gar species. Gars are slow growing fish, with female alligator gars reaching sexual maturity around age 11 and living to age 50. Male alligator gars mature around age 6 and live at least 26 years. Alligator gars commonly grow to a size of 6 1/2ft and over 100 lbs. But have been reported to grow up to 350 lbs. The largest recorded alligator gar comes from the St. Francis River, Arkansas in the 1930's, and weighed 350 lbs. The Alligator Gar above will easily break the State of Texas Trinity River water body record. What makes this gar exceptional is that the Alligator Gar Texas state record has stood for over 50 years.

Alligator Gar Atractosteus spatula

Alligator gars appear sluggish, however they are voracious predators. Gars are ambush predators, primarily piscivores, they lay still in the water until an unsuspecting fish swims by, and then lunging forward and lashing the head from side to side in order to capture prey. Many times gars will lay still at the top of the water for long periods of time, appearing to be merely a log. The alligator gars' diet consists primarily of fish. This gar is also known to prey on waterfowl and other birds, small mammals, turtles, and carrion. Alligator gars have been reported to attack duck decoys and eat injured waterfowl shot by hunters.

Due to its extremely large size, an adult alligator gar has few natural predators. Young gars are preyed upon by larger fish, but once they reach a size of about 3 feet their only natural predator would be an American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). The alligator gar is rare, endangered, and has even gone extinct from many of the outer areas of its range. Studies in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana have shown that the alligator gar is very susceptible to overfishing. It has been classified as rare in Missouri, threatened in Illinois, and endangered in Arkansas, Kentucky, and is soon to be in Tennessee.

 Trinity River Alligator Gar research by TPWD indicates:
  • Alligator gar live beyond 50 years. 
  • Alligator have a low natural mortality (less than 9 percent per year on average). 
  • There are an estimated 9,200 alligator gar 42 inches or longer in the upper Trinity (from below DFW to Lake Livingston). 
  • Estimated sustainable harvest from the Trinity would be about 400 alligator gar  42 inches or longer annually of which only 60 gar can be above 70 inches. 
  • There appears to be very limited movement between  coastal alligator gar and those within the Trinity River. This suggests that localized overfishing may be possible in high-use areas.
  • The estimated current rate of harvest for the upper Trinity is about 3 percent to 4 percent of the total population per year, which TPWD considers sustainable if recruitment is maintained. 
  • In the Trinity it takes about three to five years for alligator gar to reach a length of 42 inches and 20 to 50 years to reach a length of 78 inches.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Texas Wildflowers At McCommas Bluff Preserve Dallas, Texas

Video above features wildflowers growing along the top of McCommas Bluff, near a small chapel and a view across the Trinity River of the preserve, taken on April 9, 2011.

Small chapel among bluebonnets at McCommas Preserve
Access to the McCommas Bluff Preserve and trails have never been easier. In the week of April 3rd some mowing was done to the trail route from the terminus of Riverwood Road upstream to the Woodland Springs Creek area near the Dallas Audubon Center. This allows one to travel easily from Riverwood to Fairport road very easily. This particular trail can become quite overgrown by early May and the mowing will greatly help with keeping the trail open through Memorial Day.

More information about the location of McCommas Bluff Preserve and a trail map can be found in a previous post here:

McCommas Bluff Preserve address and information

Monday, April 4, 2011

First official flood for Dallas Waves, Trinity River Whitewater Project

The evening of April 4th, 2011 marked the first time since the completion of the Dallas Waves aka the Trinity River Standing Wave that it faced total inundation by the Trinity River. The coffer dam was removed in late December of 2010. Since that time the Trinity River watershed above the project has not received enough rainfall to submerse the site. I was half hoping to see gigantic rooster tails of deadly whitewater similar to what one might find on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. No such luck. I imagine there must be a sweet spot around 1000cfs where the river is the most surfable.

Park is set to officially open in early May 2011. Another project on the same site, the Santa Fe Trestle Trail will allow bike and foot traffic a place to cross the river. It has a planned opening in the Fall of 2011 with improvements to Moore Park on the Oak Cliff side of the Trinity River.

Dallas Waves, Trinity River as viewed in a dry state 3 days before Trinity River returned to normal bed
I have casually followed the project since it was nothing more than a set of survey stakes hammered into the ragweed along the bank of the river in June of 2010. I visited the site numerous times over the course of the summer because it afforded an easy place to cross the river via mountain bike when I was out on training rides along the levees.

Currently one can reach the Dallas Waves, Standing Wave from either the north or south levee of the Trinity. Seems that most visitors prefer the Oak Cliff or south side since it can be reached by parking at the Corinth DART Rail Station or on the gravel access road near the construction site. Most of the amenities like put-in ramps, take-outs, viewing area etc are on the Oak Cliff side of the river.

The other access point is via the north side of the river where Riverfront (Industrial) Blvd dead ends at a gate. Walk from there.

Both entrances are roughly the same distance from the river. The Oak Cliff side offers a better view of Downtown and easier access to the river.

Old AT&SF bridge with DART bridge behind it prior to construction June 2010

By July of 2010, a diversion channel was built to detour the Trinity from its bed to allow an in-channel set of obstructions that are designed to create a "standing wave".

Cofferdam in place

Diversion Channel of Doom

When the water was diverted out of the old Trinity River Channel it created a slightly narrower, steeper, rocky version of the old bed. The result spelled doom for some inexperienced river goers who had rented some canoes earlier in the day. I believe there were a couple of superficial injuries and some finger pointing between the city, contractor and the canoeists in regard to liability and overall safety.

In the video above the water does not look too dangerous until you realize it's only a couple of feet deep and armored with sharp rocks.

Temporary construction bridge over diversion channel prior to river being diverted

A bone dry Trinity River bed
November 2010

December 2010

Trinity River Standing Wave with cofferdam 25 percent removed in December 2010. During a "normal" flow, the structure looks just like the video above.