This is a land grant born from the heavy cost of a revolutionary war to gain independence from a tyrannical despotic regime. A great American from the State of Tennessee paid the ultimate price to have his name attached to the land here. His sacrifice forever consecrated this acreage of land with his family name. A Congressman, frontiersman and volunteer in the Army of The Republic of Texas who gave his life for a cause greater than his own on the morning of March 6, 1836 inside the walls of The Alamo. His name is known to every Native Texan ever to step foot in a Texas public school. Crockett. David "Davy" Crockett.
The 400 acre parcel of Great Trinity Forest that sits just west of the Trinity River Audubon Center was granted to Crockett by the Texas Government and Nacogdoches County for enlistment in the Army of the Republic of Texas. His wife, by then made a widow by the Battle of the Alamo, was given deed to the land. It still carries her name today, Elizabeth Crockett.
|Sam Street's 1900 Map of Dallas showing the Crockett Headright on the Trinity River in what is now called the Great Trinity Forest, Dallas, Texas.|
On January 14, 1836, Crockett and 65 other men signed an oath before Judge John Forbes to the Provisional Government of Texas for six months: "I have taken the oath of government and have enrolled my name as a volunteer and will set out for the Rio Grande in a few days with the volunteers from the United States." Davy Crockett's military service entitled him to a "Labor and a League" of land here in Texas. A labor roughly equals a couple hundred acres of prime riparian land and a league is a little over 4400 acres that was out and away from a river.
|Red-Tailed Hawk at the Audubon Center|
That Crockett land for the most part looks the same today as when the people of the Republic granted the land to Crockett's widow. Deep old growth woods of majestic hardwoods, dense thickets of vines and underbrush that are the incubator for wildlife. Crockett's widow ultimately decided to live on another piece of her husband's granted lands near Acton but the name CROCKETT will forever stare back at whoever holds deed to the land.
To those unfamiliar with the Great Trinity Forest, a romantic tale like that is how they picture one of the largest urban parklands in the United States. Big, open and green. I wish all of the land down there was like that. It's not. It has been dumped on and destroyed upon for decades. Some of the worst damage has been inflicted just within the last five years.
|A sea of wildflowers on the Pemberton Back Forty near White Rock Creek|
The millions of dollars in remediation involved in fixing the problems here threaten to damage the fragile life that still exists. New construction threatens places of epic importance to all Texans, the Audubon Center, a natural spring called Big Spring, Native American sites and a unique riparian watershed that is home to thousands of animals.
The problems here, the unresolved issues, the sheer magnitude of what is at stake for the future of the Great Trinity Forest needs a larger audience. I cannot do it myself.
My eyes get glazed over reading all this stuff. I hate talking about it. Takes all the fun out of coming down to the Trinity River to be honest. My introduction to this part of the Great Trinity Forest began with the Texas Horse Park. The first executive director of the Texas Horse Park invited me for breakfast at Kuby's early one morning and hashed out introductions with many of whom so many of you have learned about through this blog. So many good things have come from that.
What started some years ago with me blindly wandering around on a mountain bike by myself now has now turned into a large and well respected group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting the unique nature and sites down on the Trinity. There is no name, no organization, no leader. Just a large and ever expanding group of like minded folks from very diverse professional backgrounds. Biologists, foresters, chemists, engineers, attorneys, doctors, educators, I think even a yankee and two Oklahomans snuck in to boot. Decades upon decades of experience they each bring to this issue. Measured and methodical in their approach. Far smarter than I, it's a pleasure to spend time with them on these salons in the wild.
The most well respected names in Texas environmental causes have visited this spring and early summer. It has been an honor to meet so many of them. They have taken away a deeper understanding of the place, documented it with careful field notes and have each brought an important pair of new eyes to watch what happens next. They are accomplished authors, public speakers, journalists and lecturers. Well versed in making their voice heard if needed.
Often on these visits to the woods, standing shoulder to shoulder will be the grandson descendants of the Beeman and Pemberton families, representing 172 years of continuous family land ownership in the Great Trinity Forest. They know what's right for the future here in these woods. The city needs to embrace them and their family legacy. A century from now it will be looked upon as preserving the richest family story in Dallas County. Historian and Beeman, MC Toyer and Billy Ray Pemberton are the family Patriarchs of the Trinity. They hold the torch. A big bright torch with a flame so high you cannot see the top. If the city wants to continue the rich history down here and carry the torch themselves, they need to wrap their arms around the brotherhood of these men. They both want to help but cannot find the right people to engage with inside city hall. It's the city that needs the guiding light and the help.
A Condensed Primer On What's Going On --
|Turtle in Big Spring|
The two links below distill the raw data into two condensed executive summaries. Click on them to download the pdfs. The underlying questions are ones for which I do not have an answer. The links explain much of how it happened and what will happen in regards to cleanup:
Dang, the Horse Park land is messed up, how are they gonna fix that, who the hell screwed that place up?
If you are a resident of the Pemberton Hill neighborhood and on well water the above link is a must read.
How they are gonna fix the future golf course is it gonna screw over the Audubon Center?
Read on below for a further explanation or even better go straight to the source:
Compiled by Hal and Ted Barker, the website has links to raw data that can take days to read. Much of the information was aggregated by Open Record Request some of which required a Texas Attorney General opinion to obtain.
It's time for the City of Dallas to get on the ball with all this.
The Old Ghosts of a Time Long Since Passed
|John Beeman's Republic of Texas medallion on White Rock Creek|
|Emily Beeman; Frontier Mother, Frontier Defender|
|Warren Ferris; Surveyor, Indian Fighter, Explorer|
December 29, 1940 was a cold bright day in Dallas. One where the late fall frosts had worked their magic on the last summer's batch of weeds and undergrowth making for a perfect day to explore the Trinity River. Out that day was Forrest Kirkland, founder of the Dallas Archeological Society and foremost expert on Texas Native American rock art.
On the same day when the Luftwaffe was unleashing upon London one of the heaviest firebombing raids of the Battle Of Britain, Forrest Kirkland was sketching and documenting a large Native American Site just South of the Pemberton Farm and Big Spring. Given the designation DL73, he documented a large and expansive Native American occupation area some 600 yards in length running north to south across what some day might become the Texas Horse Park. His field notes discuss the large amount of bird points, arrowheads and even grind stones found at the location in the vicinity of a small unnamed tributary to the Trinity River.
|Forrest Kirkland's report of DL73; photo credit Dr Tim Dalbey|
Forrest Kirkland established himself as one of the leading researchers on Texas Native American Rock Art. During the work week he was an illustrator and designer of print media catalogs and advertisements. His design company was well respected and the industry leader of it's day. Living in Dallas, his weekends were often filled with exploration and fieldwork in the Dallas metropolitan area. In the 1930s and early 1940s much of Dallas County was still rural in nature, affording him great expanses of open terrain in which to work.
His prolific study of White Rock Creek yielded numerous archeological sites from the source tributaries in Collin County all the way to the mouth of White Rock where it enters the Trinity River.
Protecting Big Spring and Native American Sites
On the surface, little has changed in the way much of the land looked in 1940 when Forrest Kirkland was taking his field notes, searching the unnamed tributaries and briar laden undergrowth for a long lost Indian civilization. That site was largely spared the ravages in the decades to come. It's still there but for how long.
Citizen science has always played a vital role in the discovery, conservation and preservation of unique historical sites in Texas. Without the scientific observations of private citizens much of the invaluable history of Dallas would be lost or never found to begin with.
|Native American hammerstones, raw unfinished rocks and unique hematite worked pieces found over the decades at Big Spring|
|Rich Grayson(left) and Dr Tim Dalbey(right)|
There are some unsung heroes who have been at work doing this kind of thing for years down in the woods. Guys like Rich Grayson and Tim Dalbey, seen at left doing the monthly TCEQ and EPA certified water test on Big Spring in late June 2013.
Rich is the DFW Coordinator for the Texas Stream Team, a cooperative partnership between Texas State University, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). His test criteria meets and exceeds federal, state and local standards. Carrying the identifier #80939, Big Spring is an official monitored site. In addition to coordinating water tests in the DFW area, Rich serves a webmaster for Friends of the Brazos.
Geoarcheologist Tim Dalbey has been instrumental in keeping everyone honest(so far, fingers crossed) about DL72, the Big Spring archeology site that extends into the platted area of the Texas Horse Park at 811 Pemberton Hill Road. The 13th century pottery and beautiful ceremonial style arrowheads found here in early 2013 by the city contracted archeology company suggest something very special lies beneath the Horse Park. What it might be remains to be seen.
|Sunset over the Trinity River Valley, Dallas, Texas June 2013 in the Pemberton Wildflower Meadow that serves as an important bio-buffer for Big Spring seen in the trees beyond. Pictured at left Rich Grayson, right Billy Ray Pemberton|
No politician or city official can take credit for any conservation effort here at Big Spring. The pristine pasture is a result of regular citizens rolling up their sleeves and taking a vested interest in the place. Lending a helping hand. The result is a slice of Old Texas. The Republic. The Lone Star. Smells like the country. Sounds of the city melt away. You know what that's about.
|The ancient Bur Oak of Big Spring dwarfing Billy Ray Pemberton at left and Rich Grayson right, June 2013|
|Billy Ray Pemberton and his 133 year family legacy on the land here|
|Billy Ray Pemberton; Modern Day White Rock Farmer|
He and his wife Zada have fought harder for the land here than anyone who came before them. Deeply devoted to the teachings of The Bible and the land, they have developed a harmony here where their moral high ground values and solid work ethic inspire so many others to join their cause.
|Big Spring at the Pemberton Farm|
Native Americans used the Spring on an extensive basis.Their tools and tool making pieces litter the ground here. Centuries worth. President Sam Houston slept here at Big Spring nearly 170 years ago with his entourage Treaty Party that made peace with the Indians of North Texas in 1843.
Mr Pemberton learned much about the land and farming, how to run a ranch by a man named Wallace Jenkins.
Wallace Jenkins 1930s-early 1960s
|Wallace Jenkins; 1950s Farmer, Rancher on his farm at 811 Pemberton Hill Road among his waist high oat crop|
|Pond B on the north end of DL73 built during the time Wallace Jenkins owned 811 Pemberton Hill|
|Wallace Jenkins service bay garages|
The Jenkins Farm must have been a sight to behold. Mr Pemberton worked there as a young boy in the 1940s tending to small chores around the ranch headquarters. Jenkins kept two Lincoln Zephyr automobiles on the ranch according to Mr Pemberton, that Jenkins would use to drive his property. Many of the Jenkins structures stood until 2012 when they were bulldozed.
The end of the Wallace Jenkins Farm era represents the end of anything good that ever happened here. All downhill from 1965 through 2013.
The Simpkins Tract -- Metropolitan Sand and Gravel --The Teamsters --The Syndicate
|The Loop 12 Landfill about where the PGA Clubhouse will be built|
You might remember Morris. He's famous. Made famous(er) in the mid 1990s by Martin Scorsese's movie Casino. Morris is portrayed in the movie by actor Richard Riehle as a "back east" attorney who receives a tongue lashed speech from Joe Pesci's character Nicky.
Shenker first came to national attention during the Kefauver Hearings in the early 1950s, in which he represented a number of underworld figures. From 1962 onward Shenker represented Jimmy Hoffa, and in 1966 became Hoffa's chief counsel. In 1970 a year-long Life Magazine investigative report accused him, as head of the St. Louis Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement, along with the city's mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, of both having "personal ties to the underworld". The magazine alleged that Shenker controlled the massive $700 million Teamsters Union Pension Fund and its investments, most notably in Las Vegas but also in San Diego (through developer Louis Lesser), New York, Kansas City, and elsewhere. In the late 1960s, Morris Shenker bought an interest in the Dunes and became its Chairman of the Board. Because of his Teamsters connection, Shenker, who operated the Dunes Hotel and Casino in the 1970s, ran afoul of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
|View of Downtown Dallas from Trinity River Golf site|
The Teamsters and their backers were always at odds with the city. When the Trinity River canal plans began to fizzle the investment group started facing political heat from the city wanting the land repurposed for a landfill. The group of investors looked at other uses for the land including a large mobile home trailer park, apartments and a new housing subdivision.
Metropolitan Sand and Gravel ran a gravel pit operation south of Elam Road from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s. During this time they also ran a private landfill operation on a moderate scale.
In 1975, the City of Dallas under permit began a large landfill operation south of Elam Road and northwest of the present day Trinity River Audubon Center. They became known as the Elam and South Loop Landfills. As an interesting sidenote, originally one partner in the investment group defaulted on his loan regarding the land here. He used a 20 acre parcel of land as collateral near Downtown Dallas. The Teamsters took possession of the land with the default of the loan. That land was later sold to Ray Hunt who developed it into Reunion Arena and Reunion Tower.
The Landfill And How The City Got the Land
|Feral pig damage that unearthed a section of the buried Elam landfill|
|The Burrescia land at 5950 Elam Road just east of the old Elam Landfill|
With the landfill closures in 1983, the capping and monitoring of the landfills began. A layer of dirt and limestone based crushed rock was placed over the top providing a thin veneer "cap" of the landfill. Over the next two decades periodic testing was completed on the landfill with installation of further monitoring wells, investigations into toxic materials dumped inside the landfills, methane etc.
|5950 Elam Road, former home of Let's Cowboy Up a Non-Profit grass roots community horsemanship group|
In 2008 the City of Dallas acquired the land in an unorthodox method. Hard to explain but it involved a complex set of lawsuits and land unrelated to the Great Trinity Forest. The Dallas Business Journal has a great article about it from 2008 and can be found on their website Dallas Makes Trinity Forest Grab by Bill Hethcock. That story continues to this day Dallas appeals court vacates city's $750k jury award.
When the city bought the landfill, they inherited not only a landfill with underlying problems but a tenant running a slaughterhouse operation at 811 Pemberton Hill Road. The cleanup and long term legacy of fixing issues that stem from that are ones that will be shouldered on the backs of taxpayers for years to come. The TCEQ found the City of Dallas landfill in violation back in 2008 and thus set in motion a mandatory/voluntary cleanup.
|Animal Carcass Pit at 811 Pemberton Hill Road|
|White Indian Paintbrush a rare sight|
Cleaning It Up
|Tire Dump Southwest of Pond B|
Dang, the Horse Park land is messed up, how are they gonna fix that, who the hell screwed that place up?
How they are gonna fix the future golf course is it gonna screw over the Audubon Center?
The testing done to determine the pollution and toxicity of the soil, groundwater and surface conditions is very detailed. Broken down by location and chemical it serves as an excellent guide to where the problem areas are.
|Terracon drilling equipment in Big Spring Pasture winter 2013|
Site Plan Map
Proposed VCP Area Map
Site Plan and Sampling Locations
Soil Analytical Results A
Soil Analytical Results B
Groundwater Analytical Results
Surface Water and Analytical Results
In order to make heads and tails of most of it I have amended a few maps to show locations of importance to many reading this in three sections. The north section that focuses on Big Spring and the future Texas Horse Park. A central section that has focuses on contaminated ponds and seeps that flow directly into the Trinity River. The last but not least is the south section with the vital bird ponds that are so important to the Trinity River Audubon Center.
North Section -- Horse Park
In red are areas of interest that are hard to spot on the Terracon Maps or are unlabeled. Of note is the Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH PCLE Contamination Zone), see below. Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons are cancer causing substances that can be a root host of environmental damage and illnesses in humans.
|PAH PCLE zone and mapped areas of nitrate contamination at the platted Horse Park site at 811 Pemberton Hill Road|
|Damaged area where weeds will not even grow|
Most PAHs in the environment are from incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials like oil, wood, garbage or coal. Many useful products such as mothballs, blacktop, and creosote wood preservatives contain PAHs.
The carcinogenicity of certain PAHs is well established in laboratory animals. Researchers have reported increased incidences of skin, lung, bladder, liver, and stomach cancers, as well as injection-site sarcomas, in animals. PAHs can also be directly genotoxic, meaning that the chemicals themselves or their breakdown products can directly interact with genes and cause damage to DNA. 2000-3000 cubic yards. All the dirt needs to be removed down to the bedrock.
|April 2013 aerial view of contamination area, foreground right(looking south from the Big Spring Pasture)|
|Texas Horse Park overlay showing building footprint over a portion of the contamination zone (looking south from the Big Spring Pasture)|
|DL72 Native American artifacts credit: Tim Dalbey|
Fire up Google Earth and enter the KMZ file located here Texas Horse Park Overlay to get a better look. Use Google Earth's fantastic History Tool to see historical imagery of the site. One will quickly see that this dumping unfortunately occurred rather recently.
|Aerial overlay showing yellow boxed PAH PCLE zone credit: MC Toyer|
|Contamination and monitoring overlay at 811 Pemberton Hill|
|Horse Park Overlay|
|The expansive former Animal Farm/Slaughter facility at 811 Pemberton Hill Road|
The worry to so many is that the carcinogens and other materials will enter the perched aquifer that runs the length of the escarpment. It would prove impossible to undo damage to the aquifer, a vital water supply that many neighbors still rely on for a water supply. This is a problem that needs be daylighted in the community as it could effect the well being of humans, pets and their livestock.
Central Section -- AT&T Trail and pollution entering directly into the Trinity River
I have highlighted some areas of note in the Central Section. The barren area north of Loop 12 will be the 9 hole Golf Course and First Tee organization's HQ.
If you refer to the Terracon Maps linked earlier in the post, Pond J and the Seeps are of particular notes of contamination. High levels of thallium, lead, barium and other chemicals that are hazardous to man and beast alike. The area saw some pre-sanitary landfill dumping in the 1950s and early 1960s. The refuse leaches chemicals into the water there and directly enters the Trinity River unabated.
|Limestone Seeps as seen from mid-stream in the Trinity River. Notice the concrete pipe in the far background. That pipe leads up to the Pond J area of concern, February 2013|
|Limestone seeps upstream of Loop 12, a popular fishing area for South Dallas residents, from February 2013|
|Rare Box Turtle on the Simpkins Tract|
|Pave The Trinity Trail Plan source: City of Dallas|
The proposed AT&T Trail might one day run right through this contamination area. The city contractor notes that extensive remediation will need to be done so that human recreation can happen here. Just the idea of the AT&T Trail is a poorly thought through premise. This area will only complicate matters for an proposed trail that is not welcomed by so many users down here.
South Section-- The Golf Course and the special ponds
According to the contractor documents, the southern portion of the landfill cap here is failing. The remediation plan is one of heavy construction in this area, one that will most likely have a direct impact on some very important ponds. Pond M, Pond Q and Pond T.
Pond T and the unnamed small pond directly to the west of the Audubon Center serve as the lifeblood of fin and feather for the facility. It's a series of ponds where the shallow water allows for wading birds, otters and other wildlife a secluded retreat where they can feed, breed and raise young. One of the single most important ponds in Dallas County.
There is contamination around it that will need to be addressed. Whether or not the dynamics of the pond are detrimentally harmed by this construction is unknown.
Send an email to the Golf Course designers
If you are a patron and fan of the Audubon Center(awesome place) take the time to email the design firm for the Trinity Forest Golf Course, Coore and Crenshaw http://www.coorecrenshaw.com/. They are still designing the course and the elements to incorporate it into the environment down on the river. Let them know what you like about the Audubon Center and let them know how concerned you are about the Golf Course moving in next door. The golf course can be built in a manner that is wildlife friendly and let them know that you'd like to see it built that way.
The city is essentially privatizing a huge chunk of what the still refer to as the Great Trinity Forest. A giant donut hole in what the city always advertised as the largest urban park in the United States. No more.With a slight of hand change in zoning, the parkland and woods we all know as a urban refuge will soon become a private enclave for the wealthy.
The zoning in certain areas, namely the Solano Soccer Club allow for a large building, maybe even a hotel the size of those seen in Las Colinas. The history and the sites which I have detailed here will most certainly be impacted and many will be lost forever. The Native American sites, the wildlife and great Trinity River itself will vanish as we know it.
Some of us are arriving a little late to the awareness to the swindling the land got down here. It will be hard to finger blame on someone for it as a result. After all, our city hall forefathers spent the better part of the last century trying the best they could to kill off the natural world down here and they damn near accomplished it.
Seems that going through the documents about all the damage that surely occurred after the City of Dallas 2008 purchase that we as citizens of Dallas seem to have been occupying ourselves with finishing the job those so long ago started. Shame on us. We should have been watching....we are now.