Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trinity River Wetlands -- Waterfowl and The Cormorant Roost

The lengthening shadows of autumn and the cold crisp of the morning dawns are slowly ushering in the birds of the Canadian wilderness into the Trinity River Wetland Cells. The muted squawk calls of tropical storks and spoonbills are replaced by the cacophony alarm calls of ducks and cormorants.

Mallard Ducks Overflying Trinity River Wetlands Dawn October 27, 2012

These are the early arrivals. The Mallards, Wood Ducks, Teals, Coots and Cormorants who arrive in late September and leave around Easter. In larger numbers around Thanksgiving the Northern Shovelers, Ruddys and Canvasbacks will appear in great numbers if form follows the past several winters. Late October is a great time to get your bearings down here and the vegetation along the edges of the cells still provides great cover till the first frost.

Access to the Wetland Cells is easy. One can park at the Loop 12 Boat Ramp lot on Great Trinity Forest Way. Then walk up the embankment of the divided road, entering the Wetland Cells via the old Sleepy Hollow Country Club parking lot. Currently the gate is broken at the Sleepy Hollow entrance, the weld failed on the padlocking portion of the gate. In theory one could park on that old Sleepy Hollow parking lot but I'd discourage it if you follow the letter of the law.

The other parking option is in the Freedman's Town of Joppa, where Fellows Lane dead-ends at a bar gate 4900 Fellows Lane. Like the bar gate near Loop 12(Great Trinity Forest Way) this entrance has also been undermined to some degree. Though the gate is locked, one can navigate through the vacant lot to the west and then into the Wetland Cell 4x4 roads. This footprint of vacant lots will eventually become a gateway park for Joppa into the Wetland Cells. More about the interesting twists, turns and hurdles this park might face can be read about on the Dallas Observer website in an article To Build Joppa Gateway Park...

This is also one of the few areas currently accessible for horses. Using the workaround on Fellows Lane you can get into the wetland cells via horse without an issue. The old access roads are horse friendly and routinely ridden by locals that live in the area.

If one wanted to see this with a group, next weekend, Saturday November 3rd the Corps of Engineers will host an informative hike at the Fellows Lane entrance. Their information for that event is below: Gather/park at the end of Fellows Lane in the historic Joppa neighborhood. Tour leaves about 8 a.m. through the gate to the nearby wetlands. Dr. Gary Dick, a research ecologist for the Corps of Engineers in Lewisville, will lead the tour of the Trinity wetlands. They were designed by the Corps for the city of Dallas to lower flood risk and create a quality grassland and aquatic habitat that provides food for both migratory and resident birds. Jane Ramberg, of Trinity Bird Count, will lead efforts to record what species can be spotted in this zone of the river basin in Dallas County to continue building an important historic record. Bring good hiking shoes and suitable outdoor apparel – and your binoculars. Contact: Jim Frisinger, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 817-901-9644 james.c.frisinger@usace.army.mil
The ducks are not the half-wild birds of White Rock Lake looking for a sack full of Mrs Bairds. They are as wild as they come. The only way to get close and get a good look at them is to get to the Wetland Cells thirty minutes before the first crack of dawn -or- be in the Wetland Cells and stay put an hour before sunset. During these times the birds move around quite a bit and offer the best views as they awaken to start the day or preen themselves for the evening.

Ducks in Wetland Cell G, Trinity River Wetlands
Timing and patience is everything. Without treelines and brush to hide your approach, the sightlines of the wildlife can be 400 yards are more. Even at the limits of their sight, they will readily take flight at anything resembling a human form. The ducks above flew into the wetland cells from the east around 45 minutes prior to sunrise. Coming in staggered groups of six to eight they formed an impressive collection by the time the sun rose over the riverbottom.

 The Cormorant Roost
Ducks in flight over the Trinity River Wetlands Cormorant Roost Site
Cormorants on the river
This fall, Double Breasted Cormorants have taken roost in the large grove of cottonwood trees that line the banks of the Trinity River just downstream of the confluence of the river and White Rock Creek. The trees are 2000 feet due east of the Fellows Lane gate and 1000 feet due east of the large manmade "pyramid" mound that sits just north of Wetland Cell G.

I would estimate the current cormorant population here of 300-500 birds. They arose later in the morning than the ducks, right around sunrise. Taking off in flights of three dozen or more at a time to feed for the day. Less timid than their waterfowl counterparts the cormorants seem to be much more tolerant of a human observing from a distance.

Double Crested Cormorants at dawn forming up to leave for the day

The cormorants here seem to just roost in the trees and do most of their fishing on the actual river instead of the Wetland Cells. Last winter I saw a great number of cormorants fishing a large shoal where White Rock Creek feeds into the Trinity. The quarry species looked to be shad that day and I expect the cormorants feed mostly on that species in this part of the river.

The flock returns to the roost around an hour before sunset in groups of no more than four or five. The view on a clear evening of this ingress of cormorants is best viewed from atop the "pyramid" feature. From here one can spot the birds over half a mile away with Downtown Dallas as a backdrop.
Cormorants on evening roost at the Trinity River Wetland Cells
Cormorants consume a couple pounds of fish per day. Some parts of the country consider them a growing nuisance in the summer months when their roosting threatens to defoliate the trees they call home. Since these birds roost in Texas during the winter months the threat to trees in negligible. A large population such as this also puts a dent in the fish population to some extent. So little is known about fish populations in the main stem of the Trinity and since consumption of fish by humans is ill advised, the birds seem to have picked a great spot to be left alone.

Cormorant numbers have rebounded in the last 40 years. At one time the widespread use of DDT decimated their numbers due to weakened shells caused by the chemical. The rapid rebound of the species seems to be near exponential in the past ten years. Another large roosting group of cormorants overwinter on the northwest corner of White Rock Lake near the intersection of West Lawther and Mockingbird. Having seen both roost sites, the White Rock Lake site is very quiet compared to the loud and noisy Wetland Cell location.

Waxing Gibbous Moon and Egret at Wetland Cell F
Many of the other resident species found down here year round seem to keep their distance from the cormorants. The egrets that are usually found in Cell G have moved into Cell F further up the chain.

Cell F cascades into Cell G via a short dam, sluice and aqueduct that can be seen from the Fellows Lane entrance. Upstream one can walk/hike/bike as far as the I-45 bridge. The wetland cell here is known as Cell E and has a resident beaver population.

Wood Ducks
The Corps of Engineers has also built Wood Duck boxes along the Wetland Cells in various locations. Last year there was a breeding pair at Lemmon Lake and in Wetland Cell F. The birds at right were flying over that same Cell F area this fall.

American Kestrel at Wetland Cell F
I'm not much of a bird person so I'm sure that I have missed the dozen or more species of smaller birds that flyby and live in the brush. The larger ones catch my eye and this time of year a large number of hawks, eagles and vultures of all shapes move through following their food. Kestrels seem to be in abundance here where they pick over the short cut grass over the wetlands. The same can be said of the Kingfishers who make easy work of baitfish in the cells.
Trio of Kingfishers at Wetland Cell G near Honey Springs

The Ongoing Affair With Poaching

Wanna drink beer and shoot? Come to Joppa Nature Preserve!

One of these days, someone is going to get hurt down in the Great Trinity Forest by irresponsible individuals firing their weapons at anything that moves. These two were on a leisurely stroll on Saturday October 20th on the Great Trinity Forest paved path in Joppa Preserve. Shooting at ducks in Little Lemmon Lake from the powerline right of way, then shooting at birds perched on the powerlines and powerline towers that bisect the preserve between Little Lemmon Lake and Lemmon Lake.

This trail cost millions and millions of dollars to build. It sits unused to a degree because of the stigma attached to the neighborhoods that surround it, crime, unsavory people etc. Most of the negative news is overblown to a degree. The stink sticks though.

The trail is built to the same standard as the Katy Trail and White Rock Lake trails enjoyed by so many. Imagine seeing two men with guns shooting and drinking at the lake or in uptown. Imagine the trouble they would be in. The city ordinances and state laws broken would have them in jail all weekend. Not so down here.

The Dallas Police Department merely told these guys that they might not want to shoot down here anymore because someone complained. The police were kind enough to call me back after I got the hell out of there awaiting a response from calling 911. I could not believe they let them go. I could not believe there is not a zero tolerance policy for rifles of any kind, firing of any kind, hunting/killing of any kind in a city park. The laws are on the books but not enforced.

I have no problem with hunting, shooting, guns. Feel free to buy and shoot as much as you want. Not inside the city limits, not in a city park, not in a nature preserve, not when you are drinking beer and especially not shooting over someone's head that you can plainly see through your scope. It's not a joke, it's not funny. I have been trying the last ten days to see if I'm missing something here. If there is some loophole in the city code that allows for this kind of Walker Texas Ranger hobby down here.

Shooter at River Oaks Parking Lot Sunday October 21st
The problem is epidemic, it's not isolated. Even the next day, a Sunday, after the Cowboy game on October 21st another individual was down there shooting and drinking beer. I wonder how and why this all happened.

The Audubon Society has volunteered hundreds of hours down here to count birds, right in the very spot where these individuals were shooting. Counted in the morning, shot in the afternoon. The city will need to decide what they want this place to look like in five years. Do you want families using the trail or beer drinking man children on a faux hunting safari? It's an easy fix. Lock them up.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ghost Of An Old Swamp In The Great Trinity Forest

Unpretentious. Gritty. Genuine. A backward neck of the woods turned wet six months of the year rarely visited and rarely explored. A place where the pavement ends. These are The Bottoms. A mix of prairie, wetlands, woods, forest and an old ghost of a place called Roosevelt Heights.

High watermark stained trees near the swamp junction of Ash, Oak and White Rock Creeks in the Great Trinity Forest
This is the remnant of a once vast hardwood bottomland forest that stretched from DFW clear to Florida. It was an integral part of prime wildlife habitat that supported black bears, mountain lions and wolves. Trees dominated the floodplain, forming the basic building blocks that supported other species. Early Indian groups were attracted to the water here. They first used the land to gather the rich bounty of pecans, acorns and walnuts. Then shifted to hunting and later to subsistence farming. Right here in these very woods. Evidence of them is still easy to find today. Early Texas settlers took their cue, staking these very woods as the first homesteads in what is now the city of Dallas. In the succeeding century and a half, these same woods were lumbered for building the first structures in Dallas, later the plow took over and this same area became the most fertile farming land in the state. Pockets of this old hardwood bottom still exist. They are hard to find, hard to traverse and hard to explain unless you have been there yourself.

Knee deep hiking through a crystal clear hard bottomed swamp
Looking at a map, the bodies of water here have no name. No signs exist, no tell tale trails to guide you across what little dry ground is down here. Those who rely on Google Maps, printed maps and aerials will quickly find themselves humbled by an area that scarcely resembles that as viewed on the internet. It's deep and dark. The maps will betray you here. On a cloudy morning you will lose your sense of direction. Every tree, every opening, every thicket all looks the same. Towards sunset it could puzzle even the most seasoned hiker. It's a place where few if any mistakes are allowed. A bobble, a fall, a twist of an ankle could be the catalyst towards a life threatening situation.

I have been in this area a number of times before. An area where White Rock Creek begins to slow and meander into a complex cursive shaped set of U's before entering the Trinity River. The best and safest street address for access is the 3000 Municipal in the Rochester Park neighborhood. If one wanted to lengthen their mileage some, parking is also recommended at the Buckeye Trailhead located at 7000 Bexar. On weekends, especially Sunday, I would recommend parking at the Bexar entrance since the Lord's Missionary Baptist Church nearby holds services most of the day. Far safer than parking in Rochester Park.

William Blair/Rochester Park Trails
Crossing White Rock Creek in Rochester Park
The map above is by no means complete. It represents some of the more maintained trails in this section of the Great Trinity Forest. Not represented on the map is a trail that begins near the lake and roughly follows White Rock Creek to the terminus with the Trinity River. The particular hike mentioned in this post, the swamps and hardwood bottoms follows a Dallas Water Utilities Right of Way and ONCOR Powerline as noted in the upper right hand corned of the map. No trail from there, blaze your own!

Crossing White Rock Creek along the right of ways is made easier by the rocks placed by the utility companies to prevent erosion. Seen above, this crossing is located not too far from the Rochester Park Levee and is only a short 5-10 minute walk.

Crossing White Rock Creek in Roosevelt Heights
Upstream is another concrete crossing of White Rock Creek which leads to the real heart of the swampy bottoms. The crossing seen above is along a Dallas Water Utilities right of way which hitches off from the ONCOR high power transmission lines near Rochester Park. If you refer back to the map above, you can see the route which will take you there. This particular crossing will put you at the back end of lower Roosevelt Heights and an area recently described as "Tune Avenue" in an article by Jim Schutze in the Dallas Observer entitled The Bushwhacker's Guide To Exploring Dallas. The article notes the location of Tune Avenue near the junction of Second and 175 but I would never recommend leaving a vehicle there unattended. Since you'll be getting your feet wet anyway, park elsewhere.

Water and where it flows dictates the terrain in a swamp. Hiking in other environments you can find higher ground to work your way out of bramble thickets and tight spots. Not so in a submerged area. Here, literally going with the flow, is often the path of least resistance. That means the water is often deeper but also easier to navigate through the vegetation. It might seem kind of spooky at first but there is some deeply hidden primal instinct one taps into about ten minutes after getting your feet wet. Getting your swamp legs is what the Acadians call it.

Roosevelt Heights

This is a part of town that Dallas gave up on forty years ago. Named after President Franklin D Roosevelt and his New Deal programs that are believed to have spurred development of low income housing in this area. Reading up on the background I think most of the Roosevelt Heights area was developed in the post war boom of the 1940s at a time when Dallas saw an influx of skilled African American laborers from East Texas. The epic drought of the 1950s in Dallas allowed home construction in areas well within the 100 year flood plain. Unaware for years that their new homes were in peril when normal rain patterns returned.

Roosevelt Heights grew in the interim. A population of less than a thousand, three churches, two grocery stores, hair salons and a sundry store or two. It was a real community. That came to an abrupt end in 1957 when Roosevelt Heights saw the first major sustained multi-day flood. The aerial photo(inset) shows the extent of the flooding that spring which inundated Roosevelt Heights and Rochester Park. In the photo, Second Avenue can be seen running lower left to upper right. Roosevelt Heights in the foreground and Rochester Park in the background left. Many of the refugees from this flood were forced to live in railroad boxcars until flooding subsided. Few moved permanently after this flood.

The 1960s brought flood after flood to Roosevelt Heights. The flooding was magnified by new levee construction upstream and urbanization of former agrarian lands. The result was not a devastating flash flood but a backing up of flood water from the Trinity into the White Rock watershed. In the early 1970s, talk began of flood control improvements. Rochester Park was earmarked for a levee and Roosevelt Heights was bought out by the city. In the lower section of Roosevelt Park, the last homeowners around 1973. North of US175, one homeowner still resides today.

Intersection of Roxana Avenue and Bush St, Roosevelt Heights, October 2012
Since the 1970s, the area fell into extreme neglect. The grid of old streets served as a favored illegal dump for cars, tires, shingles and the occasional human. During those forty some odd years of abandon, the outer areas of this bottomland began to heal. Trees slowly began to take root, old farmed areas went to seed, then weed, then tree. Groundwork Dallas has done much of the volunteer cleanup of this area, removing scores of old tires, appliances and furniture. The patchwork grid of old asphalt roads is by no means pristine but much cleaner than it was a few years ago.

White Ibis above Roosevelt Heights
The 1998 bond for the Trinity River Plan lists Roosevelt Heights as a future campground. I imagine if it were really cleaned up and with a number of basic services like water, restrooms and security, it could serve as a viable area for RV visitors to the State Fairgrounds or the ever popular chuckwagon roundup horseback rides held across the river in Joppa.

Like the the old Floral Farms "ghost" neighborhood off Simpson Stuart, the old Roosevelt Heights area does give one an interesting look into how the natural environment works to reclaim areas if people leave. Saplings growing through tires, brush growing across old driveways, cracked foundations hosting colonies of cactus.

Roosevelt Heights sits just ever slightly above three creek intersections on a small peninsula rise of land running north to south bisected by US 175. In the southern half, large swampy ponds sit on either side of the peninsula. In the last several years 2008-2011 these swamps have gone bone dry no later than mid June. This year, 2012 was somewhat different. I was surprised to see the bodies of water close to capacity. I had planned on our hiking party crossing a dry bed here and was taken aback that so much water held here all summer. Beavers. Lots of them. Nature's engineers. They have constructed large and complex sets of dams through the bottoms here, keeping much of it flooded through even the hottest parts of the scorching Texas summer. A great example of their work can be seen below. The first photo was taken in October 2012 of the water body just east of Roosevelt Heights. The photo below it was taken in June of 2009, about a week after the pond went dry.

October 2012

June 2009
I think the photos should be just about dead on in the same spot using the treeline in the background as a frame of reference. The mass of willows in the middle of the pond has really grown in the last few years and I believe now hosts a beaver lodge.

Texas Ground Skink
The impoundment of so many acres of water has drastically increased the amount of waterfowl seen in this area. Wood Ducks, Diving Ducks, Cormorants, Ibis all seem to have taken up residence here. In the late spring of 2009 and 2010 these ponds hosted the earliest sightings of Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills on record in Dallas.

Even the intersection of Bryan's Slough and Oak Creek now hosts a sizeable beaver pond. Using an old set of abandoned concrete pipes as a base, the beavers have steadily built up their dam using mud, willow and nightly cuttings of giant ragweed.

Yellow Bellied Water Snake
This rather large water snake a native to Texas is called a Yellow Bellied Water Snake. Slender in appearance and with a rounder head than a Water Moccasin, these snakes thrive in the backwaters here. This particular snake was a little too friendly and got a little too close for comfort as I stood on the beaver dam here. Had I not moved I believe it would have slithered across my feet.

The fish population here really thrives. Like most I thought that below White Rock Lake the fishing would be quite poor and worse the further downstream one goes. Not true. I have been placing underwater cameras over the summer in various creeks and sloughs down here, one of the more remarkable was recently in the Bryan's Slough/Oak Creek drainage. This is in an area where Big Spring aka White Rock Spring drains off an into a larger creek. Nearby homeowners, Mr and Mrs Pemberton told me about schools of catfish they spotted on a recent walk of their property. I placed a camera in the water for a couple hours.

Sure enough, the camera caught not just catfish but also a black bass. The fish I believe travel between the swamp areas we walked through and this small creek like channel. During large floods, this area is completely inundated by the Trinity. Left behind are often gars and rough fish like carp.

The Black Bullhead Catfish seen in the clip are most likely a brood hatched in early summer, biding their time before the next big flood carries them away. They are a smaller non-sporting version of the channel catfish which most Texans are familiar with. The Black Bullheads feed on almost anything dead or alive while the channel catfish prefer to eat only live quarry.

 Rare to see a bass though. The particular bass in the video is a native Spotted Bass, one that is unlike those of Florida strained bass stocked in area lakes. Or so I have been told by a biologist. The water clarity is a result of the strong flow of spring water off of Big Spring.

Gulf Fritillary in the Great Trinity Forest
The Gulf Fritillary or Passion Butterfly are currently migrating through the area. Monarchs, Buckeyes, Viceroys and Queens add to the mix. Fond of nectar bearing flowers, some flowering areas around these swamps were just loaded, hundreds of butterflies at a time. The Gulf Fritillary seen here might travel as far as Argentina to winter. A long trip.

A Note On Personal Safety

With regret on this outing we came face to face with an armed pair of poachers in Rochester Park carrying shotguns. They were actively bush meat hunting and firing their guns at birds sitting along the high powerlines not far from the levees. It's unfortunate that not much can be done to stop these individuals from hunting within our city parks. While our encounter was brief and I did all the talking, I cannot underscore the personal safety one needs to take this time of year in areas frequented by armed poachers. Don't dress like a deer! Wear an orange hat, day glow vest or something that screams human not four legged. Don't be a hero if you see something happening. I was an idiot for confronting them and should have just gotten as far away as possible. Take note of their vehicle, description and call authorities. I would say call 911 but the police won't show when I call.

Poaching and game crimes can be reported directly to Texas Parks and Wildlife here:
Operation Game Thief

Thursday, October 11, 2012

McCommas Bluff Is Finished

Wealthy is he who finds the silver lining in life’s unexpected vistas. That’s the beauty of the contrary nature found along the Trinity River. Photogenic places that belong in a calendar spread for a Texas Hill Country state park. There are a few on the river. Scattered here and there. Pocket places that you can show people and leave them speechless. Take a critic or a cynic of the Trinity River Project to McCommas Bluff and they have a change of heart. So large in scope are the bluffs that standing at the river's edge on one end, you cannot see the other.
McCommas Bluff post construction October 2012

That vista, the relatively unchanged sight that man has viewed for thousands of years was forever altered in 2012.

One of these cliffs is not like the others

You can read the title of this post a couple different ways. The bluffs are finished. I was fortunate to see the bluffs in their natural state before a Dallas Water Utilities Project created a permanent scar on one of the hidden gems of Dallas County.  What happened here should serve as a lesson. A lesson to never repeat such an unfortunate project.
McCommas Bluff July 2011 a month before construction started

McCommas Bluff is the only limestone bluff on the Trinity River. There are bluffs made of clay, sand and mud along the river but this one is the only limestone outcropping along the longest river wholly contained in the State of Texas. Registered as a Texas State Historic Landmark, the site was formally made a 111 acre Dallas County nature preserve in 1985. Part of the Dallas County Open Space Program it is a part of two dozen nature preserves in the county and open to the public.
Getting there: 1200 Riverwood Road Dallas Texas
Alternate address for secondary entrance: 7225 Fairport Road Dallas, Texas
The Harry J Emmins commanded by Captain JJ Gray with barges Epps Knight and Charles Lane in tow at City of Dallas Riverfront Wharf, Trinity River, Downtown Dallas, June 1906
The Historical Marker for McCommas Bluff reads:

Navigation of the Upper Trinity River

1893 McCommas Bluff Lock Design
1894 visitors to McCommas Bluff standing along dam crib work
Since the founding of Dallas, many of the city's leaders have dreamed of navigation on the upper Trinity River, but none of their attempts achieved lasting success. Fluctuating water levels and massive snags in the river below Dallas hindered early navigation. In 1866 the Trinity River Slack Water Navigation Co. proposed dams and locks for the waterway. Capt. James H. McGarvey and Confederate hero Dick Dowling piloted "Job Boat No. 1" from Galveston to Dallas, but the trip took over a year. In 1868 the Dallas-built "Sallie Haynes" began to carry cargo southward. Rising railroad freight charges spurred new interest in river shipping in the 1890s. The Trinity River Navigation Co., formed in 1892, operated "Snag Puller Dallas" and the "H. A. Harvey, Jr.," which carried 150 passengers. The "Harvey" made daily runs to McCommas Bluff, 13 miles downstream from Dallas, where a dam, dance pavilion, and picnic grounds created a popular recreation spot. In 1900 - 1915 the U. S. Government spent $2 million on river improvements, including a series of dams and locks, before World War I halted work. A critical 1921 Corps of Engineers report ended further federal investment. Despite sporadic interest in later years, the dream of Dallas an an inland port remains unrealized.
1893 Dam crib work July 2011
The Project

The construction project overseen by Dallas Water Utilities began in August of 2011. The purpose was to protect a 72 inch water main that serves as a freshwater supply serving South Dallas, Cedar Hill and Duncanville. The original line was unfortunately built right down or within 100 yards of the Trinity River Channel making it prone to potential erosion issues. In order to protect the line, the Bluffs were to be destroyed, wholesale.

One Juniper Left Standing, which has since been cut down
The footprint of the actual line is only 10-15 feet horizontally at most. I think any reasonable person would not have an issue with protecting a vital waterline to a million people. When that project quickly mushroomed into something larger than a football field it gave even hardened real estate developers I know accustomed to scraping pad sites, a sick feeling.

Gone first were the trees. All the trees were chopped down save one, a large juniper tree seen in the center of the photograph at left. Despite being worked around for a year, it is now absent from the finished project. I assume removed like all the rest. I went down to the site and photographed the rings of some trees that were chopped down in August of 2011. Along the bluffs were ash, post oak and bur oak. Some of these trees, based on their rings were at least 75 years old, some much older.

The point to draw from this is that all previous construction projects in the last century at McCommas Bluff, including those in the utility right of way, avoided chopping down these trees. Somehow, someway, someone decided not to take out the trees lining the bluffs. This time it happened and is irreversible.

Post Oak
Looking at the finished product of the waterline project, the vast majority of the trees including the two octogenarian aged trees seen at right, could have been saved. Nothing anyone can do about it now. It's only hoped that there was some
food for thought in future projects that could have saved at least one tree, one blade of grass, something.

Construction site Spring 2011
Not much happened with the site during the winter and spring. It was not until late spring that construction continued, punching large holes in the bluff to provide heavy vehicle access to the river below. I hold no ill will towards the construction company responsible for the project. They were given a job to do and did it according to the plans given. I do pause and give serious criticism to the city officials that green lighted this project. The city should have blocked off construction access to other parts of the preserve as well. Over time the construction area sprawled in size, destroying many of the fragile bluff top areas known for wildflowers in the spring.

To the left you can see one of the exposed utility lines. This is not the larger 72 inch water line. The 72 inch pipe I assume is buried much deeper underground. The exposed pipe in the photo is almost made out of what appears to be cast iron and might have been wrapped at one time with an insulation material which has long since weathered away. This old pipe was always hard to photograph around since it stuck out so prominently from the cliffs. I have wondered why they left this old pipe in place, buried under the new waterline project. It now forms a prominent "hump" feature in the new sarcophagus along the bluff.

Riverwood Road residents standing in one of the access roads built into the cliffs, summer 2012

Water project taking shape by mid-Summer 2012 with first two courses installed.

October 2012
Looking from east bank bluff towards west bank

Looking downstream 1910's era Lock and Dam #1 visible in distant background

Below is some video shot from the old ferry landing site, just upstream from the bluffs. Here you can see the size of the project. Upstream from the bluffs and around the bend is another construction site where a similar stream stabilization project utilizing coffer dams is currently proceeding.

Upstream stabilization project on Trinity River around the bend from McCommas Bluff as viewed from Steamboat Harvey landing site

You Break It, You Buy It
Moonscaped bluff top at McCommas Bluff Preserve
One of the long term legacy issues from this construction is not the bluff face but the marred bluff top seen above. The construction zone slowly encroached across much of the preserve's southern portion, consuming many of the prairie meadows and plants. The level top was used as a turnaround for heavy equipment, a toilet by construction workers and temporary dump for construction debris.

The native soil here is not blackland prairie clay, which was used to backfill the project. The correct soil is a sandy loam deposited eons ago on the Trinity Terrace. These alluvial sands still cover much of Southern Dallas County and provide a unique growing environment known as Post Oak Savannah. The dirt brought into McCommas Bluff does not fit this soil profile at all. If the county were to attempt rebuilding some native environment, 200 truckloads of this aggregate sand would need to be brought in to recreate the soil profile. Only then would the native species like Post Oaks, Bur Oaks, Ash thrive there. They need the moisture holding sand to live on the bluff tops.

It would seem that some sort of mitigation for tree loss is in order here. The amount of trees, foliage and plant species lost here is enormous and stretches far back into the preserve itself to the property line with the Bass family.

There are many residents along Riverwood Road enraged by what happened to the bluff top prairie. I often get an ear full from them when I stop to talk. Some are lifelong residents, lifelong fishermen of the bluff area. They cannot believe what happened.

Poacher's Blind at McCommas Bluff Preserve October 2012
McCommas Bluff Preserve Whitetail Doe near Fairport Road
Like a spreading cancerous tumor, poaching has entrenched itself into the bosom of the Great Trinity Forest. Both sides of the river face a widespread epidemic of poaching. The blind above was located not far from the construction area, just 1/4 mile from Riverwood Road on the right of way trail leading towards the Audubon Center. This particular blind is made from fabric panels and staked poles giving the poacher a field of fire facing west southwest. Odd about the location.

With all the ongoing construction at the bluff site and across the river it seems strange someone would hunt in this spot. For the last couple months, the construction contractor had round the clock armed security, one even boasted being armed with an AR-15 Bushmaster. I could not go back into the county owned public nature preserve during this time, I was told, due to insurance issues. So who was poaching back there and for what?