Wednesday, March 19, 2014

McCommas Bluff Preserve -- Up Elam Creek Without A Paddle

Elam Spring as it flows over native Austin Chalk limestone at the former site of Camp Woodland Springs in Dallas, Texas
It's just the other side of nowhere goes the old country song. A place that we as Dallasites all but gave up on and left to go to seed two or maybe three generations ago. Hard to say how long or who was responsible for letting it become a lost place. 

Some of the old timers around Pleasant Grove have told me for years about the roaring spring down here. Most had not laid eyes on it since the 1950s. Their descriptions and narratives were as if they had just been there last week.

For a time this old land here was quite a going concern. All American SMU running back Doak Walker delivered a Christmas dinner prayer to a group of underprivileged boys here on Christmas Eve 1948, just weeks after he won the Heisman Trophy. From the banks of the limestone lined spring fed creek one of the best Texas wildflower books had pen put to paper for the first time. It's called Elam Spring.

Camp Woodland Springs
Lynne and Campbell Loughmiller at Elam Spring
Most interesting places have interesting people behind them. The old forgotten creek here known as Elam Creek is no exception.

The Salesmanship Club of Dallas owned over two hundred acres down here at one time, from the 1930s to the 1960s. From Loop 12 and Jim Miller all the way down to the Trinity River where Elam Creek mouths the larger river. Varying in topography and terrain from post oak savannah sands, limestone carved canyons and down into the black silt clay of the Trinity River Bottom. A grand place to build a youth camp.

The story of such a forgotten place begins in 1930s California, with a newly minted graduate of philosophy from Berkley named Campbell Loughmiller. In 1935 California, Campbell found tongue and cheek there was not a shortage or need of philosophers, he moved to Texas where his luck might be better. He found work with the county welfare department working with youth in need of a turn around.
Elam Spring as it mysteriously roars to life from underground
In the 1930s, a camp was started at Bachman Lake by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas that sponsored a year round camp for boys on the wrong path in life. That land became more urbanized by the day and the Salesmanship Club moved the camp to Pleasant Grove on some 200 plus acres. It became known as Camp Woodland Springs. Loughmiller later described the land as "the closest thing to virgin timber as I have seen around Dallas".

The heyday of the camp was Post World War II when many boys and young men were growing up without male role models due to the loss of so many fathers during the war. Here, the boys were taught direction and self reliance in an outdoor learning environment whose foundations are still blueprinted by other camps and organizations today. The boys lived in the outdoors, year round. Given only a small camp bed and an open tee-pee shelter to live in, they were subjected to the elements that would have some folks cringe today.

The Loughmillers ran the camp here many years. They launched Trinity River canoe trips from this spot with their boys all the way to the Gulf of Mexico at Trinity Bay. Hiking trips and week long excursions deep into the woods and islands south of Dallas to test a camper's mettle. Despite his solid background in the social sciences, Campbell still retained the air of a man who had spent seven years at sea, traveled around the world three times and navigated by canoe nearly every major stream on the North American continent.

It was from their years of living in the outdoors here along Elam Creek that allowed the Loughmillers to transcend into true wilderness educators. The books they penned on wilderness education, working with troubled youth and child psychology were forerunners of their genre. Campbell Loughmiller also served as president of the Texas chapter of the Nature Conservancy and as a board member of the Texas Conservation Council.

They also wrote and published one of the finest books on Texas wildflowers ever written. Texas Wildflowers by Campbell and Lynne Loughmiller has been not only one of the best wildflower guides ever written but ranks number three among all books ever published by the University of Texas Press. The foreward of the book was written by none other than Lady Bird Johnson.

As Pleasant Grove and the larger city of Dallas began encroaching on the area, the camp was moved to East Texas near Hawkins.In the late 1960s, the Salesmanship Club was shopping around the Camp Woodland Springs site for a buyer. The prime 200 acres of rolling wooded hills were marketed as ideal land for housing. At the time, in 1966, someone was able to whisper in the ear of the federal government and appropriate 37 acres through the Department of the Interior to save a portion of Camp Woodland Springs as a public and natural space. This later became Woodland Springs Park. The legend is that First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson was the driving force behind the scenes that pushed to buy the land. By 1969, much of the unprotected acreage was converted into a subdivision. The trail goes cold after that. One would be hard pressed to even find a visitor to Elam Creek in the last fifty years other than Master Naturalist Jim Flood.

The McCommas Bluff You Have Never Seen
The photogenic Bass Farm atop McCommas Bluff Preserve and the once free flowing natural spring that is now impounded to form a stock pond
Old storage tanks at an old pig farm operation at McCommas Bluff
Recent visits over the last half year to McCommas Bluff and Elam Creek have been focused on the lesser knowns, unknowns and the forgottens of the land here.

Many of the visits entail learning more about turn of the last century history in South Dallas, touchstones to the past and how a broader picture can be developed for preserving places in the Great Trinity Forest like Big Spring.

The flower filled fields of autumn in Dallas on the Bass Farm which adjoins McCommas Bluff Preserve
Our host on one visit was Master Naturalist Mary Potter, a local resident who was able to arrange access to the private Bass Farm whose property lines share fence with McCommas Bluff Preserve. A rare treat to see open expanses of pasture and meadow; trees and forest as they have most likely always looked.
MC Toyer dwarfed by the large post oaks and cedar brake above McCommas Bluff

The sand soils of the Trinity Terrace transport you instantly into a scene out of East Texas with towering Post Oaks and Cedar Brake shading the old trails that meander towards the Trinity.

McCommas Bluff Spring
Archeologist Dr Tim Dalbey, Historian MC Toyer, Master Naturalist Mary Potter and Texas Stream Team Coordinator Richard Grayson stand on an earthen dam at McCommas Bluff which impounds the natural spring that once quenched the thirst of riverboat passengers
Natural cemented gravel material at McCommas Bluff Spring
Above is Historian MC Toyer giving a detailed talk about Trinity River excursions to McCommas Bluff via the H.A. Harvey a sightseeing ship which operated over 100 years ago from Downtown to McCommas Bluff on river cruises. A spring flows here and was used by the passengers as a water source at this garden spot on the river. There is good reason to believe, beyond almost any shadow of a doubt that the spring here that is now impounded by an earthen dam is in fact that old water source.

The tell tales for a natural spring in Pleasant Grove are becoming more apparent with every new spring that is visited. The contact horizon between the Cretaceous Austin Chalk and Trinity Sands are one key. The high mineral content of the water which can be checked with a conductivity meter is another. Even the topography and elevation become a factor in the 390-420 foot range above sea level.

Richard Grayson checking out the spring fed pond's crystal clear water that casts a near perfect mirror reflection

The head of the spring sits on the north end of the pond in the photo, which would be in the far background of the wooded treeline. It appears to have been worked on, reworked and enlarged over the decades.

Pretty common among Texas natural springs, people often seek to improve upon them with rock work and enlargement. While beautiful and unique for Dallas, it gives us all a sincere appreciation for Big Spring which was never impounded or expanded upon to a large degree.
McCommas Bluff
 A Texas Historical Marker once stood not far from this spot. It disappeared several years ago, right before the City of Dallas bulldozed a large section of the limestone bluffs here for a water main project. The marker read:

  Navigation of the Upper Trinity River  

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.
Richard Grayson paddling past the Standing Wave and Santa Fe Trestle towards McCommas Bluff ten miles distant March 15, 2014
Under the I-45 Bridge on the Ides of March
Today's riverine traveler to McCommas Bluff from Downtown won't find the water to float a steamboat but more than enough to draw a canoe.

The iconoclasts of the Trinity rarely get a view of this part of the river. The wild river your great grandparents might have known before the levees went in. For the ignorant, their 30,000 foot view on such a place will forever remain as ones and zeros burned onto a computer screen or aerial map. The civic souled urban crowd would find themselves not at home in such a place but out of touch to boot. A shame that more people don't float the river. If you have not, you should.

Just like a hundred years ago, the river has not changed much in course, save for the tires, bridge spans and plastic bags that hang like Christmas ornaments on low hanging trees. Ancient man left behind plenty himself in the form of bleached bison bones eroding here and there from the banks and his stone tools litter the shores in spots. Maybe it's those who can only get indifferent about the patches of wrinkled hard used earth that lie between all the beauty down here that "get" these places. If you can't see it, then well this place might not be for you. Or anywhere else for that matter.
Photographer Sean Fitzgerald in his white Wenonah canoe on Elam Creek near the Trinity River Audubon Center March 15, 2014

 Nine river miles south of Downtown and just past the Audubon Center lies one of the most unrecognized creeks in Dallas which holds secrets all it's own. Wide enough at the mouth to paddle up and obstructed only by a concrete culvert crossing, one can dig a paddle up Elam Creek a fair distance. Seen above is photographer Sean Fitzgerald in his solo canoe far up the creek.

Landing at McCommas Bluff under a heavy rain
 Here where most water adventures end along the Austin Chalk cliffs, a land based hike can begin.

A Copperhead snake at McCommas Bluff Preserve March 2014

Cool dirt road which will be paved for a possible Spine Trail
Master Naturalist Jim Flood's name is forever connected with the preservation of Dallas County's Texas Buckeyes. He is an expert with the species and had previously spoken with me on occasion about Texas Buckeyes elsewhere in the state.

I recognized the tell-tales of a Buckeye or two last spring on the tail end of the blooming cycle at McCommas Bluff. Dogeared myself a note to visit the next spring to check it out.

The widescape view of Buckeye trees commanding the high ground over Elam Creek
Trout Lilies growing among the Buckeyes
It's here in the photo above, right about where you run out of water for a canoe to float that one spies the Buckeyes. It is not very hard, if you live in a place like Texas, to find obscure evidence of the legacy that previous generations left us. If you can look past the rust of old metal parts, discarded sun bleached plastic and the borrow pits scattered might just catch a wiff of what forefathers saw in preserving such a place.

It takes a half trained eye to pick up on the subtle nuances of some rare places in North Texas nature. They don't roar like a black bear, bugle like an elk or turn ten shades of red when they bloom.

The eureka moments of finding one, two and even three somewhat rare species of plants for North Texas sharing the same creek bank inside the city limits is a treat. Maybe being the first to ever notice it makes the find even better.

Trout Lilies in a state of bloom and post-bloom at McCommas Bluff Preserve
There are only around a hundred known patches of Trout Lilies in the State of Texas. Unknown to me and possibly everyone else, the Trout Lilies grow in great numbers along the east bank of Elam Creek intermingled with Buckeyes up the slopes.
Buckeyes growing along the slopes of Elam Creek in McCommas Bluff Preserve

Trout Lilies growing out from underneath an old timber
The Trout Lily represents not just the first flowers of the new year. To many, the colonies of these plants represent very rare spots in Dallas where the land was never plowed, lumbered or disturbed in any way. Pollinated by flying insects like bees and seeds dispersed by ants, the Trout Lily is a very immobile species and rare as a result.

It was most likely decades ago that someone dropped the rough hewn board in the photo at left. The Trout Lily plant that was originally smothered by that long ago placed plank found a way to grow around it. These plants are old, the colonies ancient.

The mature plants seen in the photos are at a minimum seven years old. From seed to first flower, it takes seven full growing seasons for a Trout Lily to produce a first flower.

There is most likely no other place on the planet where trout lilies and Texas Buckeyes grow in the same spot. Rare times two.

Along the creek headed up stream. In the very far distance one can see the signature hill of the Trinity River Audubon Center
Flowerless Texas Buckeye branch

The Texas Buckeye is one of the earliest flowering trees in Texas but is beaten out some weeks ahead by the Trout Lily. Trying to catch them blooming together would be a near impossible feat and would likely involve some tricky winter weather to cause the plants to sync.

A Texas Buckeye foreground, Trout Lilies growing on the floor beyond and a Dwarf Palmetto Palm growing in the background
To add a triple crown to the rarity of the plants seen here, one can frame a Texas Buckeye, Trout Lilies and Dwarf Palmetto Palm all in the same shot. All exceptionally rare in DFW seeded in the wild.  The pride in quality and quantity of plants here is really first rate. An undiscovered treasure perhaps that might yield interesting walks in the future from the Trinity River Audubon Center.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Master Naturalist Bill Holston seen at right always gets a kick out seeing palm trees in Dallas. The often sterile winter scenes of Dallas bottomland take on a Deep South feel when palms are found.

Elam Spring
Hard hiking through heavy brush and Scouring Rush as one pushes up Elam Creek

James Woods
It was some weeks before that I had a chance meeting with Mr James Woods at Big Spring in Dallas, Texas. After hearing that conversation and having heard similar stories for years it was time to find it. Armed only with that information the search was on.

A native son of Pleasant Grove, childhood classmate of Billy Ray Pemberton, guitar player and lifelong farmer he told me the old stories of Elam Spring, where I might it and would it might look like when I got there. His last recollection of the place was in the 1950s when firefighters would draw water from it during the Big Drouth.

Elam Creek rises out of the riverbottom through cottonwood, willow as it transforms into a more mature hardwood bottomland forest. The red oaks and cedar yield to even a more interesting post oak savannah peppered with trees of the same name and the mighty bur oaks that once dominated this part of Dallas County.
The cliffs of Elam Creek
The topography changes too. The silt laden bottoms of the river transition to limestone creek channels topped by the Pleistocene Trinity Sands. Often spoken about but rarely seen so clearly, one can see the contact horizon between the white limestone that once formed the bed of an ancient sea and the more recent orange sands of the ancient Trinity River that are much younger, maybe 1 million to 100,000 years old. The wood galleried cliff tops and slowly eroding limestone cubes are what remain today.

A large stand of Scouring Rush draped over Elam Spring
It's a difficult if not near impossible traverse to reach Elam Spring. I would rank it a 10 out of 10 on the difficulty level when it comes to navigating invasive Chinese Privet. By far the thickest, most tangled mess of privet and greenbriar thorn vine thickets I have ever seen on the Trinity River. In some places it feels as if you are in a World War I field of concertina barbed wire.

The topography is very steep with multiple downed trees of great size which limit access.

Elam Spring at the source
Unlike Big Spring, Elam Spring has an undefined source. Mr James Woods the Pleasant Grove Farmer said "It comes out of the ground in seven spots". That stuck with me and sure enough, he was right. He was right about all of it, a picture perfect description of the place drawn on the deep memories he had so long ago.

Old pump pipes at Elam Spring
Above is the source of Elam Spring. On the southwest bank some twenty feet up is a pipe and concrete structure that once pumped water from the spring for use by Camp Woodland Springs. Below in the photo is a shallow pool who has no noticeable beginning or end. It's just there. An oddity to be sure that leaves one to scurry up and down the slopes looking to see where the water might be born from the earth.

Scott Hudson searching for a vent
"Seven spots" is right. Within 100 feet the little pool of seemingly still water comes alive with what would be a substantial flow by anyone's measure. It leaves one scratching their heads as to how the whole thing works.

At left, Scott Hudson has his arm up in the bank stirring up silt to find a source. As the silt clears, like smoke would in the atmosphere, one can find a source. It might come up out of the bank or even up from under the streambed itself as is often the case in North Texas creeks.

Below is a video of Elam Spring, just 100 feet from where the dry bed gets damp. Watch as it roars to life.

This visit was in an abnormally dry winter for Dallas with only .80 of an inch in measured precipitation for the previous few months. The water in spring and spring channel was entirely of aquifer origin. During wet periods this spring channel appears to double as a storm water runoff for either Jim Miller or Loop 12 and is compromised as a result. It appears more than likely that in the 1960s as Camp Woodland Springs was subdivided that storm sewer outlets were built into the watershed, one such spot being that of the Elam Springs channel.
Outfall of Elam Spring into Elam Creek

The outfall of where Elam Spring enters Elam Creek proper, termed an outfall, is as hidden as Elam Spring itself. It moves through heavy brushed timber and through a series of tree trunks and stumps before entering the creek. I would place a guess that a majority of water for Elam Creek, over half, comes from Elam Spring itself.

The stories of a place like this come from recollections of memories over a half century ago. Some of those stories were told to men like the Woods and Pembertons by the Old Timers, some who were original pioneers of Dallas. Those old sod busting pioneers were told stories of old Indian warriors surviving in the hills and creeks who they themselves had recalled something that happened half a century before. It's an unbroken chain of truth that runs clearer than the water that runs through these hollows. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Texas Buckeye Trail Hikes For 2014

The exquisite bloom of a Texas Buckeye in the Great Trinity Forest Dallas Texas

The Texas Buckeye Tree Aesculus glabra var. arguta makes for one of the earliest and best shows of color in the state. The Great Trinity Forest holds prime examples of these species many in a special grove inside Rochester Park.

Coinciding with the annual bloom of these trees is a free walking tour hosted by Master Naturalist Jim Flood. His website has details on guided hikes the second and third weekends of March 2014. Jim Flood's 2014 Buckeye Hike Schedule.

From Jim Flood's website:
Saturday March 15, 9am and 12 noon  
Sunday March 16, 9am and 12 noon  
Saturday March 22, 9am (only)  

Hike cancellation dependent upon weather conditions

Address and map: 7000 Bexar Street Dallas, Texas

These hikes in particular are really the only formal scheduled guided hikes inside the Great Trinity Forest that I'm aware of and only occur once a year. For those interested in learning more about the Trinity River, Great Trinity Forest and background on the area, this is the hike to take.

Trail Beta: Bexar Street dead ends at the Rochester Park Levee, a small pavilion and trailhead kiosk are there. Cross a small ditch, up and over the levee, a decomposed granite trail surface leads to a concrete ADA compliant trail beyond. On the concrete trail, there are a series of round plaza areas with sandstone rock benches. Plexiglass/wood signs note the trail intersection to the natural paved path to the Buckeye Trail.

Trail Map:
The Texas Buckeye Trail
 The distance from the parking area to the Buckeye Grove is about 1/2 a mile one-way and makes for a 1 mile round trip. Trail is easy to walk, flat and other than a couple small tree trunks on the trail is easy to walk. What is called an 8 to 80 trail, anyone 8 years to 80 years could walk it alone.
Texas Buckeye
From the Texas Native Plants Database: Texas Buckeye has palmately compound leaves with seven to nine (sometimes eleven) leaflets, vs. the five leaflets of red buckeye. The flowers are creamy white to light yellow, appearing in terminal clusters after the leaves appear. The fruit, a leathery capsule with blunt spines, has one to three large shiny seeds. The seeds are known to be poisonous, and it is possible that all parts of the plant are as well.

It tends to prematurely drop leaves in hot, drought situations, due to leaf scorch and fungal diseases. Usually a small shrub or small tree, Texas buckeye reaches its largest size (more than 40 feet) in the hard limestone of the central Edwards Plateau, although it also occurs in the northern Blacklands, Cross Timbers and Prairies, Pineywoods, and Post Oak Savannah.

The botanical name for the Buckeye is Aesculus which was taken by the Swedish botanist, Carl von Linne from “Aesculapius,” the name of the mythological Greek god of medicine.
The seed nut of a Texas Buckeye is glossy and chestnut-brown in color. It is velvety smooth to the touch with a lighter circular “eye.” It is contained in a spiny, two-inch hull and is set in five palmately compound, five inch long, deciduous leaflets. The leaf formation has been described as “praying hands” by poet Albrecht Duerer. The seeds and bark are slightly poisonous and bitter tasting.

The insects love the pollen and nectar of the Texas Buckeyes here in the Great Trinity Forest. One of the earliest flowering plants, the feeding frenzy on sunny days is a sight worth the walk.

If one comes around sunrise or sunset the sighting or at least the sounds of the mating Barred Owls can be heard in the vicinity.
Barred Owl at sunset March 12. 2014

The Barred Owl Strix varia is a non-migratory year round resident of Texas. Often called the Hoot Owl by many or misidentified as a Barn Owl, the Barred Owl is named for dark vertical stripes/bars contrasting on a white chest. At close distance, another signature marking are the dark brown eyes.

The Barred Owl is the only North American owl without a yellowish eye.  Most active after sunset, the Barred Owl is considered nocturnal but can also be seen and heard during the day during mating season. The birds feed on a variety of small animals including mice, rats and squirrels.  Distributed widely in the Eastern half of Texas they prefer large mature woodlands, marshes and stands of old growth trees.

The larger trees are important to the Barred Owl as the old voids in the trunks provide nesting sites for their offspring. This habitat is similar to that of the Red Shouldered Hawk and the Barred Owl will often take over old Red Shouldered Hawk nests as their own.

Master Naturalist Bill Holston observing a bird nest on the Buckeye Trail
 Birds other than raptors frequent this area where the attraction is shelter, cover and proximity to food. A keen eye can often find bird nests in the most unlikely of places like the nest above, which is about the size and construction for that of a Robin.

Back History On The Land
Left to right, Archeologist Dr Tim Dalbey, Attorney Eric Reed and Jim Flood trail steward of the Texas Buckeye Trail looking at maps and comparing data at the Buckeye Grove, January 2014
Much of the land where Rochester Park/William Blair Park now sits was once a dairy farm.  Joseph Metzger, a Swiss immigrant and the founder of Metzger's Dairy, crossed into Texas holding his only possessions in a pack above his head while the Red River was at flood stage in 1875.
Hiking with backpacks full of maps, blueprints, measuring devices and computers through Rochester Park

Metzger proceeded to Dallas where he tried farming in the community of New Hope (Mesquite/Sunnyvale) in Dallas County. Not experiencing much success in that endeavor, he later worked for Chris Moser, one of the Southwest's first dairymen. In 1889 her rented a farm in the vicinity of North Carroll, Haskell and Ross Avenues where he began his own dairy with the purchase of 40 cows and a horse drawn milk wagon.  

In 1893 Metzger began purchasing land within the old John M Crockett survey for the purposes of relocating his dairy. At that time 64 acres were purchased less 1.8 acres which were to be used as the county road known as Miller's Ferry Road. Thus began a succession of street names(later Holmes Street and Hutchins Road) for the street now known as Lamar Street. A deed dated February 28, 1893 and filed the same day describes the land as extending from west of the railroad to the river. Metzger continued to acquire parcels of land until 1904. After all purchases were made, the farm which became the home of Metzger's Dairy contained 159.6 acres.
On the footprint of the Old Metzger Dairy and standing upon a horribly looted Native American site which was grave robbed and looted for pottery and burial artifacts

Metzger's Store at red dot

Metzger's dairy flourished and by 1909 was purchased by Joseph Metzger's sons Carl and David. In 1922 it was listed in the Dallas Directory as Metzger Brothers Sanitary Jersey Dairy. At the time the dairy was considered the largest and most modern in Texas. The first Dallas dairy to use glass bottles. Following World War II, the rapid expansion of Dallas led to an expansion of the facilities. The Metzger family involvement ended in 1984 with the sale of Metzger Dairy of Dallas to Borden.  This area is more recently noted for the large cache of Indian artifacts and Indian burials on the site. Seven sets of Indian remains have been found here. There are an estimated 34,000 Indian artifacts still at the site spanning thousands of years of human occupation. It has been nominated by a team of professional archeologists for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bill Holston standing on what was once the old Miller's Ferry Road at Miller's Bend on the Trinity River
Some interesting things to see beyond the Buckeye Trail. Hiking through heavy brush and upstream one will find themselves on a rather remarkable bend in the river known as Miller's Bend. Site of the old Miller's Ferry. Far removed from the city yet still bracketed by freeways in the near distance resides one of the largest trees in Dallas, the Miller's Bend Bur Oak.
Can you see the man in the bottom left of the photo dwarfed by the tree?
Bur Oaks, especially those that grow to soaring heights love water. On the Trinity River in Dallas, large Bur Oaks spared the ravages of logging can be found in old meanders, streambeds and even next to a freshwater spring like Big Spring. In the quest to learn more about Big Spring and the environs around it, science has taken us abroad to look at other similar springs, rock outcrops and in this case another huge Bur Oak.
Dr Tim Dalbey recording measurements, GPS data on the Bur Oak
 32°43'45.02"N 96°45'34.71"W is the GPS location

12' 7" circumference on the tree with a 48' crown spread to the northwest and 57' to the ESE. Pretty big tree and uniform in size and appearance with an estimate of 65-70 feet in height. That all translates into a roughly 151" circumference and roughly 105' crown spread.

For reference and comparison the Texas A&M Forest Registry lists the champion Texas Bur Oak at 218 in. circumference or 5.78 ft. diameter, 81 ft. in height, with 105 ft. crown spread from Tarrant county recorded May of 2006. This tree is in Benbrook I believe.

The the DFW Big Tree registry notes the largest Bur Oak recorded as on the Trinity River is 223" in. circumference at 69 ft. in height with a crown spread of 84 ft.

The Miller's Bend Bur Oak stands among these and bests the largest trees to some extent. It's a long lost cousin of the Big Spring Pemberton Bur Oak which resides just a mile or two away.

The Path Less Traveled and Trails That Cease To Exist
Other less formal undefined trails (not part of the Buckeye Trail tour) lead away from the Buckeye Trail. One in particular that loosely follows the Trinity River to the mouth of White Rock Creek. Below is the most complete map I have of trails in this area. Based on my own GPS data.

A now outdated map of trails that once formed the backbone of access to Rochester Park
A trail built by Groundwork Dallas seen in 2009 or 2010 just after completion. Trail was abandoned and no longer exists

Former White Rock Creek Trail
The trails that once followed the Trinity River and White Rock Creek to the confluence of the two water bodies, sadly, no longer exist. While the Buckeye Trail is maintained largely through the sole work of Jim Flood, his area of responsibility is the Buckeye Trail and maintenance of the Buckeye Grove.

Seen in the map above, the heavy red marked trail still exists and can be easily walked. The fainter trails in a maroon color no longer exist. Very little can even be seen of them even in winter. The trail tape has faded away or degraded enough that the path can easily be lost in a snap. It's gone. If there were interest in ever reconstituting the trail it would need to be done from a square one, total rebuild. Other trails like Devon Anderson Park to the northeast a mile or so suffered a similar fate, built and quickly abandoned.

It's still a nice walk through here. It just requires cross country hiking, a couple wrong turns and some head scratching to figure out. No harm, no foul for letting it go back to seed. It's a teachable moment for the future, one that can be used as an example and learned from.

Hiking cross country in the expansive Rochester Park loosely following the Trinity River to reach the mouth of White Rock Creek