Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bald Eagles of the Trinity River, Dallas

Dallas is lucky enough to have at least two resident bald eagles in the Great Trinity Forest that overwinter.

The national bird of the United States since 1782, the bald eagle is the most well-known bird of prey in North America. Like many other species, the majestic bald eagle's continued existence has been severely threatened by human development, pesticide use, and poaching. In the past twenty-five years, however, the bald eagle has made great strides towards recovery thanks to federal legislation, bans on harmful pesticides such as DDT, public education, and other conservation and rehabilitation efforts. In some areas of the United States, bald eagle populations have recovered to such an extent that they have been downgraded to threatened rather than endangered species status.

The Bald Eagle is one of nature's most impressive birds of prey. Males generally measure 3 feet from head to tail, weigh 7 to 10 pounds, and have a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet. Females are larger, some reaching 14 pounds with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. Adults have a white head, neck, and tail and a large yellow bill.

Pair of Bald Eagles over the Trinity River in 2011 

Bald Eagle over the Trinity River near mouth of White Rock Creek, winter 2011

Unlike many other birds of prey in the Dallas area, the bald eagles in the Great Trinity Forest are extremely wary of people and will put as much distance as possible between themselves and a human. In many cases I have only seen fleeting glimpses of them. They roost in some of the tallest trees in the forest in one of the remote areas near the mouth of White Rock Creek where it enters the Trinity River.

The eagles seem to hunt the migratory duck population in the Lower Chain of Wetlands. In the winter of 2011 the population in these ponds were mostly Northern Shoveler Ducks and Coots.

Northern Shoveler ducks at Wetland Cells

Thursday, March 17, 2011

McCommas Bluff Preserve and Trails

McCommas Bluff Preserve on Trinity River Dallas, Texas

The McCommas Bluff Preserve, in South Central Dallas County, is in a historical area, where Native American tribes, outlaws and folk heros once camped, and where boats attempting to bring commerce to Dallas from the Gulf of Mexico were hampered by curves in the Trinity River and low-water shoals. From the south part of the preserve, a dam and locks are visible, a testimony to long-abandoned attempts to navigate the Trinity. Shattered dreams of Trinity City are here too, the only ghost town site in Dallas. Belle Star, Cole Younger, the James Brothers called this their home after the Civil War. Much of it looks the same today as it did then.

McCommas Bluff Lock and Dam #1 circa 1910

South of Loop 12, the Trinity River crosses a boundary between two worlds, leaving behind the barren chute of the Dallas floodway to slide beneath a leafy canopy of trees, sloughs and dramatic limestone cliffs. It's McCommas Preserve that holds the distinction of being the only true wilderness one can find within Dallas. Abandoned, forgotten and ignored for decades it is literally the land that time and humans forgot.


Riverwood Road

Note on parking: This area is a notorious dumping area for stolen vehicles. I would not suggest parking at the actual bluffs unless you intend to stay close to your vehicle. You would be better off parking further up Riverwood in front of a home there and then hiking the rest of the way in.

Trail map:

McCommas Preserve Map, park at Riverwood Rd Trailhead or Trinity Audubon Center

The trails at McCommas Bluff are primitive. The trails are easy to follow in the winter and early spring. They can become difficult to follow in the summer as they are not marked with signs, tape or blazes. A primitive trail exists from Riverfront Road west following the river to a back gate of the Trinity Audubon Center. Above this trail you can see a large dirt bluff that sits about 25 feet above the river. The flat area above on the high ground was the platted site of Trinity City. Little remains. Beyond Fairport Road is Woodland Springs. This was once a popular summer camp for kids in the 1930s-50s. The spring still flows.

Trinity River rapids at McCommas Bluff

McCommas Bluff as viewed from the middle of the Trinity River

Spring wildflowers on the bluffs overlooking the Trinity River

Whitetail Deer at Trinity City ghost town May 2010

McCommas Bluff is a great place to see deer in the late spring May-June. There is an abundance of Mustang Grapes on the high ground on the Trinity City site and the deer forage for them. Quite a few feral hogs too.

Trinity City was promoted by the Peters Colony but was never substantially developed. It was envisioned as the northernmost of twenty-nine port towns that were to be laid out every twenty miles on the banks of the Trinity River, in the hope that the river could be made navigable from the Gulf of Mexico to the most northern port town. Though indicated on the Peters colony map of 1852 as a sizable town, it was probably never more than a small frontier community.

The old lock and dam # 1 built in the late 19th century and later improved upon over the next 20 years still exists as a concrete structure just downstream of the McCommas Bluffs. Above the bluffs sits a century old lock keeper's house that was built as a residence for the man in charge of the McCommas Lock system. The home is still there and is occupied today. The home is on private property and no trespassing signs are up.

Lock keeper's residence at McCommas Bluff
The building materials for the home were floated by barge on the Trinity River to the site.

Lock Keeper's home in 2010
Methodist Chapel at Trinity City

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Great Trinity Forest Trail, Joppa Preserve

Great Trinity Trail at River Oaks Park
The Trinity River Spine Trail is the longest paved path currently in the Great Trinity Forest. The path can be accessed in three spots:

River Oaks Park

Simpson Stuart Road

Phase I of the trail is 2.1 miles long.

Great Trinity Forest Trail Phase I

This trail is inside the Joppa Preserve, part of the Dallas County Open Space Project. Originally this land was part of the Millermore Plantation. Many of the pecan trees in the area were planted by the Miller family when it was a working farm. The original Miller cabin and the later Greek revival Millermore Mansion are now preserved at Old City Park in Dallas. The area later became known as Joppa and Floral Farms. Both were unincorporated freedman's communities for many decades without access to running water and city services.

Miller Cabin

Millermore Mansion

The path itself is the same width as the Katy Trail in Uptown. Currently there are not any public restrooms or working water fountains along the path.

The path roughly follows the shoreline of Little Lemmon Lake and then Lemmon Lake as it winds its way towards Simpson Stuart Road. Phase I of this trail was completed in the summer of 2010. Phase II which will run down the south bank of the Trinity towards McCommas Bluff will be completed some time in 2011.

Great Trinity Forest Trail, Joppa Preserve

Little Lemmon Lake, River Oaks Park
Video of the trail from Simpson Stuart area towards River Oaks Park

Foot bridge spanning creek that separates Little Lemmon Lake and Lemmon Lake. This was the filming location for the Texas Ranger scene in the movie Bonnie and Clyde.

Little Lemmon Lake

Same spot as photo above from Bonnie and Clyde

Great Trinity Trail Bridge between Lemmon Lake and Little Lemmon Lake

Same spot as photo above filmed in 1967

Good fishing in all three lakes. There is also a population of alligators in these lakes and one should be careful walking the shoreline near dawn or dusk. As a result, there are a number of warning signs near the lakes: