Wednesday, January 11, 2012

William Blair Park - The Perimeter Trail

Sunrise over the mouth of White Rock Creek at the Trinity River

Old growth forest. Something that conjures up an image of California Redwoods, The Amazon Rainforest or a remote jungle in Burma. In Texas, it is almost impossible to find. A pocket here, an acre there. One such area of old growth exists in Dallas, an area large enough to be surrounded by old growth, horizon to horizon at William Blair Park.

Joining me for the hike into one of the most remote parts of Dallas was Bill Holston and his friend Scott. Both of whom are pictured above at the confluence of White Rock Creek and the Trinity River. The plan was to start at the well known Buckeye Trailhead where Bexar Street dead ends in a cul de sac. From there, hike south east towards the lake and follow the partially built trail to White Rock Creek. The goal was to reach the mouth of White Rock Creek at the Trinity River, then work our way back to the well established set of Buckeye Trails upstream.

Winter is a great time to get off the beaten path in the Great Trinity Forest. Some areas have heavy underbrush and growth much of the year which limit easy travel. With the dead of winter upon us, it was a perfect time to check the area out.

Flagged trail from Buckeye to White Rock Creek

The terrain here for the most part is pancake flat. Most of the trees in this section of William Blair Park are 40-50 years old, punctuated by the occasional Bur Oak or Bois d Arc tree that is much older. Bill Pemberton, a local resident told me that much of this land near White Rock Creek was open pasture until the middle part of the last century. When the land was sold to the city much of it reverted to a pioneer class of forest. Unlike the Buckeye Grove upstream this area is blessed with a lack of invasive privet. As a result you can see a couple hundred yards in every direction while hiking.

The trail itself south of the "Bart Simpson Lake" sputters out about 1/4 mile into the woods. The trail flagging tape is hit and miss to see for the remainder of the route. One can loosely follow White Rock Creek to the Trinity. The caveat is that the closer you get to the actual streambed the more bramble and greenbriar thickets you encounter. 

The map below is a composite of the trails in the area that I have mapped with my GPS. Below the map is a link to the Garmin Connect website which shows the perimeter route we took. To my knowledge there are not any trails in the center of the park. We came across a small intermittent creek that runs through the middle of the woods here. I am not sure where it begins. This little creek empties into White Rock Creek above Bryan's Slough. Could be an interesting little creek to walk up to see where it goes. Looked like the only animal that uses that creek are the feral pigs who left their tracks in the creekbed.

Mileage wise, the route we took around the perimeter of the park was about 5 miles. Another five miles of trails exist inside that. Some of which is a paved ADA certified trail to an overlook. The island in the middle of the lake is easiest to access from the south. In the warmer months the shore of the island is full of water moccasins. Watch your step. This lake did not go dry in the drought of 2011 and I did not see a fish kill. I suppose the fish population which includes a healthy number of catfish is doing well.

I included in the map photo above some of the routes I have taken in the past on the east side of White Rock Creek.  I would classify these trails in the category of marked but unmaintained. The trails see far more coyote traffic than human. They are marked to some extent and make for rather easy hike considering the lack of established trail. It does not lend itself to mountain biking but would be great for off leash dog hikes.

The only difficult areas are as you approach the mouth of White Rock with the Trinity River. The confluence forms a two story peninsula of sorts that extends about 100 yards out towards the river. The top of the peninsula is fairly thick with greenbriar and somewhat of a challenge to negotiate. A machete makes quick work of it. Two minutes with my parang and it was easier to get through. No big deal.

Belted Kingfisher
The payoff for going to remote parts of town like this is the true wilderness you encounter. As I mentioned, this is one of the few places left in the United States where you can view an intact expanse of old growth forest. It's only a fluke that during the rapid expansion and growth of Dallas as a metropolis that the a few hundred yard deep buffer of trees was left on this section of the river. Here you will find the largest trees in Dallas and bird species that they attract. To the left is a Belted Kingfisher that flew directly over our head before landing on a snag in the river in front of us.

The past few winters, Bald Eagles have been seen in this area too. Migratory non-nesting pairs who hunt for the ducks that call the wetlands in this part of town a winter home.

The Burning Bush On The Trinity

Chagall's Moses And The Burning Bush

Maybe it was an Eastern Wahoo Tree, Bill Holston and a mess of feral pigs that could have been the inspiration for Marc Chagall's rendition of Moses And The Burning Bush?

Eastern Wahoo Euonymus atropurpureus Buckeye Trail

At first glance the neutral colors of a Texas riverbottom in the winter can be a bland sight. Luckily with Bill along who is a Master Naturalist, he was able to bird dog down some interesting plant species I had never seen before. Bill gives walking nature tours to school children on the Buckeye Trail throughout the year. Once we reached the more familiar environs of the Buckeye Grove he told us about some of the plant species around the vicinity. The Eastern Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus) also goes by the name Burning Bush. Named so due to the red and orange colored winter leaves and seed pods it shows during the winter. Early European Settlers and Native Americans used the seeds for medicinal purposes as a laxative. The plant was listed as a drug until 1947.

Coralberry Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Also of note is the Coralberry, a close relative of honeysuckle. This time of year the pronounced pink berries stand out in contrast to an otherwise muted view of the woods.

Metzger's Dairy

Much of the land where 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.

Christian Moser
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.

Original Bon Ton Addition Plat
The property abutted the old O.E. Taylor property on the east, and extended as far northeast as the Bexar and Parsons intersection. The Bon Ton Addition at that intersection was sold to the city by Mrs Metzger in 1932. The Trinity River was the southern boundary. There was a cotton seed oil company southeast of the dairy headquarters on the east side of present day Lamar.

Metzger's Store location 1900 (red dot)
Just like the Pembertons on the east side of the creek, in addition to the dairy business Metzger ran a store down by the river. It is possible that the store shown on Sam Street's Map of 1900 was this establishment. Metzger's store was destroyed by the 1908 flood. The structures on the dairy property, both houses and barns were apparently never inundated by the river. The Metzgers had a notched stake placed near a barn that served as a barometer on river flooding. If the water rose to certain marks on the stake the workers knew that they would need to relocate cattle from certain pastures.

Dairy location and buidings circa 1922
The Metzger store also served as the main whiskey supplier for much of Dallas County and points south between the Dallas and Corsicana train stops. Whiskey deliveries were made every Friday to outlying areas of the countryside. This small small store later became what was known as Mister M Food Stores. The "M" in Mr. M, being Metzger.

View from Lamar across from the Borden's Dairy
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.

Deer in the Park

Many of my deer encounters at William Blair Park involve just fleeting glimpses of deer as they crash through the heavy weeds and brush along the right of way easements or the edge of White Rock Creek. Digital cameras do funny things with a deer. A near perfect camouflage, buck skin brown just melts into the background.

Luckily during the rut this fall, I was able to photograph a few nice sized does and some yearlings in the park proper. On the flood protected side of the levees. They were browsing out in the open which was a welcome change from the usual panicked escape I usually invoke. Deer are becoming more and more common in this area which is a nice thing to see. Plenty of food for them to eat and a sign that things are getting better rather than worse.

William Blair Park Whitetail

The Future

At the conclusion of our hike, a street construction contractor pulled up to us in his truck on Bexar. His company was rebuilding top-to bottom the infrastructure for Bexar Street. New road, new sidewalk, new storm sewers and sanitary sewers. This was the groundwork for the new public housing that will occupy the old Turner Court Projects footprint. He mentioned some of the apartments that will be built complete with pools and amenities. I imagine that it will look similar to Frazier Court on Hatcher. I can only hope that all the work done on the Buckeye Trail and improvements can be respected by the future residents. I'm not a fan of how the Frazier Court Projects turned a bad neighborhood into a really bad neighborhood. Let's not let that happen to the Bon Ton or the Buckeye Trails.

The contractor's street project wraps up in about two months. He mentioned that the area is safe to park in and that the residents south of Budd are all nice folks.

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