Is parking on the grass at Winfrey Point a big deal or not?

Winfrey Point by Justin Terveen

Good Morning America’s Sam Champion was at the Dallas Arboretum last week filming a segment for the nationally syndicated morning show. It was a huge coup for the arboretum — its installment of the much-lauded Dale Chihuly exhibit was broadcast to more than 5 million viewers all over the country.

That same morning, dozens of White Rock Lake neighbors gathered at nearby Winfrey Point to protest, petition and picket the Arboretum’s use of Blackland prairie for overflow parking during the exhibit, which is expected to boost the arboretum’s already staggering visitor numbers.

For the arboretum, it was the worst possible timing. Neighbors upset about damage to White Rock Lake, however, might call it poetic justice.

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At the very least, it’s extremely ironic.

The last week and a half has been a whirlwind. Between the Chihuly exhibit opening and the parking mayhem, we’ve probably mentioned the Dallas Arboretum on our website a record number of times. That’s taking into account that on a normal basis, the arboretum probably receives just as much, and possibly more, press from us as anything else we cover.

At this point, perhaps the parking issue is a moot point.

Chris Herron, president of the Emerald Isle Neighborhood Association, was headed to City Hall this afternoon with 7,000-plus signatures urging the Park Department and the Dallas Arboretum to reconsider using grassy areas at Winfrey Point for parking. Before the petition had a chance to be considered, however, the Dallas Arboretum issued a statement stating that it would back down.

Still, there is the issue of what may happen in the future.

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The dilemma in this situation, for those of us who aren’t experts on ecosystems, is that it’s hard to know what or whom to believe.

Do we believe the Dallas Arboretum, which told us in last week’s press release that Winfrey Point being an endangered ecosystem “could not be further from the truth,” that “non-native grasses and plants at Winfrey Point need to be kept under control and appropriately mowed or eradicated,” and that “those unfamiliar with the situation are being misled by those with an agenda”?

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Or do we believe the neighbors behind the Save Winfrey Point and Pave the Lake websites, who continue to argue that Winfrey Point’s Blackland prairie should be protected, who tug on heart strings with photos of a bird’s nest near the grasslands, and who accuse the city and the Arboretum of conspiring behind the scenes to deflect questions raised about environmental studies?

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around all of this, and to be honest, I’m a bit brain tired. At the end of the day, I don’t know if it matters whether Blackland prairie is an ecosystem worth preserving. The issue for me — and, I would guess, many of you — is that Winfrey Point is part of White Rock Lake Park, and turning parkland into parking isn’t acceptable. Especially in a city where it’s rare for a large swath of green space to be set aside for public enjoyment.

It’s important to note that, before the arboretum’s no-mow request today, the city’s approval of using grass at White Rock Lake for parking was only as a temporary overflow parking lot. While the city has conducted a study examining the possibility of a permanent parking lot at Winfrey Point, it’s one of many possibilities, and nothing has been decided, as Christina Hughes Babb pointed out in Monday’s thorough overview of recent events.

My hope is that the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden will continue to live up to its name, that the City of Dallas and its Park and Recreation Department will honor their commitment to our green spaces, and that they, along with White Rock Lake neighbors, will work together to find more creative and appropriate solutions for parking than using our parkland.

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