“I love where I live,” says walking enthusiast and Lake Highlands resident Leslie Bowen. “It’s so convenient – right next to Fair Oaks Tennis Center and part of a trail that connects to White Rock. Or I can take that same trail the other way up to Greenville and Royal Lane through the park there, which is about a three-and-a-half-mile round trip.”
Bowen has come to know what most walkers, joggers and bikers learn: You miss a lot in your climate-controlled vehicle, even going a sedate residential 35 m.p.h. With the added promise of spring weather, you just may be ready to pull on those sneakers and take the time to track down your neighborhood’s faces and places block by block.
After all, how many times have you said the words: “I should get some fresh air, go for a walk, meet my neighbors.”
Why doesn’t that happen for many of us?
“The main two reasons people don’t walk are, number one, they don’t know exactly where to walk and, number two, they don’t have anyone to walk with,” says Bruce Fitch, president of the Dallas Trekkers, a club that advocates volksmarching. Conjures up images of someone shouting: left, right, left, right – doesn’t it? Not to worry. “Volksmarch” means “people’s walk,” and it’s a non-competitive outdoor walk, usually 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) through a scenic, historic or interesting area over a route that has been established as safe.
The Trekkers have set up just such a volksmarch around White Rock Lake to provide companionship and direction; members of the club, including Bowen, meet walkers at the lake every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and take them forth.
“I just moved back after living in Alabama for several years,” says nearby resident Mary Sparks. “I wanted to get out and get some exercise and reacquaint myself with what’s here, with the neighborhood. This is just perfect for me, easier to motivate myself to get out and walk when I go with a group.”
Bowen, who has been hoofing it since 1988, reports: “Sometimes in summer, we have walks that start at 6 a.m.”
“Yeah, you won’t see me at those,” laughs Sparks.
Bowen holds her point: “Hey, I used to be a runner, and come this summer, at six in the morning it’ll be packed out here. But we’re keeping this 10K group walk at 8. We’ve always had a year-round walk at White Rock Lake, but it was a 15K that went all the way around, and we decided we needed a shorter walk – something that would be held every week for a group of people who left at the same time.”
White Rock trail leader Jim Ross says: “People would call us who were interested in walking, and maybe we wouldn’t have another event for a month or so – and by then they’d have forgotten all about it. That’s how people are. With this walk, we can say: Meet a group of us next Saturday morning.”
Walkers who want to unofficially participate with the Dallas Trekkers are welcomed; others purchase formal record books, which are stamped and make them eligible for patches, medals and such, a little additional motivation.
“I just like to walk and get out,” Bowen says. “Anytime I get to do that, it’s great. And White Rock is a pretty lake, and it’s close to my house in Lake Highlands. I love to go hiking; it’s my favorite thing in the world.”
Bruce Fitch, president of the Dallas Trekkers, who does about 100 walks a year, says White Rock is a prime site for him.
“My favorite part is walking near the dam where the birds are all congregating. I really like the whole thing, in fact. It’s just a beautiful lake to walk around. They’ve done so much work cleaning it up and putting new trails in.”
Flying, well walking, solo / If you want to try the Trekkers’ route on your own, here’s how. Any day of the week, start at Jack Johnston’s Bicycle Shop, 9005 Garland; park away from the store entrance facing Garland Road. Neighbors not joining the Saturday morning group need to wait until 9 a.m., when the shop opens.
Ask a shop staffer for the “walk box,” which contains walking or biking maps, a waiver of liability and a “start card,” which you’ll need to fill out and take with you; the shop offers a 10 percent discount on bike rentals for those wanting to give White Rock a gander on a two-wheeler. Both the 10K and the 15K walking routes give you good views of the park’s woods, water and wildlife, but if you want to gawk at the more impressive houses bordering the Lake, you’ll need to take the longer option.
If you haven’t walked much in awhile, be sure to warm up – stretch out your legs before the walk and immediately afterward. Don’t push yourself to walk too fast, and stop to rest from time to time. If you aren’t interested in walking the complete trail, just trek half the distance you’re comfortable with and double back. Or you can cheat and arrange to have a car pick you up at one of the points where the trail crosses the roadway – such as the Big Thicket or the Bath House Cultural Center.
The 10K walk usually takes about two hours, the 15K close to three. Time your walk so you’ll be back before dusk and before the shop closes. When you finish your expedition, return the start card as instructed. Water and restrooms are available near the start points and along the route, but you may want to bring additional water. Leashed pets are allowed on the trails, but not in the shop. Otherwise, just enjoy yourself.
“I like seeing the changing houses,” says Claudia Fitch, editor of the Dallas Trekker’s…people around here are into remodeling their homes…we’re kind of into architecture, so we like walking by and seeing what people are doing.”
Another kind of scenery / If architecture holds your attention as well as birds and trees and sailboats, check out one neighborhood resident’s bike route to work.
P.M. Summer pedals from Old Lake Highlands to his job at the City of Dallas Alternative Transportation Department; a key leg in his journey is down historic Swiss Avenue south of Lake Highlands.
“Swiss not only has low traffic, but it’s very beautiful scenery,” Summer says. “A lot of people biking and people walking. I get to meet them and talk and ring my bell at the kids. Almost makes me feel like a kid again, brings back that old neighborhood sense.”
Recently featured on Home & Garden TV’s “Dream Drives,” Swiss Avenue could also be called a “dream walk.”
“Having the median and the park here…kind of puts us on par with Highland Park and Armstrong Boulevard,” says Swiss homeowner Sam Bebeau. The homes have that frozen-in-time look to them – as one person walking by put it: It’s like a small Central Park in Dallas.
Bebeau says Swiss Avenue is used for walking “by tons of people from the area every day. I think it’s kind of like being in the Garden District in New Orleans…one of those cities where people actually walk up and down the streets.”
Hidden gems / It may take awhile, but exploring your neighborhood may turn up some favorite trails. Don’t be timid about investigating.
Consider trying the “nature walk” set up by the city in Olive Shapiro Park, north of White Rock Lake at West Lawther and Goforth. And Bowen says “there’s another really pretty place to walk in Lake Highlands, too, not a very long hike. It’s at Whitehurst between Abrams and Skillman, right across from the school and planetarium. You have to look real close to see these four trails that go down between the houses, and it’s absolutely gorgeous in there, especially in the fall. Lake Highlands, I think, has the prettiest fall color in Dallas.”