White Rock Lake gets lots of love, but could its advocates do more by combining efforts?

To clarify, people who love the lake take care of it — and celebrate it.

Mariner Sails Wind and Water Sports lends kayaks to For the Love of the Lake volunteers who clean the water and shoreline. Photo by Robert Bunch

Denver has the Rockies, San Diego has breathtaking beaches and Dallas has White Rock Lake. It might be a stretch to compare our 1,100-acre manmade lake — even with its bountiful blooms, wildlife reserves, surrounding park space and 9.3-mile trail — to such wonders, but the urban gem is special to us because we made it.

To clarify, people who love the lake take care of it — they clean its shores, monitor its water, restore its historic buildings, care for its trees and celebrate its uniqueness. Over the years, lake lovers have formed groups to help pool their hard work, but might the organizations be more effective if they compressed their efforts? Before addressing that, a brief overview of the Rock’s best friends:

White Rock Lake Foundation

Jeannie Terilli, a Dallas businesswoman, formed Friends of White Rock Lake in 1989. In the mid-1990s it became the White Rock Lake Foundation. Its mission is “to bring together and maximize the resources of the entire community into a coordinated effort for the benefit of White Rock Lake Park.”
Susan Falvo, a longtime board member and past president, says the organization serves as a steward for the implementation of the Dallas Parks and Recreation board’s master plan for White Rock Lake. One of the foundation’s earliest accomplishments was gaining popular support for a $9 million lake-dredging project, which voters supported in the 1995 bond election.
“For a long time we were in the background, working with the city, and that sort of thing,” Falvo says. “One of the reasons I joined was because I had fundraising experience. We started holding a golf tournament, but we wanted to do a fundraiser that was at the lake.”
That’s when the White Rock Lake Festival, of which Flavo was the first chairperson, took shape. The festival, held early each May, usually attracts 10,000 to 15,000 guests, and helps fund projects that are part of the city’s master plan for White Rock Lake.
Get Involved: If you’d like to join the foundation, email info@whiterocklakefoundation.org. “Jeannie [Terilli] or I answer all the emails,” Flavo promises.

For the Love of the Lake

FTLOTL formed in 1995 to tackle hands-on projects at the lake. Most notably, its Second Saturday Shoreline Spruce-Ups — where volunteers pick up litter and recyclables — began in 1996 and has been growing in popularity ever since. For the last few years the spruce-ups have been held every Saturday, though the Second Saturday is still the best attended. FTLOTL president Susan Hello says she’s amazed at the dedication of the volunteers.

“One Saturday when it wasn’t more than 11 degrees outside, a young man who regularly helps out came back to the office with squishy wet pant legs,” she says.

Turns out he slipped into the lake when he first went out, but he worked like that for a couple hours.

“That’s why I call them our intrepid volunteers,” Hello says. “I cannot say enough about them.”

Since its inception, the organization has grown in size and in purpose, Hello says. “We have learned to do so much more.” FTLOTL has raised more than $1 million, renovated buildings such as the historic Big Thicket, and assembled a gargantuan army of loyal volunteers.

Along with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, a few years ago FTLOTL created Celebration Tree Grove, an ongoing reforestation project.

“Last year we spent $53,000 on tree trimming and tree maintenance,” Hello says.

For the Love of the Lake members also regularly monitor lake water quality.

Get involved: Visit the FTLOTL offices any Saturday morning between 8 and 10, grab some gloves and a trash bag, and head for the lakeshore. They’ll welcome you with open arms (plus Starbucks coffee and goodies from local eateries). whiterocklake.org

White Rock Lake Conservancy

The burning of the Dreyfuss Club in 2006 was a catalyst for the formation of the White Rock Conservancy. Councilman Sheffie Kadane said at the time that it worried him that no funds were available to replace a building as significant to our neighborhood as the Dreyfuss Club. It was soon after the fire that he, former councilman Gary Griffith and others started organizing the new fundraising conglomerate.

After two years in existence, the group hired Rachel Fitzgerald as its executive director. Her primary job is to write grant proposals and garner private donations. The conservancy is working along with other group members and the city on next year’s centennial celebration.

The conservancy has been working with a City of Dallas architect over the past few months on a design for the new Dreyfuss building, which will occupy about the same space as the former club, and may be a little bigger. They estimate the project will cost about $3 million, and they aim to raise the funds for it. Other items on the conservancy’s fundraising agenda include trail improvements, lighting designated areas of the lake, dog park renovation and fishing pier reconstruction, to name a few.

Also, the conservancy is working closely with the city and others to plan a centennial celebration for White Rock Lake next year. “We are in the strategic planning process for the centennial. It’s going to be a [months-long] celebration based on the completion of the White Rock Lake spillway in 1911,” Fitzgerald says.

Get involved: Become a member at any level by mailing a check or donating online through The Dallas Foundation website, dallasfoundation.org, and entering White Rock Lake Conservancy in the “fund name”. Visit whiterockdallas.org for more information, or give Rachel Fitzgerald a call at 214.293.8996.

So, is three a crowd?

The Dallas Park Board, which ultimately oversees progress at White Rock Lake Park, works closely with each of these groups.

“It takes more staff time to deal with three different groups,” says Willis Winters, assistant director of the Park and Recreation Department.

That said, he would not necessarily advocate a combination of the groups.

“Each group has its own distinct character and combination of grassroots support. Each has its own niche, and the lake greatly benefits from all of them,” Winters says. “If they ever decided to coordinate, that impetus would come from within those groups, not the Park Board. It is working well as it is, and we enjoy a great relationship with members of each group.”

Group leaders seem to share the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.

“I think it’s great that we have so many groups,” says White Rock Lake Foundation board member Susan Falvo. “A few years ago we heard it would take $70 million to see the White Rock Lake Master plan through, so if we have a million groups, great!”

Rachel Fitzgerald says the White Rock Lake Conservancy is committed to helping other groups meet their goals.

When asked about tension among members from various groups, FTLOTL’s Susan Hello acknowledges there has been some, though she doesn’t quite understand it.

“I don’t know the thought process there, but I am happy when good things happen for the lake. I think that’s how most feel.”

In that spirit, Hello and other FTLOTL members attended the White Rock Lake Festival last month.

“I was beaming at [the foundation’s] success,” Hello says. “How could you not be happy about that?”

Friends in the making

Friends of the White Rock Bath House

A group of White Rock area neighbors formed this group to lessen losses felt at the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake following the city’s budget balancing.

“City cuts severed funding for the director position at the Bath House, plus about $25,000 from the cultural center’s administrative budget,” says Mel Cyrak, the group’s vice president.

The group raised $50,000 to keep the director, Marty Van Kleeck (who has a wide range of responsibilities at the center) in her position.

“The city cut the position, but then reinstated it without funding” after the public complained, Cyrak explains.

District 9 Councilman Sheffie Kadane and District 10 Councilman Jerry Allen each contributed a portion of their discretionary funds toward the cultural center, he says, and profits from cultural events such as the Bath House Cultural Center Art Mart also help.

Cyrak and others hope to model the Friends of the Bath House after groups such as Friends of the Katy Trail.