White Rock Lake’s Top 10 Priorities

Several improvements are complete, but there's more to come. Here’s a look at each high-priority project, what it will cost, and where it stands.

The city’s high-priority projects

The redesign of the Garland Road spillway, arguably White Rock Lake’s most recognizable and idyllic attraction, is finished. Next spring, Dallas will celebrate the lake’s centennial, marked by the original completion of the spillway in 1911. Though it is a cornerstone of progress at the signature park, the spillway renovation — a $16.7 million effort that includes new retaining walls, trail and parking lot improvements, and fresh signage and landscaping to name a few — is only one of several White Rock Lake projects that the City of Dallas has planned for the near and distant future. Late last year, the Park Department, along with the White Rock Lake Conservancy, a fundraising organization whose board members promise to help raise funds for the projects, presented the top 10 priorities. Here’s a look at each project, what it will cost, and where it stands.

1. East Lawther Trail and parking reconstruction

All three phases of the East Lawther Trail project will include parking lot improvements, new parking lots and trail entry marker additions. The City of Dallas, from the previous bond program, allocated $1.8 million for phase one of the trail and parking reconstruction, for the area from Mockingbird Point to the Bath House Cultural Center. The total estimated cost for this phase is $3.8 million. The plan is to rebuild the existing trail, and revamp parts that are unused and broken up (the stretch up Boy Scout Hill, for example) rather than building a new trail along the shoreline (as the city did along the west side of the lake). Also included in phase one is a pedestrian overpass from Mockingbird Bridge to Boy Scout Hill, and native grassland designation for certain areas.

Phase two will encompass the area from the Bath House to Lake Highlands Drive. This phase includes improvements to the Big Thicket area — the building and playground will remain, but playground improvements, trail access and new picnic stations are in store. Phase two costs are estimated at $1.5 million, and as yet no money is allocated for it.

Phase three focuses on the area from Lake Highlands Drive to Emerald Isle, and includes a planned sailing club parking zone near the Corinthian Sailing Club, and boat ramp improvements. The estimated cost for phase three is $1.9. $7.2 million more is needed in order to make all three phases happen. Despite needing much more money, the city has moved ahead with the design, Winters says.

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2. Stone Tables

Built around 1930, the Stone Tables — accompanied by a bridge over a nonexistent pond, a bathroom building and a pavilion — are some of the oldest structures at White Rock Lake. The tables, which sit along East Lawther Drive and can be seen from Buckner, serve as a popular gathering area, even though they are run-down and the old lily pond is long dried up. A $1 million restoration of this area would include refurbishing the historic structures and replenishing the lily pond. To date, no funds have been allocated for this project.

3. Fishing piers

The fishing piers at White Rock Lake are old — so old, in fact, that they need to be rebuilt from scratch, says Willis Winters, assistant director of Dallas Park and Recreation. There are eight piers, which will cost $200,000 each to repair. That’s $1.6 million for the entire project. No money is yet allocated for this.

4.Dreyfuss Point

Dreyfuss Club Rendering

The burning of the Dreyfuss Club in 2006 was a catalyst for forming the White Rock Lake Conservancy, a group that aims to raise funds for lake improvement projects. Right after the fire, City Councilman Sheffield Kadane said it concerned him that no funds were available to replace a building as significant to our neighborhood as the Dreyfuss Club. So Kadane, along with former City Councilman Gary Griffith and others, started organizing. The group has been working with a City of Dallas architect over the past several 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. “Our building and grounds committee meets and talks with the city and its architect at least quarterly,” Griffith says. “We wouldn’t start fundraising until a final design is determined and our board formally votes to engage in the project.” The cost of rebuilding the club is estimated at $3 million, and the city has not allocated any money for the project.

5. Reflection Point

Plaza Solana, a stone scenic overlook near the boathouse on the East Lawther side of the lake — situated between the Tokalon and Lakewood Boulevard connections to the trail — was phase one of an overarching Reflection Point project.

Plans for the next two phases of Reflection Point include additional seating; improvements to the trail, walkway and landscaping; and construction of a Lakewood Gateway that would connect the neighborhood to the trails and lake. The trail from Reflection Point will eventually connect with the Santa Fe Trail that will run through East Dallas and to Deep Ellum.

The first phase of the project, Plaza Solana was partially funded with private donations, and partially funded by the city’s bond program. Another $1.5 million is needed to complete the project, and no funds are yet allocated for it.

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6. Dog park

The White Rock Dog Park at Mockingbird and West Lawther was built on a shoestring budget, Winters says. Neighbors love it, but it’s far from user-friendly, especially on rainy days when it tends to flood.

“White Rock Dog Park needs a lot of work,” Winters says. “We need to expand the paddocks; add new parking; add more amenities, shade and irrigation; open the park up to the shoreline; clean up that shoreline; and make it more of a visual commodity.” The good news is that $800,000 in bond money has been allocated for this project, but another $2 million is needed  to make everything happen. One planning meeting has been held regarding the dog park remodel, Winters says, and another is being planned for this month.

7. Lighting master plan implementation

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After some public debate, the Dallas park board last summer approved a comprehensive plan for lighting at White Rock Lake. The plan calls for extra lighting in certain areas, such as Winfrey Point during events only; and for the trail to be lit only in designated spots — near curves, intersections, parking lots, piers and areas with highest potential for high traffic and collisions. The estimated cost is $1.8 million. So far $400,000 is allocated for the project, which will cover the first phase that includes limited lighting near the spillway.

8. Furnishings and signage
The Dallas park department and White Rock Lake Conservancy will work together to improve park furnishings and signage, a roughly $800,000 cost. New signage and furnishings on the west side of the lake will be consistent with the rustic stone theme along the east side of the lake.

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9. Reforestation

The furnishings and signage project also includes reforestation at a cost of $750,000. So far, no money is allotted for either of these projects, but thanks to help from For the Love of the Lake, reforestation efforts are well underway. In 2006 the nonprofit, along with the park department, established the Celebration Tree Grove, which recognizes folks who donate funds for new trees, or those whom the donors wish to memorialize. The grove, boasting myriad types of trees including cypress, oak, elm, cherry, buckthorn and holly, offers a central area for honoring tree donors, rather than having multiple plaques around the lake and park. This donor-recognition system has since been implemented in parks throughout the city, Winters says.

10. Water quality improvements

suggestion for water quality improvement

In the 1940s, swimmers splashed with impunity in the White Rock Lake waters. Today, though the lake is a hub of activity, you’d have to be crazy to actually go in the water. It’s filthy. Aris Tsamis, who has owned Mariner Sails for 15 years, has been lobbying for the city to allow windsurfing on White Rock, and though he came close one time, and even was allowed to hold an exhibition windsurfing event once, Tsamis repeatedly was informed by the city that it was too dangerous. “I finally gave up,” he says.

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The push for windsurfing at the lake, though it didn’t pan out, forced the city to take a look at water quality and tack it onto the list of top priorities. According to a plan presented by Winters last December, a series of floating wetlands could serve as a design aesthetic as well as a habitat- and water-improvement measure. In order for this plan to move forward, Dallas Water Utilities would need to approve it, and an ecological restoration consultant would then help develop the plan. The design alone would cost $400,000.

Now that we’ve nailed down the priorities, the issue of funding remains.  Altogether about $21.5 million is needed for the White Rock top 10, and only about $3 million is available. Money comes from two sources, Winters explains — bond programs and private funding. When organizations such as For the Love of the Lake, White Rock Conservancy and White Rock Lake Foundation raise money for a project, it can serve as leverage for a higher allocation of funds in the next bond program. Or, a group might turn its fundraising focus toward a project that is partially funded by a bond program. “In the past we have been successful [both] leveraging bond dollars once the private sector has provided a portion of funds, and the other way around,” Winters says.

The 2011 White Rock Lake Centennial event planning has been bumped to the top of the to-do list for some groups such as the White Rock Conservancy. Hopefully, those festivities will serve as an opportunity to help fund the aforementioned projects, organizers say.

“We are in the strategic planning process for what will be a months-long celebration,” says Rachel Fitzgerald, the White Rock Lake Conservancy’s executive director. Councilman Sheffie Kadane has appointed a Centennial Host Committee to plan a series of events during 100 celebratory April-June 2011 days. Though specifics have not yet been determined, “there could be rowing and regatta events, races and concerts to name a few,” Winters says, “but they will be fundraising events, for the most part, that will go toward the top 10.”  n

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