Is our city’s gem a haven for nature or enterprise — or both?
Recent speculation on the local blogosphere (both Dallas Morning News and Advocate) about the possibility of bars or eateries at White Rock Lake has piqued the interest of outdoor enthusiasts who use and enjoy White Rock Trail and the lake.
Before becoming too alarmed about potential pitfalls, I called longtime Lake Highlands resident Joan Walne, who is president of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, to clarify whether the city is seriously entertaining notions of development near White Rock Lake. Walne put some of my fears to rest.
“The lake itself is all park land,” she says. “You can’t just go in there and have a private enterprise.”
Furthermore, she confirmed that the park board has not addressed any actual business proposals. Even if discussions get that far, community groups would have to be included before any plan could be set in motion.
“I’m pretty sure I know what the reaction [from the community] would be,” Walne says. (Negative, presumably, if recent history is any indication.) Even so, Walne says. “I think people are always looking for new opportunities. The lake is a beautiful area, and we want to make the best possible use of it.”
Given that there is no imminent threat of development on park property, we have some breathing room to think about how the lake and surrounding park might be enhanced.
One thing I’ve often lamented is the barrier between the lake and the Dallas Arboretum (also overseen by the park board). When I’m inside the arboretum, I feel unfairly separated from the lake, and when I’m on the trail, I feel like an outcast. The separation between the two seems artificial. Unfortunately, opening access from the trail could draw more cars to the lake.
“If people knew there was another way to get there, it might be a parking problem,” Walne says.
In another scenario, imagine you are a family living in Lake Highlands, and you want to ride bicycles down to the lake, grab breakfast, and then ride home. A neighbor once told me she had done this, with Barbec’s on Garland as the breakfast destination. But when I asked how she got to Barbec’s from the trail, she had difficulty putting it into words.
“I’m not really sure,” she admitted. “It’s not easy.”
The Ice House at the end of the Katy Trail is the type of business that might work well at White Rock Lake — in fact, we already have the new Dallas Bicycle Café, which opened this year at West Lawther and Northwest Highway. One of my favorite elements about the café is that the best parking spots are reserved for bicycles. Not that I’m anti-car (I’ll probably drive there, when I go), but I applaud attempts to cater to cyclists.
Back at the lake, one idea that might be win/win would be redevelopment of some of the privately owned land nearby. It’s hard to imagine any objection from neighbors if someone proposed a restaurant at the south side of the lake near the spillway.
Another possibility might be to allow food trucks, which have the advantage of being temporary in case they don’t work out. My problem with food trucks is that, sadly, Frank Lloyd Wright never got around to designing a food truck that looks beautiful in a park.
What about the idea that White Rock Lake ought to be more like Central Park, where New Yorkers enjoy both green space and food service in the middle of Manhattan? For one thing, the lake is not in downtown Dallas; in fact, it isn’t even adjacent. Soon we will have the Klyde Warren Park over Woodall-Rodgers if we want an urban park experience — together with the nearby Trinity Riverfront project, both of which were conceived to generate a more pedestrian-friendly downtown.
In contrast, during a recent weekday visit to White Rock Lake, I couldn’t help but appreciate the open space, relative quiet, and sunlight reflecting on water. If there is any other location in Dallas where I can go to get that peaceful feeling, I haven’t found it.
That’s why I hope the city will preserve White Rock Lake in its present form. Despite its man-made origin, the lake is our one precious link to natural beauty inside the beltway.