White_Rock_lake

Why isn’t it easy to walk or ride a bicycle to the Dallas Arboretum? That’s the question Angela Hunt poses in her March column. It’s a good question, and the answer lies in the arboretum’s history with surrounding neighborhoods and White Rock Lake activists.

In recent years, as walkability has become a bigger priority for Dallasites, the obvious question has become: Why isn’t there a pedestrian/cyclist entrance to the arboretum from the ever-expanding trail system, which already circles White Rock Lake and runs right outside the arboretum’s fence? It’s because when the arboretum’s planned development district was created in 1988, the ordinance clearly stipulated no access to the arboretum from East Lawther Drive, and that wording continues to govern the arboretum today.

Granted, Lawther (for vehicles) and the trail (for pedestrians and cyclists) are not one and the same, but they run side by side, and adding any kind of lake-side entrance to the arboretum would threaten the reason some neighbors originally fought to prevent such an entrance — the possibility that visitors to the arboretum would abuse White Rock Lake Park. If there’s a pedestrian and cyclist entrance to the arboretum from the White Rock Lake trail, what’s to keep people from parking at Winfrey Point or elsewhere around the lake and walking in, in order to bypass the arboretum’s $15 parking fee?

White Rock Lake Task Force chairman Michael Jung, who has been involved in the city’s dealings with the arboretum since the ’80s, says the issue of lake-side access cropped up around 2011, and even though he had concerns that it might encourage indirect vehicle access, he was mulling whether there might be safeguards that could keep this from happening and wondering whether the arboretum would be willing to discuss it.

Before that happened, however, the prospect of Winfrey Point as a parking lot exploded onto the scene, “and I said to myself, as far as I’m concerned, that deal is dead because I don’t trust them,” Jung told us when we interviewed him for March’s cover story. “If I got word, even a rumor, that they were thinking about trying to reopen that issue, I would be in the forefront of the opposition saying two things — there were good and valid reasons in ’85 for restricting access, and those reasons are valid today.”

The arboretum isn’t opposed to a lake-side pedestrian entrance. “It would make perfect sense, at least it seems, to have a connection between the arboretum and the lake trails,” said Brian Shivers, a longtime arboretum board member and its recent chairman, during interviews for March’s story. But Shivers made clear that the arboretum isn’t going to lead this charge, especially post-Winfrey Point, and says the board has told the city, “if you want it, you can make it happen.”

The same sentiment regarding sidewalks along Garland Road was expressed by arboretum president and CEO Mary Brinegar in her conversation with Hunt, saying she would “welcome the city’s investment in a concrete path along the perimeter” (emphasis ours). Just as the arboretum isn’t interested in another fight with White Rock Lake activists, it also doesn’t want to anger people in nearby neighborhoods who don’t want people parking on their streets and walking to the arboretum.

So there’s no political will on the arboretum’s part to make it happen, and plenty of political opposition around White Rock Lake to keep it from happening. However, Hunt is one of many voices in Dallas calling for more walkability and connection, so now the question is whether the tide will turn in their favor.