When it comes to trails, Oak Cliff lags behind other Dallas neighborhoods in terms of long, uninterrupted stretches carved out for walkers, runners and cyclists.

The city’s longest trail in our neighborhood is at Kiest Park; it loops around for 2.5 miles. Other neighborhood loop trails — like those at Lake Cliff, Kidd Springs, Founders Park and Martin Weiss — loop for a mile or less. Anyone looking for a longer pathway with more changes in scenery has to drive across the Trinity River to the Katy Trail or White Rock Lake.

Within the next few years, however, all of that could change. The city and county have plans to start new trail construction almost everywhere we look, giving us plenty of space to roam and, eventually, connecting Oak Cliff to Downtown without having to traverse the vehicular bridges spanning the river.

Read on to discover where we’ll be able to hike and bike next, right here in our neighborhood.

Blazing Ahead
Soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts — they’re all useful, says Rick Loessberg, Dallas County director of planning and development, but they benefit only the athletes who play those sports. These traditional recreational facilities can’t compete with the universal appeal of a trail.

“Trails cut across a broad spectrum of the population,” Loessberg says. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, what month of the year, you’ll find people pushing strollers, older people taking walks together, kids on their rollerblades, children walking home from school, the guys who look like Lance Armstrong in their skin-tight uniforms, people running because they’re trying to stay in shape or because they’re training for the White Rock Marathon …

“So you have this incredible group of people using the same 12-foot stretch of trail.”

The popularity of trails has led to a massive trail makeover across Dallas, and current construction across the city includes various routes in our neighborhood. Fifteen miles of new trail has been added in Dallas since 2005, making our system a total of 100 miles, says Michael Hellmann, the city’s park planning and acquisitions manager. That’s won’t be enough for the clamoring masses, however. Another 10 miles will be laid down over the next three or four years, and city and county plans ultimately call for 250 miles of trails in Dallas.

Eventually, it will be possible to travel from southern Plano all the way south of the Trinity River without ever leaving the trails. That’s pretty impressive for a city second only to Southern California in its connection with the automobile, Loessberg says.

“DART has made inroads to help change that, but the reality is, if we want to go pick up a loaf of bread, we’ve got to go get in our car,” Loessberg says.

“If you talk to people in other cities, Dallas is one big sprawling area of highways and cars, and they’re not necessarily off base in that portrayal.”

The influx of people from other cities with more comprehensive trail plans helped to raise awareness that “Dallas was behind the times,” Hellmann says. But it took more than a comparison game to get the city up to speed — it took people not only wanting trails but using them, too.

For starters, people are growing more and more concerned with their health, Hellmann says, and trails provide a convenient way to get out and exercise. People also are starting to “think green,” he says, and are looking at trails as a means of alternative transportation, such as riding a bike to a DART rail station to get to work. The future Chalk Hill Trail, for example, will connect from Pinnacle Park to the Westmoreland station.

And perhaps the biggest driver for trail construction is their role as a catalyst for economic development. The best example of this is right along the Katy Trail, where real estate prices have jumped 25 percent over the last nine years, and houses are now being built to face the trail instead of backing up to it.

“Years ago people would think trail systems would just bring in crime, but what’s actually happening is quite the opposite,” Hellmann says. “These trails are so popular and heavily used that they actually work as a built-in crime watch system.”

The first phase of the Katy Trail was completed in 2001, and was so successful that “everybody jumped on the trail bandwagon,” Hellmann says. It spurred his creation of the Dallas Trail Network Plan, the master plan for the entire city, in 2005, with more updates made last year.

And unlike other well-intended but ill-fated comprehensive city plans, “it’s not just on a shelf gathering dust,” Hellmann says. “It’s actually being implemented.”

A Bird’s Eye View of Our Neighborhood Trails
How will the city’s and county’s master plans impact our neighborhood over the next few years? Here’s a quick glance:

Coombs Creek Trail
This 1.5-mile trail starts near Hampton and runs northeast along the creek, and will eventually connects to the Trinity River levee near Beckley. Construction of this section, which is phase one, likely will finish up this month or next.

“A lot of people use Kessler Park already as a place to exercise; it’s just going to allow them to do it off the street on a stabilized surface where they can ride their bikes, walk, exercise their dogs, and really enjoy the beauty of the creek,” says project manager Sugie Dotson.
The trail will be eight feet wide instead of the now-standard 12 feet, both because of the constraints of the creek and because it’s a neighborhood trail, intended for people who live right around the trail.

“If you make it wider, you would have lots of people coming to use it, and I think constituents did not want that to be a possibility,” Dotson says.

The only remaining question about this phase of the trail is exactly where and how it will connect to the Trinity River Levee Trails. One scenario might be going around Lone Star Donuts and cutting over to Greenbriar, Dotson says; others are a hike and bike trail all the way down Greenbriar, or a pedestrian bridge that crosses over Beckley.

“The problem is crossing the street. Beckley is a tough street to cross,” Dotson says. Plus, she says, the trail will somehow have to cut through a neighborhood to get to the Trinity River levee, so the city is trying to settle on the best scenario that will “make as many people as possible happy.”

Phase two would continue along the creek on the west side of Hampton. The city has bond money in place and is currently working on a design.

Chalk Hill Trail
An old railroad corridor stretching 4.3 miles from Pinnacle Park to the Westmoreland DART Station will become the Chalk Hill Trail, “the first thoroughfare-type trail in the western part of the city,” Rick Loessberg says.

The city will take the lead on this $5 million project, and is currently in the process of purchasing the land. Once the city has the title to the property, hopefully early this spring, Loessberg says, the county has budgeted $1.2 million to help design the trail and fund the first construction phase.

“When you think of how the Pinnacle Park area has come out of the ground out of nowhere in last few years …” Loessberg says. “It has new apartments; people work there now; and it’s a beautiful corridor scenery-wise that connects with a variety of diverse neighborhoods.”

If all goes well, he says, the trail could be complete six to 12 months after the land is purchased. Eventually, the city hopes to find a way to connect the Chalk Hill and Coombs Creek trails with a route through the Pinnacle Park development.

Kiestwood Trail
It will wind through an unused and unsightly TXU corridor, and if everything goes as planned, Rick Loessberg says, the Kiestwood Trail could be a parallel story to the Preston Ridge Trail in Far North Dallas.

“That ugly thing was there for 40 years, and nobody thought much about it,” Loessberg says of the utility corridor home to the Preston Ridge Trail, “but now azaleas and other trees and bushes have been planted, and neighbors sort of adopted that area and cared for those new plantings. It led to political support to put money in the last bond program. We think the same thing could happen in the Kiestwood area.”

The exact trail location is still being defined, but it will run south of Kiest Boulevard, starting west of Westmoreland and stretching eastward 2.5 miles past Hampton until it connects with the popular Kiest Park trail at the park’s Kiest Boulevard entrance.

Loessberg says the county is hoping to begin design on the Kiestwood Trail this spring and start construction in 2010.

Trinity River Levee Trails
Thirty-nine miles of trails eventually will snake through the Trinity River Corridor Project between the confluence of the West and Elm forks all the way down to the DART bridge, says landscape architect Ignacio Bunster of Wallace Roberts & Todd, one of the three firms working on design of the lakes and amenities.

The primary trail, or “spine trail” as Bunster calls it, will run down the middle of the floodway and cross the river several times “so that people from both downtown and Oak Cliff can get to it.” A levee top trail will run along the downtown side that “also dips down below the bridges so people could ride a bike uninterruptedly from South Dallas all the way to Irving,” Bunster says.

On the Oak Cliff side, an equestrian trail will run right below the levee from the Trinity Forest all the way to the confluence.

“All of these trails have connections across the levee to all the other regional trails, whether Turtle Creek or Coombs Creek,” Bunster says, “so all these trails that lead to nowhere right now will hook up to these [levee] trails to either cross the floodway or move up and down the floodway. People can, for example, from the Coombs Creek Trail go up the levee to the Urban Lake.”

Bridges are also part of the levee trail system. Rebecca Dugger, the corridor project’s director, points out the Sylvan Avenue bridge, which will have six-foot sidewalks and bike lanes on either side of it, and the Continental bridge, which will become a pedestrian bridge once the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge is complete.

The levee trails will take into account the raising of the levees two feet and the proposed Trinity tollway construction. The entire Trinity River Corridor Project is under a U.S. Corps of Engineers environmental impact study right now, so the design cannot be finalized until the Corps’ final stamp of approval (expected in summer 2011), although some work may take place before then with Corps’ approval, Dugger says. Bunster says the first round of levee trail design proposals will be submitted to the Corps by the end of this month.


A Little Help From My Friends
The Dallas Park and Recreation Department maintains all of the city’s public parks and paths, but a select few are pampered — that’s what friends are for.

“Most every major trail we have tends to have a ‘friends’ group, and it has brought support to a much higher level,” says trail and park project manager David Recht. “It’s important, if folks want to see the trail plan get implemented, to get involved and make sure their council members see that important aspect of quality of life in their neighborhood.”

Four major “friends” groups are currently active — Friends of the Katy Trail, Friends of the Preston Ridge Trail, Friends of the Santa Fe Trail and, the closest to our neighborhood, Friends of the Trinity Strand Trail. These groups not only create political awareness of trails but also contribute hundreds of volunteer hours and raise millions of dollars for trail construction and amenities beyond what government money can do.

The 7.8-mile Trinity Strand Trail will connect to the Katy Trail just south of Harry Hines near Oak Lawn, run along the course of the original Trinity River (providing access to the Southwestern Medical District, Dallas Market Center, Stemmons Corridor businesses and the Dallas Design District), and connect to the Trinity levee trails on either side of Sylvan.

By contacting each of the property owners adjacent to the future trail, Friends of the Trinity Strand Trail have been able to garner written support for the project, as well as land contributions valued at more than $4 million. Since 2002 the group has secured more than $14 million for the estimated $23 million project, which includes both public funding and private donations.

Construction of the trail starts this year, and the first Trinity River connection should be complete in 2010.