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Gone But Not Forgotten

Tree preservation is becoming more and more important each year as the Heat Island Effect worsens in Dallas.
Willow, weep for her: A girl plays along a denuded stream. Photo by Dallas Observer.

Volume 833

Published February 18-24, 1999 By ANN ZIMMERMAN


Gone but not forgotten: University Park residents are treed off at city for clear-cutting creek-bed arbor.

On the afternoon of February 7, Elizabeth Moier waited for her two daughters to return home from school, then their daily ritual--walking the half block to an embankment on Curtis Park, a beloved neighborhood sanctuary. Just south of Lovers Lane near Turtle Creek Boulevard in the heart of University Park, the park boasts acres of ball fields and playgrounds, a swimming pool and large pond with spewing fountain, plus a creek lined with glorious, graceful weeping willows, among other mature hardwoods.

At least it used to.

Upon entering the park, the Moier girls, 7-year-old ZiZi and 6-year-old Anne, tore off to their favorite spot, the tree-covered creek bed where they and neighborhood children would cross by holding onto the branches of the trees rooted in a small earthern island. Home to nesting ducks, box turtles, and yellow finches, the creek bed was dubbed the "adventure trail," by the Moier girls and their friends, who spent endless hours exploring the spot.

As she capered down the embankment to the creek, ZiZi stopped suddenly and shrieked, "Where are my trees?" The lament was echoed throughout the weekend by children and grown-ups alike, who arrived at Curtis Park to find that 15 trees, including the two huge weeping willows, had been mowed down.

"If only we had come several hours earlier, maybe we could have saved them," says Elizabeth Moier, the girls' mother. "This, was a bit of untouched nature, and now it's trashed."

For the last week and a half, Moier and her neighbors have tried to find out who is responsible for clear-cutting the creek bed and to figure out a way to prevent such destruction from happening again.

The first thing Moier did was call University Park City Manager Bob Livingston, who came right over to the park to see what the fuss was about. Livingston, says Moier, seemed shocked at first. He told her and her neighbors that he thought only a yaupon holly tree that abutted a jogging trail and was complained about by a jogger who ran into it was to be removed.

But now Livingston says that the city had received numerous calls over the past year and a half on the city's anonymous complaint line about the trees causing flooding in the creek. The creek is a spillway for three storm-sewer drainage tubes and surface runoff from the pond, Livingston explains.

"There had been a lot of growth in the creek over the years, and during times of high flow, especially where there was a lot of debris in the water, the trees and brush would form a dam," Livingston says. "The water would back up to Northwest Highway and Turtle Creek Boulevard, and you couldn't drive down Turtle Creek."

If that is in fact the case, Moier and her neighbors want to know why an engineering study was not done to consider all the potential solutions. Plus, the neighbors are now worried that the water will come through so quickly, properties downstream will run the risk of flooding and eroding more quickly. And there's another potential problem: The city removed a huge weeping willow that grew on the side of the creek and held up the bank. Residents fear that the creek bank will erode drastically now, and the only solution will be to cement the whole thing.

"We're afraid this might turn into nothing but a drainage ditch," Moier says.

Steve Houser, head of the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition, says that there are certain times when trees have to be removed for flood control and sometimes it simply is used as an excuse. In the case of Curtis Park, which he recently investigated at the neighborhood's behest, Houser says more research is needed.

"But the neighbors have a legitimate concern," says Houser. "The issue points to the need for the city of University Park to work more closely with the neighborhood and the Park Board, which, as I understand it, also was not informed."

As Moier points out the destruction on a recent weekday morning, a neighbor walks by with her dog and expresses her regrets to Moier about the denuded creek bed. "I'll help you replant," the woman offers. Moier says the only way the area will be replanted is if the city says it made a mistake, which she doubts it will do.

If the neighbors of Curtis Park seem a little cynical, they have a good reason. They thought they made it clear to University Park officials last spring that they wanted to be included in any decision to remove trees. Last spring, Moier and her neighbors were shocked when they arrived at the Golf Drive entrance to Curtis Park to find that three large live oak trees had been cut down.

Residents contacted the city park department and were told that the trees had to be removed as part of the city's effort to lay a new sewer line 30 feet underground. During a meeting with city engineers, however, the neighborhood learned that the city could have dug under the trees. After the residents got involved, that is exactly what the city decided to do, thus saving a stand bois d'arc trees. City officials promised to keep the neighborhood apprised of any future tree removal plans.

"We thought they understood that we didn't want trees cut down without careful consideration," Moier says. "So, to see all these trees cut down in three hours, without any advance notice, to a lot of us, it was like having cold water thrown in our faces."

Not to long ago the City of Dallas admitted they wrongly whacked a stand of 300 trees near Skillman Street and Northwest Highway. And earlier this week, The Dallas Morning News announced that the city changed plans to remove many mature trees as part of the updgrading of the White Rock spillway and dam after homeowners in the area objected.

In an ironic twist, University Park residents think their own city could take a lesson from Dallas. Not only has Dallas been willing to admit when it has mistakenly cut down trees, it has also been willing to invite the public to comment.

About the author

Ms. Ann Zimmerman

Ms. Zimmerman was a reporter for Dallas Observer in the late 1990's.

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