Four miles from downtown Dallas, just below the Tenison Glen Golf Course, is a 50-acre spread of elm, hackberry, and ash trees that’s basically inaccessible to the public. By the end of 2023, this will be Dallas’ newest soft-surface natural cycling trail, an offshoot of the 50-mile loop that will link together the city’s existing trails and create new pedestrian and cycling access through the Trinity Forest.
Creekside Park, which Tim broke the news about earlier this week, will only be accessible by way of the concrete Trinity Spine Trail that runs adjacent to it. Inside those 50 acres will be five miles of trail and a separate skills park, all of which will be designed for low- and moderately-skilled riders.
“The LOOP is really bringing new greenspace activation opportunities to Dallas,” says Philip Hiatt Haigh, the executive director of the Circuit Trail Conservancy, which is building the LOOP. “We’re helping realize the Park Department’s long-term vision.”
That vision goes back to 1966, when the city of Dallas began buying wooded parcels of land south of White Rock Lake. By the early 2000s, the city had amassed about 50 acres in this little corner of East Dallas. About four of those acres are an open stretch beyond the trees—that will be where the mountain biking skills course is, filled with hills and jumps.
Hiatt Haigh and his team went to work researching what to do with these woods once the trail opened up access. The Spine Trail—a 12-foot-wide concrete cycling and pedestrian path—passes right alongside the city’s land, creating a new opportunity for a trailhead into the trees. And the perfect partner to pull off such a feat already exists: The Dallas Offroad Bicycling Association, or DORBA, which launched in 1988 and now manages close to 200 miles of trail at 22 locations across North Texas. It’s a volunteer organization, and about 2,000 people help manage all of the natural trails—clearing brush, closing them after rain, general maintenance and upkeep.
It hasn’t opened a new trail in Dallas in more than a decade. Sean Laughlin, a board member and the organization’s sponsorship director, says it’s because “our phone has not rung in 10 years.”
“There hasn’t been a parcel that the city of Dallas has called us and said, ‘hey, do you wanna work together on this?’ It really is a unique opportunity,” Laughlin says. “We wouldn’t have gotten this call about putting a trail in that particular parcel if the LOOP Trail hadn’t been designed and built.”
The city clearly saw potential for something when it began purchasing this land in the 1960s. In more recent years, the Parks Department’s Samuell Grand-Tenison Master Plan shrinks the golf course from 18-holes to 9-holes to accommodate additional amenities like the trails. The 2017 bond included $20 million for the LOOP Trail, which has been buoyed by private donation and pushed forward by the Circuit Trail Conservancy. The timing lined up.
The suburbs have been investing in these amenities, however. DORBA has opened trails in Forney, Plano, and Crandall, smaller, younger cities where it’s easier to find land to put a trail amenity than in denser Dallas. Most notable is McKinney’s Erwin Park, a 212-acre space that includes wooded trails and a skills course.
“A whole new group of families is going out there and enjoying it,” Laughlin says. “And a few folks on the Dallas park board went up and saw it and said, ‘we should have one of these in Dallas.’”
Creekside Park won’t be as large as Erwin, but in some ways it’s just as ambitious. Laughlin hopes to attract a designer that’s worked in bike-friendly cities like Bentonville or Park City, Utah to take a swing at the design. Both of those cities feature soft-surface trails that are accessible by the concrete trails, similar to the LOOP’s system. The winner of the bid might even be a design firm that hasn’t worked in Texas before, which would be “national news in the cycling enthusiast community,” Laughlin says. They’ll survey the land and design winding trails that make the rider feel like they’re deep in the woods. And because this area isn’t in a floodplain, it won’t have the challenge of many other DORBA trails that are out of commission for days or weeks after a deluge.
He anticipates it to cost between $25,000 and $35,000 per mile “to build a good trail” and is confident to have private donations in place by the end of the year.
“People are like, ‘hey, I can put a five-mile trail in for $200,000?” he says. “That’s cheaper than building a parking lot in some places.”
There are still papers to sign. The Conservancy has submitted a formal name-change request to brand the park as Creekside. DORBA and the city don’t have a formal agreement just yet, but Parks Department Assistant Director Ryan O’Connor says it’s in progress. “If the funding is in place, it’s not unreasonable to say we could have some improvements out there by the end of next year,” he says. The city will still own the land, but allow the private operator to manage it.
And this will be available for folks north and south of Interstate 30 who are riding bikes along a safe and spacious trail—something that, for generations, only part of Dallas had easy access to.