Ben Sandifer Is the Hero the Trinity Forest Needs

When the city screws up, this citizen hiker holds it accountable.

Growing up in Dallas, how did you get into the wilderness thing?

I was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout. And I grew up a block from a tributary to White Rock Creek in Far North Dallas. I spent a lot of time messing around in the creek.

What’s your day job?

I’m an accountant. I have to wear a coat and tie every day. 

Are you comfortable with me calling you the Defender of the Trinity Forest?

I guess, but there are a lot of defenders of the Great Trinity Forest, some of whom are real specialized in what they do, from archaeology to botany. 

It seems like you specialize in putting boots on the ground. If something’s going on down there—trees getting cut down, a pond getting drained—it seems like you’re the first person to see and document it and email the city.

It seems that way, doesn’t it? I spend a lot of time down there mountain biking and hiking. So I see a lot of the projects. I remember what they looked like 10 years ago, before anyone touched them. I see how, a lot of times, things don’t go as planned. It’s kind of heartbreaking for me to see these things go awry. 

You’ve done a lot to protect Big Spring. Why is that so important?

There are four cool parts to it. Big Spring is one of the last natural springs in Dallas. Two, the founder of Dallas, John Neely Bryan, lived at Big Spring with his wife for a number of years. The third component is, you have an intact, very fragile Native American archaeological site there that archaeologists recommended be made eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The fourth thing is that you have an amazing amount of nature there, inside Loop 12. A lot of it has remained untouched for millennia. 

If I had to pick someone in the city who would be your nemesis, it would be Sarah Standifer, head of Trinity Watershed Management. Every time there’s a story involving the two of you, it’s confusing because your names are so similar. Have you thought about changing your last name?

No, I haven’t. [laughs] But I think it’s unfair to blame one person for the missteps with the Trinity River and Great Trinity Forest. The city of Dallas has a lot of really good employees. They’re a lot smarter and better educated than I am. If I was going to throw a big rock through someone’s window, it would probably be the City Council, who continue to allow the poor stewardship and management down there.  

President Obama was in town recently and you got some one-on-one time with him. How did that come about?

Last summer I was part of an NPR story that was taped at Big Spring. The White House heard it, and I got on their radar as a person of interest. So when the president came to town, I was able to spend a few minutes speaking with him about the issues I care so much about. 

You need to get George W. down there.

Actually, I think this fall I’ll be going on a canoe trip on the Trinity with the former first lady, Laura Bush. That’s in the works. Some of the philanthropists involved with the Trinity River are organizing it. It’s way above my pay grade. I’m just thankful to be able to tag along. 

What’s the weirdest unnatural thing you’ve seen in the Trinity Forest?

I’ve seen people growing marijuana down there. I’ve seen what used to be meth labs. There’s this guy who lives down near Hutchins. When the river floods, he has a WaveRunner, and he rides all the way to Fort Worth and back. But the strangest thing I’ve seen is the fuselage of a Cessna. I thought it was an old crashed airplane. Planes, just like cars, have serial numbers. Through a lot of work, I found that it had been crashed, but it wasn’t crashed there. Someone salvaged it and then dumped it in the river bottoms. It’s Dallas’ largest aluminum beer can. 

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