The Dallas Arboretum's Winfrey Point-Attacking Botanist Had a Rough Weekend

Okennon-staffbio.JPG
Not-at-all-Dr. Robert O'Kennon.
Late on Friday, we passed along a letter from the Dallas Arboretum celebrating an agreement with White Rock Lake neighbors that allows the city to turn the grasslands of Winfrey Point into a temporary parking lot.

It was a strange missive to begin with -- a botanical garden celebrating its ability to mow through plants for parking? -- but one part stood out so much it required bolding. It came in response to neighbors' claim that Winfrey Point was "an endangered ecosystem in that it contains pristine, native grasses."

And it came from a botanist with one of those impressive PhDs in his title.

This claim could not be further from the truth. Almost all of the grasses observed at Winfrey Point are non-native, invasive species. I identified 15 species of non-native grasses, some of which are very aggressive," said Dr. Robert O'Kennon, Ph.D. "These non-native grasses and plants at Winfrey Point need to be kept under control and appropriately mowed or eradicated to attempt to prevent their spread to and the destruction of the other regions of White Rock Lake Park with native flora. Furthermore, 'Blackland Prairie' is a soil type; it does not refer to what grows on it. There are 12 million acres of 'Blackland Prairie' in North Texas."

The questions immediately started to rain down in the comments: Who is this guy, and does he know what he's talking about? (I left a message at O'Kennon's home but have yet to hear back.)

The folks at Save Winfrey Point took a stab at that second question on their web site, where they took apart the Arboretum's press release 'graph by 'graph, including O'Kennon's appearance:

- We are not claiming that Winfrey Point is home to 100% pristine, native plant species. The message we are trying to convey is that we find the current state of Winfrey to be worth preserving and promoting, as it is aesthetically appealing in situ, and does contain a great many native species. Groups such as The Healthy Habitat Prairie Restoration Project at St. John's Episcopal School are working in these areas to control the invasive species and promote the propogation of the native ones ...

- The ratio of native to invasive species is not the subject of debate in this issue. As previously noted, Winfrey supporters are well aware of the various plant species in place. What the Arboretum release doesn't mention, however, is that the prairie areas at Winfrey are home to Redtail Fox, Bobcat, Rabbit, and many bird species that are uncommon in the rest of the Dallas area.

- The claim that there are 12 million acres of blackland prairie currently is false. There were 12 million acres a century or more ago, but there are scarcely 3,000 acres in place today. Many of the species in the remaining areas are threatened or endangered.

So what kind of botanist gets so easily dismissed by a pack of plant-lovers? A "self-taught" one, apparently. That's how the News described O'Kennon in Saturday's paper. It followed over the weekend with an item pointing out that O'Kennon didn't, in fact, have a PhD, forcing the Arboretum to re-issue its press release.

(That's right: Shaq is more of a doctor than this guy.)

(Alternate joke: Unless that PhD's actually a Plant-hating Degree.)

The point is moot for now. The city can now mow the point the point and re-plant it with cars as it pleases. But as the fight escalates (there were protesters at the Point over the weekend) -- and if the city does, in fact, pursue a parking garage on the spot (it says it won't, but a consultant's report suggests otherwise) -- you can bet the Arboretum will find a new go-to botanist. But where would an arboretum find one of those?

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49 comments
Tedbartker
Tedbartker

New epxert in grasslands on Tues morning during our daily vigil.  Dr. Smeins, TX A+M with a nice police escort, some of whom had come over to ask us "Who is your Leader?"  We pointed to Mr. Woogie who was occupying the road with a happy wag. Police escort, give me a break.

Kelly Cotten
Kelly Cotten

Mark my words: DABS and the City will bring in Dr. Fred Smeins, Texas A&M professor specializing in Rangeland Ecology.  He's long been a go-to-guy for Dallas business. He had a long and active association with TXU Energy (now Luminant) and others.

Guest
Guest

That's it.

I'm totally taking my elephant Stampy to the Arboretum around his lunch-time.

Byter
Byter

White Rock Park's days are numbered. There was a tour of sorts last year with concepts to improve the park and surrounding areas. They pointed out the need for more vendors             ( Starbucks was mentioned ) to attract and serve more users. The Garland Road Initiative has already set it's sights on businesses that have served the community for years. Replacing them with high end bars and restaurants. $6 beers and $10 hamburgers. They want to make East Dallas a " destination. ". East Dallas is already a destination for those of us that live here. When we become a destination can the " Barking Dogs " be far behind?

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Iirony: The same people who interfere with DISD by pouring money into races are also the people who support the Arboretum. The same who had them build a huge bridge over a ditch near downtown. The same who back candidattes for trustee who would consider gas drilling on school properties.

It is all connected, folks. Same 15 or so families control it all.

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

Since Rick Perry wants to do a $10k college degree, can I upgrade to the $30k PhD?

Madmonk
Madmonk

I live about two miles from the  Arboretum. There are churches and various businesses (many probably in dire need of alternative ways to make money) that have parking that is unused most the time. And even down at the spillway there are several HUGE parking lots by the YMCA and OK Tejano bar, which is unused during the day. They have NO EXCUSE not to find alternative parking, especially if its temporary. If mowing down any area around Winfrey Point is the best solution the Arboretum of the City of Dallas can come up with , then they are simply idiots. And its our duty to stop them. I am outraged by all this frankly. And I think every Dallas citizen should be.

Jeff Strater
Jeff Strater

In addition to ruining the awesome field, the introduction of a slew of cars to the park is unsafe to the bikers, runners and families who enjoy the lake.  It's a park owned by the people of Dallas to enjoy and not auxiliary paid parking for another organization's profits. 

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

I'm a "self taught" arborist.  My services are available and I would be willing to charge a nominal fee to the Aroboretum. But please, don't check my references before payment of services. Trust me, I"ll be happy to take care of their beautiful trees. My services are only available to the Arboretum, the rest of you, just call a certified arborist. 

Guest
Guest

The Arboretum really is an asset for Dallas and this community. But so is WR Lake - even more so because it is "owned" by all of us, residents, taxpayers, and voters. 

I haven't read anyone specifically mention the poor jobs done by the Arboretum staff and board - for an institution entrusted with millions of dollars for the new childrens' garden, and millions in donations, sponsorships and memberships for operating costs and special events to plan an expansion WITHOUT real plans for parking  - this seems to me to be grounds for dismissal. Then day after day they are misleading when questioned, they get a spokesperson to give incomplete and some would say inaccurate information in court, and try to make those who love White Rock Lake look like we are radicals.

In the end, they make the Arboretum seem distasteful, elitist, and poorly run.

It seems to me that the Arboretum itself needs new leadership.

RTGolden
RTGolden

Here's the thing.  The city has received, since 2000, federal funding to protect and restore the prairie habitat, along with various other wildland preservation projects around the state.  Becky Rader, a Master Naturalist with the Texas Master Naturalists, has been working on restoring Winfrey Point since 1998.  The annual midsummer mowing is done, not to promote parking, as the city would have you believe, but to take the place of the fires that would run through the prairies periodically.  The mowing is a surrogate for natural conditions that can't be allowed to run their course anymore.  Occasional parking on the mowed prairie is good as the vehicle and foot traffic helps press the seeds into the soil, ensuring good seed-to-soil contact.So we have, since 1998, the federal government, the state government, the city government, the Texas Master Naturalists, SMU, and various grant-winners (including 8th graders from St. John's) all vouching for the rarity and importance of the Winfrey Point prairie (in addition to the World Wildlife Fund).  On the side opposing it, you have the Arboretum, the city (in an amazing display of playing both sides of an issue), and a retired airline pilot-turned-botanist.

shadowspawn
shadowspawn

Isn't this covered by the EPA's clean water act?  And is there already an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, since this construction (mowing and parking) affects more than 5 acres AND falls under industrial activity? What water quality testing standards are in place to monitor the runoff from the cars? Are there samples that were taken, and when is the next scheduled sample to be taken? Just peruse through the EPA's docs on the CWA; I think the arboretum (ironic) has really stepped on something that's going to take a lot to scrape off of their shoes by allowing pollutants to run off into the lake, and didn't even get the permits for it. Parking lots ARE considered under sewage runoff sections. I hope some lawyer wanting to get their teeth sharpened files a suit under the CWA.

dallasmay
dallasmay

The Arboretum should partner with the Lake Side Baptist Church right across the street. Offer to build them a parking structure in exchange for parking rights for Arboretum visitors during park hours -which nicely excludes Sunday morning. 

Done. http://g.co/maps/r7v3v

Born in Dallas
Born in Dallas

As a long time member of the Arboretum, I have been to many weddings at both the Arboretum and Winfrey Point. The buildings are so different from each other especially in price. The Arboretum could have adressed the parking issue when they took out the bamboo for" The Children's Garden".  And one question, did the parks departmen ever rebuild The Dreyfuss Club or The Big Thicket buildings after they were torched many years ago?

That being said East Dallas loves the Arboretum, but the parks department can not be trusted with White Rock Parks.

Tom L
Tom L

What is it about The Powers That Be here in the city of Dallas that when they see a big patch of green their first thought is, "Damn, I have got to pave that." ?

Apparently it's not enough that they want to build a freeway in the Trinity River flood plain. Now they've taken aim at the city's biggest jewel of greenery, White Rock Park. Hey, it's a huge park. It won't hurt that much to snip away a little portion of it for a parking lot.

And once they've snipped away one little portion for a parking lot, then they say, well, since we're already using it as a parking lot we may as well build a parking garage there. And as soon as they've done that, they'll find other reasons to pave over this little bit, that little bit ...

Jay
Jay

How many non-native species of plants has the Arboretum introduced into the White Rock Ecosystem? Last time I was there for a concert, I saw a large stand of bamboo, which is non-native and extremely invasive.

Parking cars on grass parking lots on the shore of White Rock lake will introduce motor oil, antifreeze and other leaking fluids form all the parked cars, Look at any concrete parking lot and you'll see that most cars leak something. At best, those leaking chemicals will poison the point, At worst, they will wash in to the lake and foul the water. Isn't it a better idea to rent lots from surrounding businesses and arrange shuttles from DART, for a fee of course.

Donna Harris
Donna Harris

Whether there are native or non-native grasses is not the point!  Blackland Prairie located in an urban environment, that is free and open to the public, is rare and special.

Further, parking at Winfrey point is currently used by parents of little leaguer's, other ball clubs and DISD students in their softball or baseball programs at school. I watched my daughter play many games there. What happens to them?

I love the Arboretum but why haven't they looked at other ways to spread out the parking problem like extending their hours. The Ft. Worth Botanical Garden, during daylight savings time, is open 8:00 a.m. - 10 pm. Monday - Friday and until 7 pm on the weekends. The Dallas Arboretum is only open daily  9 -  5, when most people are working, which means everyone is trying to go on the weekends.

How about a shuttle? According to the Dallas Morning News, they were offered a two year contract by Lincoln Properties on the parking in nearby vacant lots but the Arboretum turned them down.

Dallas is much larger than Ft. Worth and I want us to become a world class tourist destination. Don't roll your eyes, it can happen because we have lots of things to do. They just close too early.  Being world class means changing the hours of operation on our cultural amenities and how we use our public transportation.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Mother  earths revenge will be in the form of the of thousands of Chiggers who find new homes on the ankles and personal  parts of those who park in the newly mowed fields .

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Not only is this guy an interesting character in this 'disaster in the making', having Merrie Spaeth as the Arboretum communications liaison even more frightening. Since she made her mark 'swift boating' John Kerry, what's her next move on Dallas citizens? A reader posted an emial over the weekend between Spaeth and Brinegar that makes for a good explosive read.I'm also anxious to see how the DMN Editorial Board is going to handle this mess.

Tedbartker
Tedbartker

Kelly,  Already done. Watched him tromp through the grass accompanied by Dave Forehand, Arb Garden VP.  And, they were watched over by several DPD NE cruisers, yes, watching our motely crew on vigil for mowing ops.

cp
cp

This is why I love "new money" guys like Mark Cuban- he doesn't swim in the same pool and donates money to keep the St Patrick's Day Parade afloat. Where were the Carruth's or the McDermott's and the Hunt's? Oh, busy pouring money into the bridge to nowhere and city council races. 

RTGolden
RTGolden

Lincoln bought the property where the Y and the tejano bar are, plus the nearly empty strip across the Gaston.  It was mentioned that Lincoln proposed a lease agreement for parking in the lots there and was turned down.  Guess we know why, the Arbos had plans to put parking at Winfrey.

Phil
Phil

The Aboretum is also "owned" by all of us.  It is simply operated by a private non-profit.

scottindallas
scottindallas

 parking, and cars compressing the soil is NOT a good thing.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 Merrie Spaeth helped to castrate the Clean Water Act back in 2004 when she got W in  for a second term by 'swift boating' Kerry.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 With Paul Dyer and Joan Walne at the helm of Dallas Parks, we're screwed.

Guest
Guest

 Neither can the Arboretum @Born in Dallas! 

Edward
Edward

It would be interesting if the City's Code Compliance people showed up to write the Arboretum/City tickets for parking on unpaved surfaces - something you aren't supposed to do in your own yard, right?

And what do the Stormwater people think about all that oil heading into our "rivers, lakes and streams"?

I can't get over how incredibly holier-than-thou the Arboretum people have been throughout this whole thing. When interviewed they sound as if they are speaking to people "beneath" them.

And the point about Merrie Spaeth is right on - if you thought there wasn't a Dallas PR person more evil incarnate than Carol Reed, you are mistaken.

Paul Burrough
Paul Burrough

"foul" the water in White Rock Lake?! NOOOOO!!!

Lee
Lee

 I agree with you on the parking, but the bamboo was there long before the Arboretum was established. They almost chose another location because of the cost and difficulty of getting rid of the bamboo. It has been a many year struggle.

Michael Emerson
Michael Emerson

FYI, during the weekends, they do have shuttles that run from the parking lot at the YMCA on Gaston.

shadowspawn
shadowspawn

 There's a lot of poison ivy around the borders; I went to take pictures of the bunny nests and turned back, went and re-outfitted to wear jeans and gloves.

Lee Gibson
Lee Gibson

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Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

 Once the outcry dies down the construction will begin.

Canoewho
Canoewho

 Maybe it's time to look at a new contractor to operate the Arboretum?

RTGolden
RTGolden

I am merely quoting what Becky Rader stated.  And notice, I said 'occasional' parking; not permanent parking.  According to her, the occasional parking that does take place there is, like the mowing, a surrogate for a natural event that no longer takes place, that being the grazing and bedding down of tens of thousands of bison.

As she is a Master Naturalist, has been studying and protecting and attempting to restore this very patch of prairie since 1998, and is vehemently against letting the Arbos pave it for parking, i'm fairly apt to take her at her word.

Jay
Jay

Yeah, rethinking that, the run-off from hundreds of concrete roads and parking lots already reaches the lake by White Rock Creek and all the storm sewers that feed it.

Jay
Jay

I Didn't know that. Thanks

Guest
Guest

 Normally they do but I live near there and haven't seen any buses this year.

Lee Gibson
Lee Gibson

"I'm also anxious to see how the DMN Editorial Board is going to handle this mess"

They'll act as mouthpieces for the pavers, of course.

Don Abbott
Don Abbott

The mowers will be on the move Tuesday in the rain while nobody's looking.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 Not before we get a new City Manager for less money than she's about to get.

Michael Emerson
Michael Emerson

There were buses there yesterday around noon.  I managed to park in the Arboretum lot earlier in the day, but when I left, the buses were waiting for passengers.

billmarvel
billmarvel

And I quote:"So what kind of botanist gets so easily dismissed by a pack of plant-lovers? A "self-taught" one, apparently. That's how the News described O'Kennon in Saturday's paper. It followed over the weekend with an item pointing out that O'Kennon didn't, in fact, have a PhD, forcing the Arboretum to re-issue its press release."

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