The Trinity River's White-water Feature Is Still There, Still Stupid

Categories: Schutze

trinity_whitewater.jpg
This was supposed to be a Colorado-style natural-looking rocky rapids. Nice try.
Next month the "White Water Feature" on the Trinity River just south of downtown will be three years old. This ugly chunky mound of concrete, built at a cost of $4 million and intended to be a man-made rapids for canoeists and kayakers, was so ill-conceived, poorly designed, badly made and obviously dangerous that it has been officially closed to canoes since the day construction ended, ruining that stretch of river for what was previously its main recreational use.

City officials have steadfastly refused for three years to say who was responsible or what's going to be done about it. Yesterday I shipped my biannual request for an update to Dallas Park and Recreation Director Willis C. Winters. In the past his instruction for me has been that I should file a legal demand with the city attorney under the state's public information law for any update on the white water feature. But this time he emailed me back saying that the white water feature is now the responsibility of a little known city agency called "Trinity Watershed Management."

"You should contact either Liz Fernandez or Sarah Standifer," he wrote. "Regards."

Yes. Regards, indeed. I have put in my call to them, but my breath is not bated as I await a response.

You might be new in town and new to this topic, so please allow me to make sure you know what we're talking about. It's part of the Trinity River project, an enormous public works project sort of equivalent to Boston's "Big Dig," consisting mainly of a freeway they want to build on top of the river and some little park stuff around the edges.

See also: The Trinity River's 'Standing Wave' Crashes into Reality

Some of the rich goofies in charge of the project were on vacation in Colorado some years ago and saw a man-made whitewater park where kayakers were flying around in what are called "play boats," stubby little kayaks you can do tricks in. They thought something like that would be nice to have on the Trinity.

There were all kinds of things wrong with that idea from the beginning. When it floods once or twice a year, the Trinity is a big brown alluvial hog of a river, more like the Mississippi than the kind of twisty, fast-dropping, splish-splash stream the goofies were looking at up there. Creating a dam that will stay put it in the Trinity requires massive construction, and whatever you do that messes with that volume of water is going to create massive forces.

Our white-water feature looks more like the footings for a freeway bridge than a naturally occurring rock formation. The minute it was finished, experienced paddlers warned that at certain flows the thing would kill people who tried to canoe through it. The city's response was to close it before it opened, effectively shutting off canoe navigation on an entire stretch of the river.

It happens to have been one of the most beautiful and rewarding stretches of the river, right at the mouth of the Great Trinity Forest, where the river departs from the levee system and enters a realm of ancient seeps beneath Gothic tree arches, flowing past prehistoric Indian shell mounds and the ruins of 19th century navigational works.

The one untruth that gets repeated more frequently than any other is that Dallas doesn't have any natural terrain worth talking about. It's just not true. We do. But we've never had much respect for it.

It's not mountains, and it's not the sea, not the verdant hills of New England or the cinematic magnificence of the John Ford West. What's beautiful here has a subtler appeal that makes it a bit more of an acquired taste, and it tends to be hard to get to, lost and neglected in places like the river and creek bottoms that the shopping mall developers couldn't get to. But it's out there.

That's what makes the white-water feature such a sin. The Park and Recreation Department, which ought to view the natural environment as its most sacred trust, instead has brutally marred one of the city's most valuable natural assets. They should admit their mistake, get back in there, rip out that mess and do the best they can to heal the wound it leaves behind.

But, no. That would involve admitting error. That's the one thing the bureaucracy at Dallas City Hall never does, because it doesn't have to. The city manager system protects them from the kind of public pressure that might impose a little bit of humility. So instead they intend to just leave the thing there and do absolutely nothing about it. Next time I contact them, I expect to learn that the white water feature is now the responsibility of the Office of Strategic Customer Services and that I should stick my question where the sun don't shine.

What would it take for me to stop asking? They could shoot me. Otherwise, we will visit the topic again next fall.



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61 comments
GAA214
GAA214

Ridiculously stupid. 

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

I got in with a kayak a couple of years ago at the Mockingbird Bridge, saw that, and turned around..........DISASTER!

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

I always enjoy watching Dallas stagger over itself in yet another attempt in a seemingly endless conga line of attempts to "show the world" that Dallas "IS FUN!".  From my ever-so-skewed point-of-view, Dallas is an essentially private city with plenty of tiny-to-massive cliques in which the fun is not commercialized or for public consumption.  Nothing wrong with that.  Lots of small towns do exactly that in lieu of "some big draw" by which to lure people out of their homes and into pubic space. 

When I was in college, Nacogdoches had next to nothing public to do: Three whole bars, one of them a stinkin' disco.  Called Snoopy's.  Another so rough you could easily get killed looking at the wrong lady.  The third?  Townies.  


Therefore, most of the nightlife consisted of inexpensive house parties, and clusters of inexpensive house parties.  Dallas is like that.  


This obsession with tourists always forgets the implacably impressive Native American heritage hidden away in history books, lots and lots of it having happened in Dallas.  For example: When the Kiowa and Choctaw got put on the rez in Oklahoma, they missed their peripatetic ways and rode south to Fort Richardson (Richardson, guys...) and stole horses and then partied down.  Then, Santanta, the legendary Kiowa chief was lured to downtown Dallas of all places: Santanta, all geared-up in traditional NA clothing, captured on Elm Street and taken to jail.  Then sprung.  Then the wild ride back to Oklahoma. 

Why not celebrate that story and others probably even better?   

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Shawn Williams, Interim Managing Director of Public Information for the City of Dallas, called me at the end of the day to tel me that the Park Department and the Watershed Department are in meetings with the designer of the white water feature in search of a solution.  

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

This proves the old adage "There is no problem that can't be solved by the judicious application of C4."

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

City needs to call it the water garden for their proposed public housing project to get HUD off their backs.

Or the side attraction for the golf course.

Or the watering trough for the boarded horses.

You'd think with the professional bullshit artits at Marilla, they could be more creative than just stonewalling.

timdickey
timdickey

"...admitting error. That's the one thing the bureaucracy at Dallas City Hall never does, because it doesn't have to. The city manager system protects them from the kind of public pressure that might impose a little bit of humility."

Truer words were never spoken in this town!

WylieH
WylieH

[This ugly chunky mound of concrete, built at a cost of $4 million and intended to be a man-made rapids for canoeists and kayakers, was so ill-conceived, poorly designed, badly made and obviously dangerous that it has been officially closed to canoes since the day construction ended,]

Are you SURE about that?  My understanding is that recent representations to the contrary have been made in certain briefings.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't a personal grudge against you.


"Screw the river, this will really piss off that DO carpetbagging yankee!" 

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Tire swing park over the river? The Tires are there, they just need to be hung up.

IMHO
IMHO

Since the Trinity is considered a navigable waterway, did the city get permission from the Feds to build this hazard? Aren't they liable for any consequences of drowned canoers and the like?

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

@gordonhilgers  


boy you cleaned it up Hilgers!  no 45 minutes rants about cowboys and cigars, or some other random, obtuse bullsh+t............(slow clap); and no poetry (yay!). 

fracquestions
fracquestions

@JimSX The problem had NOTHING to do with the designer. The designer has built beautiful whitewater parks all over the country, including the one in San Marcos for less than half what was spent in Dallas. The problems were (1) the Trinity is not well suited for a whitewater park, especially a man-made one, and (2) instead of allowing the designer to build it the City of Dallas hired a "cheaper" contractor who had exactly zero experience building whitewater parks and they tried to do it on the cheap. They succeeded in making it look cheap, by compare it to what San Marcos got for less than half the money and the difference quickly becomes apparent.


This is a case of Dallas City Hall, once again, listening to the wrong people and doing things that are hair-brained instead of applying logic and reason.mI think every member of City of Dallas staff who had ANYTHING to do with this project should be required to canoe it and see what happens. I'll be there with my camera, and maybe even a throw rope.

GatoCat
GatoCat

@Annonnymous  From the cited article: "'The integrity of the city is paramount,' said a statement from Suhm. 'The employee will be counseled and disciplined accordingly.'"

Cough, choke, gag, sputter.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

Trying to get barred from UP?

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@whocareswhatithink

The bodies tied to the tires will have to be removed first.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@IMHO

Probably did, but my solution, were I an avid kayaker of polluted waterways, would be guerrilla action. Blow the damn thing up in the dead of night. Who would care?

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

@kergo1spaceship @gordonhilgersVery funny, kergo1spaceship.  I do question the "random, obtuse BS" part of your comment, mainly because I think I only had one or two random comments (read: Mafia, which was fun and funny at least to me), and the rest was going "non sequitur" in order to create a comparison or contrast picture to heighten our understanding of what Dallas is going through, say, in terms of sewers and the sewage that doesn't want South Dallas to have them. 

SEWAGE AGAINST SEWERS

by Gordon Hilgers, poet

In South Dallas, something stinks

like a hole in the ground: The sewage

up north thinks all South Dallas

should go camping!  Does Robert E. Lee

dump in the woods?  Sure he did!

South Dallas can too! 

Mark2023
Mark2023

@TheRuddSki  I think a lot of people would be absolutely thrilled if people we talking internationally about how our Trinity River is simply *too* popular.

Mark2023
Mark2023

@TheRuddSki  If we ever have a problem of *too* many people down by the Trinity, I'd say we've done our job. 

IMHO
IMHO

@TheRuddSki  I am just amazed that any city could construct a hazard to navigation in the middle of a navigable waterway? what if St Louis decided to build a comparably wide white water feature across the Mississippi w/o the Feds approval? I guess I am stumped why the Feds aren't on Dallas' case about this.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@Mark2023

Be careful what you ask for, peace and serenity are hard to come by these days.

Many waterways, lakes, etc I've known over the ages are now trashed from popularity. Some things should remain unknown.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@Mark2023

LOL. Actually, it smells better than the West Bank!

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

There's justice in that somehow...

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  Man you got that right.

I'd rather pour hot tar up my nose than to listen to THAT again.

It is my understanding those two are now a couple of Rustbelt senators.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

An earworm we could all do without, sir.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@mcdallas

I'm not concerned, part of the deal I insisted on for the New Orleans job was immunity from charges of water-feature-related terrorism.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@dc005 @TheRuddSkiSimply untrue! In 1902, Congress appropriated $400K to build locks and dams on the Trinity to make Dallas a seaport. They eventually spent $2 Million on the project, and then abandoned it after World War I because of a lack of funding. The locks and dams are still there.


The first lock is about 1 mile above IH 20.


The second lock is about 4.7 miles below Dowdy Ferry Road.


The third lock is about 2.5 miles below Malloy Bridge Road.


The fourth lock is about 10.8 miles below Lock # 3.


The fifth lock is about 7.6 mioles below Lock # 4.


There are other locks further downstream. But, since the end of WW I no effort has been made (though there has been talk) to actually complete the project. After the construction of Lake Livingston in Walker County it became impossible to navigate without portage from the Gulf up to Dallas, or downriver to the Gulf from Dallas. Lake Livingston effectively precludes barges running between North Texas and the Gulf Coast.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@TheRuddSki You don't know what you are talking about. Charles Allen has operated trinity River Expeditions as a commercial operation on the Trinity River for over 30 years.


Federal law defined a navigable stream as one that is navigable in law, or in fact. The very fact that you can navigate the river in a canoe or kayak, as well as a motor boat, makes it a navigable stream under federal law. It is considered a commercial navigable waterway because it can be used for commerce, as in Charles Allen's case.


In reality, the Trinity was a commercial navigation stream until the 1870's, when cheaper railroad service took away the use of the river, which was much slower. It has always been a commercial navigable waterway under federal law.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk "I'm not sure how it works in TX"  I can help with that.

If by TX, you mean Dallas, It (no matter what 'it' is) doesn't.

IMHO
IMHO

@RTGolden1 @IMHO @TheRuddSki  Probably the best answer yet. The City wore the COE down and one day will live to regret it and my property taxes will be used to pay off the family of the canoer who got caught unawares in the city constructed death trap.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@IMHO @TheRuddSkiI'm willing to bet, after telling the City umpteen times that the Trinity levees were sub-standard, and that they couldn't build this and that or the other thing inside the levees, only to have the City keep coming back with more plans for inside the levees, The COE just gave up on Dallas.  I think the Corps would approve just about anything Dallas wants to do there, in the secret hope that it would catastrophically backfire and the COE can point to a small print disclaimer in the approval that says "you can do this, if you insist on doing this, but it is not going to end well."

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  

I'm not sure how it works in TX. The way it works in Wisconsin seems to be, if there is enough room for enough water in it to float an innertube, it is considered 'navigable'.

And, the water need not be present to fulfill that description.

This is very handy to the WI. DNR which has unrestricted access to and jurisdiction over any 'navigable' body of water.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@holmantx

You missed the part describing how the feature would protect prairie chickens from Trinity alligators.

IMHO
IMHO

@TheRuddSki  the Trinity is considered a 'navigable waterway' (which a lot of two bit rivers are) and as such is under the auspices of the Corp of Engineers. That restricts what can and cannot be built in the river. That's all I meant. I am just surprised that this debacle took place under the COE's watch ... and they aren't looking after JWP or HUD. Maybe the COE was hoping the white water thing would fix the levees? (that is a bit of sarcasm, btw)

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@IMHO @TheRuddSki  

What if we blew it up and nobody cared?

But you have a point.  How did the Corps of Engineers EVER kiss the paper on this little improvement?  It's in the 100-year FEMA Flood Plain, it's in the protected grasslands, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (CEMVN) has a requirement for the City to purchase Swamp Mitigation Bank Credits.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@dc005

Damn. In wintertime it could have been just like Holland, skate to the Gulf!

dc005
dc005

@TheRuddSki About this time in '73.  Plan was to dredge the Trinity from the Gulf to Dallas,  so barges and tows could scoot up.  One more time:  the plan was to dig a ditch from Dallas to the Gulf.  Voters,  in their occasional wisdom,  turned out and killed it.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@IMHO

Not sure what "navigable" means in a river like this, recreationally, as in canoe-able?

Certainly not commercial, like barge or whatever, though wasn't there at one time a plan to make it navigable to the Gulf?

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