White Rock’s East Lawther Trail is Open

Runners Jennifer Stern and Christell Baum test out the new trail at White Rock Lake.

The new trail is open — maybe the yelling, fighting and crying will ease up now.

It was right about this time last summer that Dallas’ Park and Recreation Board, and later the Dallas City Council, approved up to $1.2 million for one phase of upgrades to White Rock’s East Lawther Trail. Trial improvements, implemented in segments, top the list of 10 White Rock Lake improvement priorities, which the Dallas Park Department announced back in 2010.

Upgrades have steadily occurred over the last decade. For several years now, the west side of White Rock Lake has offered a wide, smooth lakeside trail that runs parallel to the city street, which accommodates faster cyclists and motor vehicles.

East of the lake, however, nearly all traffic — both wheel and foot — has been choosing the public street, which runs along the shoreline, in lieu of the narrow, crumbling, pothole-pocked pedestrian path above it, creating a situation in which cars, runners, strollers and cyclists all share space. Since rules for trekking a trail (stay right) differ from street rules (stay left, facing oncoming vehicular traffic), pedestrians are generally confused, occupying both sides of said public street. Cyclists aren’t sure which of the baffled joggers to holler at, so they cuss-out both sides. Fights ensue. People fall down. Dogs yelp. Children cry.

The near-complete new pedestrian path from the base of the Mockingbird Bridge/Boy Scout Hill to the Bath House Cultural Center, about a mile of track, should, to some extent, quell the chaos.

A couple new fountains line the East Lawther trail.

Despite some arguments against the plan, Dallas Park Department rebuilt over the existing beat-up trail as opposed to constructing a new shoreline trail as they did west of the lake. Several attendees at a pre-construction meeting insisted that revamping the decrepit trail was a waste and that pedestrians and cyclists will not use it; people want to run by the water, some said.

Park Board member Gerry Worrall listened to those concerns, but for all practical purposes the project was already underway at the time. The old trial closed for several months while under construction, but no one really noticed. As assistant parks director Michael Hellmann told us back then, that trail was in such a state of deterioration that no one used it anyway.

The new stretch, slated to be fully polished by the end of September, according to project manager Richard Stauffer, is 12-feet wide with an additional foot of concrete borders on each side. Rest areas with seating are under construction at Boy Scout Hill, Big Thicket and Bath House.

Stauffer adds that minor changes were made to the original plan — a realignment of the trail behind Big Thicket was allowed to spare an owl habitat. Native prairie grasslands also were protected throughout construction, he notes.

And what do you know? Now people are using the new trail, and they say they like it. While taking pictures of it the other morning, I bumped into runners Jennifer Stern and Christell Baum, respective members of the White Rock Running Co-op and Dallas Running Club, who say they are thrilled with the smoother, wider, asphalt trail, which is easier on the legs than concrete.

The new trail also offers more shade than the road below, they say. They hope the revamped terrain will thin-out traffic and ease tensions on the east side of the lake.

Finishing touches still under construction

The next phase of the project will extend from the Bath House to Emerald Isle. I do not yet have the timeline on that, but I am working on it.