Texas

12.9 Mile Five Mile Creek Trail to Link Oak Cliff Areas to LOOP

“Is this really Dallas?” the view from the top of the old railroad overpass on the west side of the city hints at the great potential of the proposed Five Mile Creek Trail.

Even with the trees and undergrowth in hibernation, this secluded place at the head of the stream is a meditative canvas of the pastoral work of the hands of nature.

I would have spent an entire warm January afternoon there, but there were many more stops in my exploration of the west-east route mapped out for the 12.9-mile hiking and biking trail connecting dozens of underserved areas in Oak Cliff.

Good thing I did make it down through the brambles on Coombs Creek Drive, not far from the Westmoreland DART station. There I came across an ugly example of why this trail should be built now, and not later.

Eduardo and Jasmine Hernandez watched closely as the cars raced down the sharp, blind curve under the overpass as they made their way along the gravel shoulder of the unpaved street.

They know it’s a dangerous walk, especially with two young sons in tow, but it’s the only way to get to the nearest grocery store.

Robert Kent, State Director of the Trust for Public Land, and Taylor Toines, CEO of For Oak Cliff, along Five Mile Creek in Dallas, Tuesday.(Elias Valverde II / staff photographer)

While Five Mile Creek Trail will be a welcome recreational asset connecting the rest of the city’s trail system, it will also provide much-needed infrastructure to keep families like the Hernandez safe.

The trail, an engineering puzzle involving multiple highway, railroad and creek crossings, is an expensive undertaking estimated at $70 million.

But an avalanche of available federal and state funds is forcing local leaders to give the city some of the money it needs.

Dallas is rapidly expanding its route network, but look at the maps and you’ll see a big gap at Oak Cliff.

The Texas office of the Trust for Public Land, responsible for many locally transformative green spaces, aims to fill that hole with the Five Mile Creek Trail.

The nonprofit’s plan, in partnership with residents and the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department, will connect south Dallas and create an opportunity for all of us to enjoy the natural beauty of the watershed.

Linking to the Chalk Hill Trail to the west, the route was to start near Westmoreland Station and follow the green lane of the creek along Pentagon and Five Mile Boulevards before crossing I-35E and I-45 and then connecting to the loop.

Since the city council approved the Five Mile Creek urban greenspace master plan in 2019, the Trust for Public Land has acquired and donated 125 acres to develop the park as part of its efforts to address the systemic inequalities that permeate southern Dallas.

The non-profit city partnership opened South Oak Cliff Revival Park in November 2021 and plans to complete the Charles R. Rose Community Park this year. The design of the latest park, Woody Branch, is almost complete and is due to open in 2025.

Now comes the hardest part of the project, the track, which will begin construction next year at the latest and be completed by 2030.

In yet another chapter of this city’s sad history, when it comes to South Dallas and racial equality, the promise to allocate resources to Five Mile Creek goes back to the 1944 Bartholomew Plan.

In this regard, Five Mile seemed equal to what had already been planned for Turtle Creek. Ten years later, then-park director L. B. Houston made headlines when he asked why the city continued to delay action on an asset in south Dallas.

Still nothing happened.

Today, the Turtle Creek corridor is one of the nation’s premier urban green spaces. Changes promised 78 years ago for Five Mile Creek can only be found in planning records.

This is a mistake that the Trust for Public Land – with the active help of Mayor Eric Johnson – wants to correct.

The nearly 187,000 residents living near Five Mile Creek include about 57,000 children. Black residents make up 61% of the area; 33% are Hispanics. Low-income households make up 51% of the population.

Only 54% of this area has convenient park access, compared to the city’s average of 73%.

Also among the sobering studies conducted by the Trust for Public Land at its December 8 Park Council meeting was the prevalence of health problems in the watershed area, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.

Five Mile Creek, this one in the Pentagon Parkway just west of the US Highway...
A segment of Five Mile Creek, this time in the Pentagon Parkway area west of U.S. Route 67. The green space adjacent to the creek is part of the proposed Five Mile Creek route.(Elias Valverde II / staff photographer)

The route will connect residents not only to other Oak Cliff neighborhoods and additional routes, but also to 17 parks, two colleges, two light rail stations, three hospitals and 10 schools.

One of my fellow researchers was Taylor Toines, a park board member, national board member of the Trust for Public Land, and CEO of For Oak Cliff, a non-profit organization.

Throughout our tour, Toines pointed out the dangerous crossings that pedestrians are currently facing. “A five- or 10-minute walk doesn’t seem like a long time until you have to do it in circumstances like not even having decent crosswalks,” he said.

Growing up in a house across the street from the green space, Toynes often played in the creek. Today, his non-profit organization is located nearby, in the former Moorland YMCA.

“The greenbelt and stream are already beautiful because of what God has done with them, but when we put love and care into them and build a trail, the community will feel noticed,” Toines told me.

The end of the DART Red Line line at Westmoreland station.  New five mile trail...
The end of the DART Red Line line at Westmoreland station. The new Five Mile Trail starts west of here.(Elias Valverde II / staff photographer)

Building connections across neighborhoods and educational opportunities for children is a big step forward, he says. “It could change the entire landscape of Oak Cliff.”

The Trust for Public Land has worked hard to give residents the lead in planning. The non-profit organization is going to create a community committee specifically to meet the wishes and needs of neighbors in each segment of the route.

Planners also want to make sure the new route complements several existing routes in the area, such as Runyon Creek, near the University of North Texas at Dallas, and Honey Springs Cedar Crest, near South Oak Cliff High School.

In addition to private fundraising, Robert Kent, director of the Texas Trust for Public Land, said his group is applying for funding from newly available federal and state sources.

Federal dollars are basically 80-20 local funds, and the mayor of Dallas is determined to find a way for the city to increase its share.

The green stripe between the houses along West Pentagon Boulevard and the creek will provide space...
The green strip between homes along West Pentagon Parkway and the creek will provide space for walking and biking trails, which the Trust for Public Land plans to build in collaboration with residents and the parks department.(Elias Valverde II / staff photographer)

In his November State of the City Address, Johnson highlighted the Five Mile Creek project and the need to “bring this long overdue infrastructure to Oak Cliff.”

He wants to raise $15.4 million soon to fund the first few miles of the trail’s western end, which has already been designed.

Johnson considered several options, including using a portion of the $20 million in city sales tax revenue currently earmarked for his racial justice efforts.

His current plan is to partner with the Regional Transport Council to accelerate and fund the project. RTC support in terms of funding and infrastructure expertise would be a huge asset.

Subsequent equity funds could be raised from the 2024 bond program, which is in the early stages of planning.

The main $6.3 million in Trust for Public Land donations raised so far have come from the Boone Family Foundation, the Lyda Hill Philanthropies, and the Eugene McDermott Foundation.

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Park Board President Arun Agarwal acknowledged that Dallas is home to a number of great green space projects vying for funding. The key, he says, is where to best use city dollars.

Given that the Five Mile Creek Trail will touch many neighborhoods and its connections to the larger system, “this is the best bang for your buck,” he told me.

Parks Department Assistant Director Ryan O’Connor, also on our tour, said the Five Mile Creek project represents a “perfect fusion” of growing interest in building a trail system, City Hall’s focus on fairness, and greater opportunities for federal and state money.

The central and southern parts of Oak Cliff deserve the same reliable route system that many of us already use in other parts of the city. It’s not about spandex and expensive bikes, it’s about how people can exercise, get to work and shop, and enjoy nature.

“We will not tolerate this kind of inequality in the Lake Highlands, and certainly not in Preston Hollow,” Kent said. “Families like Hernandez need this trail right now.

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