Is the Trinity River going to be ok?

The weather in Dallas this past weekend was superb. The bright sun begged us to get outside as temperatures rose to nearly 70 degrees in January. A far cry from the bundled up cold we’ve been facing.

We took the good weather opportunity to check out the new Continental Avenue Bridge Park along the Trinity River just west of downtown. The park was bustling with kids playing, bikers speeding by and plenty of dogs sniffing around. We made our way through the playground, chess tables and down to the river paths.

I often drive over the Trinity River and through the mixmaster disaster of construction but rarely get a chance to get down to the river to see how the construction is affecting the area. It’s eye opening.

The Horseshoe Project is the large scale construction on Dallas highways just west of downtown. There are several large cranes, bulldozers, and tons of other construction equipment right along the river and in some cases in the river. The wildlife we did see (some turtles, a great blue heron and an egret) took off quickly from their perches as quickly as they saw us approaching. On a day the bulldozers stood still, this was their time to enjoy some peace and quiet.

The trash build up in the river at one of the construction sites was full of plastic bottles, old toys and way too much wood debris (see picture). Upstream the riparian area is being thinned out and mulched. A riparian area is defined as, “the part of the landscape adjoining rivers and streams that has a direct influence on the water and aquatic ecosystems within them.” In simple terms, a riparian area surrounds a water body and is important for soil erosion and water quality. The more plants you have in the area, the better the erosion control, the better for the river.

I spent the next many hours reading through the over 400 page environmental assessment of the Dallas Horseshoe Project, researching maps, and trying to figure out how much emphasis this estimated $800 million project put on the environmental impacts. The environmental assessment, completed in 2012, is a collaboration with agencies such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and corporate biology scientists. It assesses the projects impact on environmental factors such as air quality, soil quality, historical landmarks and wildlife. The assessment identifies organisms found in the area, if they are and endangered or threatened species, and estimates if the project will impact the species. From the study, the most at risk wildlife are the aquatic species such as alligator snapping turtles and native mussels. The assessment states, “Increased turbidity and sedimentation during bridge construction could pose a threat to survival of the mussel species in the Trinity River.”

Overall the assessment declares, “No long-term impacts to wildlife populations are anticipated as a result of the proposed project. In areas temporarily impacted, wildlife species would likely re-colonize the available habitat areas after construction.”

But overall, beyond this assessment, we should all continue to be concerned. The obvious benefits of elevating traffic in downtown is necessary yet the proper care into the future for our Trinity River and Blackland prairie natural areas are vital. The Trinity River provides water for cities downstream of the Dallas/Fort Worth Area. As Texas faces more drought issues, preserving the quality of the Trinity River is important. The Trinity also provides ecological benefits that support our native habitats and a wide diversity of plants and animals. A long term creative protection plan that places high importance on the ecological health of the Trinity is imperative to preserve what some call “the life line of the area”.

This isn’t the first time, nor the last time the Trinity will face disruption. The Trinity River has a history of being manipulated by humans. It’s been rerouted, filled in and dredged along the Dallas/Fort Worth lengths. There are also beneficial current projects to continue to strengthen levees and restore the river channel by the Trinity River Corridor Project ( The Trinity is in store for some more major changes in the near future and being such a valued part of Dallas’ area we should be very invested in preserving it.

The Continental Avenue Bridge is a great place to enjoy the outdoors with the Dallas skyline as your backdrop. Just don’t forget to take a look over the bridge at the Trinity River and think about how our human activities are affecting it. We should all keep a close eye on the progress and health of our ecosystem amidst the construction it faces.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.

Some pictures from the outing:


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