The City of Dallas says it has no plans to mow grassy fields at White Rock Lake Park this weekend though a legal agreement struck today would allow that. The Winfrey Point area is the subject of a battle between the Arboretum and the city, which want to use it for parking, and citizens who say that could ruin native prairie.
Around 6 a.m. citizens trying to prevent the mowing of native plants began showing up at White Rock Lake.
Linda Thurman was among 40 or so who were ready to face down mowing crews.
"This is an ecological disaster," Thurman said. "Plus, this is a free park that’s open to all the citizens of Dallas and once they close it off, we won’t have a park here any longer."
Meanwhile, at the George Allen Courthouse, attorneys for the city, the Arboretum and the citizens were trying to come to an agreement.
This weekend the Dallas Arboretum opens the Chihuly Glass exhibition and the venue's leadershp says it needs extra parking. The Arboretum and the City of Dallas had agreed to allow that overflow parking on the grassy fields next door at White Rock Lake but they didn’t tell area citizens. When they learned about the plans, citizens filed a lawsuit to prevent the short term parking -- and to stop long terms plans to pave several grassy areas and replace a ball field with a parking garage for Arboretum use.
After hours of closed door negotiations, citizens’ attorney Robert Cohen said residents got some protection but not everything they want.
"It stops them from building or constructing a parking lot on the particular area until the temporary injuction hearing which will be approximately 14 days," Cohen said. " It does permit them to go forward with mowing and a temporary access to the area through a culvert."
Cohen says because White Rock is a city park, city officials argued they have the authority to mow and manage the property.
Late Friday afternoon, Arboretum leaders broke their silence. Arboretum President and CEO Mary Brinegar said some years ago the Arboretum allowed parking on the White Rock fields and she thought that was still acceptable.
Forecasting an issue that may be central to the court case, Brinegar claimed the areas in question do not contain important native species.
"Our expert who has written a book on the illustrated flora of North-Central Texas has gone on record to be able to say almost all of the grasses observed at Winfrey Point are non-native, invasive species," Brinegar said.
Citizens’ attorneys disagreed, saying they’ll be back in court within weeks to present evidence for why the property is reclaimed prairie that should be protected.
Standing guard over the site, environmentalist Dale Hart gave his assessment:
"In a walk-about this morning only I came up with a list of 30 blooming wildflowers and in the midst of those are uncounted insects, a dozen birds and almost all of those are raising young right now," he said.
Hart said it’s wildlife that would be wiped out by a parking lot.