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Citizens Petition to Prevent Parking in White Rock's Natural Areas

Plans to turn native prairie into a parking lot have galvanized environmentalists and residents near White Rock Lake. They’ve mounted a petition drive and filed a lawsuit against officials with the city and the Dallas Arboretum, which wants to use the fields for parking. Thursday advocates with the Pave the Lake blog posted private city emails about the plans dating back to January 2011.

White Rock park volunteer Janet D. Smith sees the carpet of wildflowers and unmown grasses as native blackland prairie that once covered much of North Texas.

"This is what covered our whole area of Texas and we have so little of it left. To get it back here in the middle of an urban area is such a gift," Smith said.

What the city and the expanding Dallas Arboretum seem to see instead is a solution for overflow Arboretum parking: lots that would add at least 400 spaces and an additional parking garage.

Smith says this reclaimed prairie is so unique that White Rock became the first public park in the state to receive a Texas Land Stewardship designation. She says parking cars on the native grasses would probably kill them.

" That weight is going to compress the soil and deprive it of air which is one thing plants need," said Smith.

The Dallas Arboretum next door to White Rock Lake wants to use the grassy areas to accommodate thousands of visitors coming to a new children’s garden scheduled to open next year.

The Arboretum had planned to park cars there beginning this weekend the Chihuly glass exhibit opens, but Tuesday a judge granted residents near the park a temporary restraining order which prevents Arboretum parking on the grassy areas until a hearing on May 14.

Wednesday, Dallas Councilman Dwaine Caraway told Arboretum President and CEO Mary Brinegar he’ll fight to get the Arboretum parking near Winfrey Point at White Rock Lake.

" I don’t care what we have to do but we’re going to have parking for the Arboretum at White Rock Lake," Caraway said during a council briefing.

Whether Caraway and others can deliver on that, however, may depend on what happens in court.

Residents girding for the legal fight have already collected hundreds of signatures from White Rock patrons who oppose new parking lots.

As Christie McCarty flagged down runners to add new signatures she said  she’s disappointed and angry the Arboretum and City didn’t tell residents about the plans.

"It’s very disappointing that proponents of nature are willing to destroy nature," she said.

Dallas City Council member  Sheffie Kadane, whose district includes the Arboretum and White Rock, declined to talk to media because he’s being sued by the citizens. The Arboretum’s Brinegar also said she couldn’t comment and cited the lawsuit.

Brinegar did say the Arboretum is coming up with an alternative short term plan for parking during the Chihuly exhibit.

What happens in the long term for the Arboretum and the native prairie may be the subject of a messy legal fight.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.