Dallas officials have taken a big step toward preserving something unusual in the city: Not an old building, but a natural spring.
The City Plan Commission recently voted to give Big Spring historic protection. The Dallas City Council is expected to sign off on the designation soon. Supporters say Big Spring is thousands of years old and worth the effort. Ben Sandifer has been organizing efforts to protect Big Spring.
Interview Highlights: Ben Sandifer ...
... on the big deal about Big Spring: "Big Spring is in southeast Dallas and in a part of town called Pleasant Grove, in what has been coined the Great Trinity Forest by an early Texas conservationist named Ned Fritz. It's an ancient piece of land even by Texas standards, and predates the city of Dallas. Based on archeology at the site, which dates back at least 2,500 years with Native American occupations, we know that it's at least that old and probably most likely quite older than that."
... on why the city should preserve Big Spring: "Big Spring is one of the few natural springs left in Dallas County. Dallas was founded primarily on places that had natural springs, native pieces of land that had spring water on it that allowed for people to have a reliable water source all year round. Texas is real fickle with rainfall and rain rates, and spring water always been central to that. We have a lot of streets that are named after springs in Dallas; the springs no longer exist. Keller Springs, Cedar Springs, towns around Dallas like Balch Springs, all of those springs have now dried up or now nonexistent. So we have a couple left, but the most important and most substantial that has so much history wrapped around it is Big Spring."
... on what the area around Big Spring looks like: "It's a big prairie area with lots of native trees: burr oaks, pecans, mass bearing tree species that provide a variety of flora and fauna; we have three different species of arrowhead root that grow there; the water that comes out of the ground -- we've passed a hat around and paid for our own carbon water dating. The carbon dating dates the water back anywhere from 600 to 800 years old. It's a cool, cold water that stays about a constant temperature of about 63-65 degrees year around. So on the coldest of days it can be snowing and the water is in the 60s. You can go up there on a day when the temperature's over 100 degrees and it feels cold to the touch. That enables a lot of animal and plant species to grow year round in the spring. So, you can go down there when it's snowing and you'll have insect hatches that would never happen in probably any other body of water inside the city of Dallas."
... on what is happening with the protections: "The landmark status ensures that the city of Dallas itself will never build upon, develop, or give permission to build any kind of structure, any kind of zoning change that would imperil the spring, and the archeologists have suggested it be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Department of the Interior and the state of Texas also asked for inclusion as a state antiquities landmark, which further protects it."
... on beyond the protections: "Constant vigilance is the phrase that I hear time and time again with efforts to protect special places. We've seen that places like White Rock Lake, places along the Trinity and even buildings in Dallas that are special historical landmarks often are imperiled by development, and it'll not just the community but the city as a whole to protect special places."
Ben Sandifer is a writer and photographer in Dallas.