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Dallas and Conservationists Team Up To Preserve Unique Spring

The city of Dallas plans to develop its far southeast corner with a championship golf course and an equestrian center.   But conservationists were worried that could threaten a unique spring. 

Hidden between 75 year old Billy Pemberton’s house and the edge of the Great Trinity Forest is an underground stream that bubbles-up and trickles through a large, sleepy meadow.

“Oh how peaceful it is,"Pemberton says. "You know we all need time of inspiration and to draw near to the Creator who made it.”

It’s called Big Spring or Pemberton Spring. Billy Pemberton’s grandpa built his house just up the hill from the spring and Billy grew up drinking from it. He’s been its caretaker ever since, even after the city bought the property several years ago as part of the planned Texas Horse Park. Pemberton’s friend, Richard Grayson worried about initial plans to put barns and maybe horse trails next to the delicate stream. 

“There’s nothing else like it in Dallas," Grayson said as he noted the water flows at a constant 59 degrees and at a rate of about 25 gallons a minute.  "All the other springs, Kidd Springs, Cedar Springs, everything’s been covered up."

Work crews started building the $11 million equestrian center a few days ago. It will board horses, give riding lessons, host trail rides and events.

This week, three dozen conservationists went to City Hall to ask park planners not to trample the spring. There’s a lot of history here, including a nearby site identified with Native American artifacts. And it’s said Sam Houston camped there in 1843.

At the end of the meeting, Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said the spring and its surroundings would be preserved.

“We will allow foot traffic so that people who want to see the spring can hike into the spring," she said referring to a hand-drawn map on a dry erase board.  "We’ll have a gate up here along the new access road that we are building to the Horse Park.”

Conservationists also want a city of Dallas historic designation for the spring acreage.  

RJ Taylor is with the Connemara Conservancy.  It’s working to preserve natural sites in North Texas. After the meeting Taylor was excited to see the spring for the first time - after a trek through Billy Pemberton’s back pasture, home to a herd of friendly goats.  Taylor says this spring is really, really old.

“Probably at least the ice age, because all these terrace deposits here that’s when this was deposited," Taylor said. "It cut down after that period and that’s probably with this was exposed.”    

Taylor is eager to do an inventory of plants, birds, and wildlife that live near the stream.  Billy Pemberton can fill him in.  

“The thing that catches my eye the most is those great, grey herons." Pemberton said with a smile.  "Occasionally they will venture over there by the spring. And when they take off it looks like a little miniature airplane comin’ out of there.”

Sitting on his sofa with a beat-up guitar, Pemberton tells stories and sings one of his favorite pioneer songs, as he calls them. He hopes city kids will come to the spring and learn about its history and the majestic old Bur Oak that stands by the ancient stream’s cold, clear waters.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.