Cottonwood Trail

I remember in the mid eighties when the White Rock Creek trail was built here in Dallas. The city was installing a new massive water line along the creek and they decided to construct a concrete trail along the top of the pipe. This was a new idea at the time – the trail was too narrow and poorly designed in many parts – but it was wonderful. I lived near the lake and after work I would ride my bike to the lake, around it on the White Rock Lake Trail, then up and back on the creek trail – a total of about twenty five miles – almost every day.

I was young and in good shape and the ride was a blast. I still remember the thrill of flying across the city without the worry of being hit broadside by a pickup truck. I loved riding after work because I could speed past the packed up and stopped rush-hour commuters on their crowded freeways. It was the best of times.

Since then I’ve been an advocate for hike and bike trails – and the city has come a long way. Now, I’m more of a spectator than anything else… but I do what I can.

For years I have been following the building of the Cottonwood Trail – a hike and bike trail that runs from Richardson down under the High Five Interchange at Highway 75 and LBJ 635, then south through Hamilton Park until it connects up with the White Rock Creek Trail. This is an important connector trail, enabling bicycle commuters to pierce a large part of the DFW metroplex by connecting long existing trails through areas of heavy traffic that are otherwise impassible by bicycle or on foot.

I attended a lot of meetings when the High Five was being constructed, because it was affecting the commute to work of thousands of employees at my work site. During the presentations of the enormous, expensive, and complicated plans for ramps, frontage roads, and levels of access I noticed a thin green line snaking down along the creekbed in the maps and diagrams. The legend said the green line was a “hike and bike” trail.

In true government fashion, when I would ask about the green line, they would stare at the diagram and say, “I have no idea what that is, we’ll check it out and get back to you.” I never heard from anyone. I had to wait years until the thing was finished and then park my car and walk down there.

Sure enough, beneath the massive construction, there was a hike and bike trail. A beautiful trail, wide, landscaped, lit, and carefully designed and built to all the newest specifications. There was only one problem with this trail. It went nowhere. It dead ended at each end of the massive interchange – truly a road to nowhere. They weren’t able to get the cities that bordered the interchange to commit to connect up with the trail.

For years this strip of pavement was the best homeless shelter you could imagine. I would visit it every now and then and the number of tents, campfires, and piles of sleeping bags near the broken-out lighting fixtures in the shelter underneath the ramps grew and grew.

Finally, the wheels of progress turned and after half a decade or so the trail began to reach out from either end of the High Five. Videos – Going South, and Going North.  I checked up on the progress, encouraged that the trail finally gave a safe bicycle route to the campus where I work.

There was one piece missing, though. The final little bit that connected the trail with the White Rock Creek Trail (the main spine of the trail system that runs through this part of Dallas – the one I enjoyed so much a quarter century ago) was missing. They were taking forever to finish the thing.

Now it is done. And today I had a couple hours to pack up my bicycle and try to ride along the thing.

I packed my crappy old bicycle into the trunk of my car and drove down to the Forest Lane DART station to hop on the final part of the trail. I bought this bike used for ninety dollars almost twenty years ago, so it’s not surprising that I’m having some trouble with it.

The engine, of course, is the worst. It’s old, worn out, and generally gone to shit, but I’m stuck with that. Otherwise, the seat is breaking apart and the derailleurs don’t shift very well any more. I did some work on the front shift levers, moving the adjustment knob to try and get the shifting to improve, but it didn’t seem to help.

I hopped on and headed off. The heat is a little less toxic than it has been, though it is still horribly dry here. Right away I was having trouble. It was a struggle to pedal and my legs were aching and my breathing a chore. I was beginning to feel a little spark of panic – it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Then I realized that I had been turning the wrong adjustment knob when I was working on the front derailleur. I had been tightening the front brake by mistake, and it was dragging the bike to a stop.

Fixing that helped a lot – though for the rest of the day I was panicked and tired.

At any rate, I had a good time. The little bit of trail seemed anti-climatic after all the years of anticipation, but that’s that. I wish the thing was there when I was riding all those years ago… or, really, I wish that I could ride like that again.

Old End

This is where the Cottonwood Trail ended the last time I rode it. This is in Hamilton Park, just south of the High Five Interchange.


Here is the same spot now. Those "Trail Subject to Flooding" signs are everywhere, though I can't imagine a drop of water right now.

A little farther.

A little farther down the trail, where it crosses under Forest Lane. One reason the construction took so long is that there was a lot of work involved in this road crossing and the creek bridge.

Forest Lane DART station

The entry to the trail at the Forest Lane DART station.

Bicycle Lockers

Cool looking bicycle lockers at the DART station.

Creek Bridge

The bridge over Cottonwood Creek. Another "Trail Subject to Flooding" sign. Wishful thinking. I don't know where the trickle of water still in the creek comes from.

Rest Area

The trail runs through some thick woods between the train line and the creek south of Forest Lane. There is a nice rest area built there. This homeless guy was sitting in the rest area, reading and writing in his notebook. We talked about the weather and I helped him find a lost sock.

White Rock Creek

The southern terminus of the Cottonwood Creek trail, where it connects with the White Rock Creek Trail. The DART train is crossing White Rock Creek over the trail.

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