Army Corps of Engineers acts to protect new wildlife habitat in Dallas

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FORT WORTH, Texas – In the last decade the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has transformed a dump and old golf course in the Trinity River bottomland into new wildlife habit within eyeshot of downtown Dallas skyscrapers. Now it’s time to protect this urban jewel, which has attracted a diverse population of resident and migratory birds.

On Aug. 19, the Fort Worth District awarded a $159,000 contract to TTG Utilities of Gatesville, Texas, to help enclose the parking area and protect this habitat in the Lower Chain of Wetlands natural area in southeastern Dallas.

The contractor will erect a pipe-rail fence around a parking lot on the site of the former Sleepy Hollow Golf Course clubhouse at Great Trinity Forest Way (Loop 12) just west of the Trinity River Bridge. It provides access for hikers, bikers, birders and fishermen. Six ponds in the chain extend northeast from Great Trinity Forest Way to the I-45 Bridge.

Audubon’s Trinity Bird Count has officially tallied 129 species at this spot since it began in 2011. (Other birders have identified 10 others, according to the eBird database, a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.) The Trinity Bird Count recorded 45 species during its July 26 visit, including Baltimore orioles not commonly seen south of the Red River during the summer breeding season.

“It’s one of my favorite birding locations in Dallas, a truly peaceful and picturesque oasis just minutes from downtown,” said Caroline Humphries, a regular bird count participant.

Informal trails in the Lower Chain of Wetlands are open to the public along existing maintenance roads, but vehicular traffic is prohibited. New gates under the contract will hinder illegal dumping and keep unauthorized vehicular traffic from damaging the grassland habitat.

Formal hike-bike trails through the Lower Chain are planned in the future by the city of Dallas as it builds out the Trinity Forest Trails network. The city also plans to add park benches and an information kiosk to explain the wildlife and plants seen here.

The new wetlands are part of the Corps’ ongoing Dallas Floodway Extension Project. It was conceived through years of collaborative planning between the city of Dallas and the Corps to more efficiently convey floodwaters through the Dallas Floodway System and thereby reduce flood elevations in the Trinity River corridor. It combines flood risk management with ecosystem restoration and recreation.

When not serving as an alternate river channel during flood stage, the chain of wetland ponds and surrounding prairie provide quality wildlife habitat designed to support birds. Plants were selected that are a valuable source of food and cover, but which can also survive temperature and moisture extremes. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborated with the Corps on the re-vegetation plan. All of the plants were raised and planted by the Corps’ nearby Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility.

A second section of the federal project, the Upper Chain of Wetlands, is now under development just upstream and adjacent to the Cedar Crest/Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge. When complete, the two wetland chains will comprise 123 acres of emergent wetlands, 45 acres of open water and 102 acres of grasslands – just a few miles from downtown.

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