Flower power: Hundreds protest at Dallas Arboretum

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on May 5, 2012 at 6:04 PM

Updated Saturday, May 5 at 6:50 PM

DALLAS — A couple of hundred people marched outside the gates of the Dallas Arboretum on Saturday, furious over plans to add more parking for one of the city's most popular attractions.

"I’m angry about this,” said protester Penelope Bisbee, who lives nearby. “I think there’s just too much pavement.”

Since news of the plans first broke earlier in the week, this has turned into a heated fight that pits preservation and parking.

Protesters have found the symbolism too tempting. Some sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” from the 1970 Joni Mitchell song.

Chris Herron, one of the protest’s organizers, summed up the fight as “manufactured nature versus natural nature.”

As demand has grown to see the meticulously landscaped gardens on the shores of White Rock Lake, the Dallas Arboretum has expanded in recent years. Yet, neighbors are astounded to hear that a place designed to embrace nature would fall on the side of paving it.

“Don’t take away what’s natural and free for something you have to pay for to go see,” said protester Susan Bailey.

The rally was timed to match the launch of the new glass sculpture exhibit by world famous artist Dale Chihuly. The honks and chants of the protestors outside could be faintly heard during the exhibition’s ribbon-cutting inside the walled gardens.

“It seems the Arboretum and the City Council don’t understand the people are against this,” said Herron, president of the nearby Emerald Isle Neighborhood Association.

Despite days of protests, the city shows no sign of backing down.

At a court hearing Friday, the parties agreed to let the Arboretum mow Winfrey Point and provide 400 temporary parking spaces. Park directors haven’t said when they will permit parking on the fields, but they intend to try out the parking lots for a year.

There has been discussion about eventually paving the area for permanent parking lots or perhaps even building a parking garage.

On Saturday, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told News 8 he supports the parking plans.

“We can’t have traffic jams out here on Garland Road,” he said. “We have got to make sure we’re focused on the right things. This is not just a neighborhood issue — it’s for the whole city of Dallas.”

Events at White Rock Lake are drawing more people than ever. At times, vehicles in nearby baseball fields and running trails clog parking lots.

The Arboretum occasionally uses charter buses to shuttle in people from a shopping center more than a mile away.

“I’m not a fan of fields,” said Jackson Smith, as he sat on the shuttle waiting for a ride to the gardens. “We need more parking.”

Yet supporters say the grassy fields are a rare untouched patch of Texas blackland prairie that is home to native grasses and wildflowers. Schoolchildren visit occasionally to study the ecosystem’s plants and insects.

Park directors, however, insist that the field is simply an overgrown lot.

“They are weeds; they are invasive weeds,” declared Dallas Park and Recreation Board President Joan Walne. “White Rock Lake is 757 acres, and we’re talking about 3.5 acres. So, relatively speaking, it’s pretty minimal.”

She said the city mowed Winfrey Point for decades, but stopped in recent years because of budget constraints.

“A place that’s all about nature is — at the drop of a hat — willing to pave,” said protester Penelope Bisbee. “What’s wrong with this picture?”

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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