DALLAS Its tall trees and shade make it feel several degrees cooler than the city street above it. But if you look closely at the litter on the ground and clothes hanging in trees, it's obvious the big city is not far.

"Right over here is where the man exposed himself to me," said Elizabeth Hurst, a Dallas resident and avid cyclist who rides 30 to 40 miles a day.

She was walking on the Cottonwood Trail, which she used to frequent. Cottonwood is a 3.5-mile paved path near LBJ Freeway and North Central Expressway which links to White Rock Creek Trail.

The exposing incident happened in May. Months before that, Hurst said she saw a man passed out and injured.

"His skull was crushed on the pavement; he'd been drinking too much and must have fallen. Blood was everywhere," she said. "I've seen them shooting up drugs, smoking pot."

Hurst has been on a crusade to help the city clean Cottonwood. She's been e-mailing and calling the city for "at least two years" she said.

Within about two minutes of the beginning of our conversation with Hurst, a homeless woman who said her name was "Crystal" appeared and defended her right to live on the trail.

"Where [are] we supposed to sleep if we're homeless?" she asked. "Anybody can be homeless. Just because you got a job today, don't mean you got a job tomorrow."

Crystal claimed she has a job, but doesn't get enough hours to make ends meet.

As Crystal walked away, Hurst conceded the situation is sad for everyone.

"They need help... they need help," she said. "My concern is that I want the trail to be safe for everybody for the homeless and those of us who use the trail for exercise."

Hurst pointed out the area where she often sees needles scattered on the ground. She described the lengths she's gone to to find a solution.

"I've called my City Council person, who put me in touch with local police," Hurst said. She has talked with and exchanged e-mails with a detective in the Northeast Patrol division countless times, she said.

She's also tried to get in touch with the Park Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, h oping that they could pressure a neighborhood convenience store to sell less alcohol to some of the people who cause the problems.

"I've had police tell me not to go on the trail. I've had the TABC tell me not to go on the trail. And I think that's not the right resolution to this problem," Hurst said.

The trail runs under Forest Lane, and almost hidden beneath the bridge's support beams, a man who simply goes by "Mechanic" has his home.

He sleeps on a small concrete beam. He's fashioned a bed out of sheets and he has a small pillow.

He's a mechanic and a carpenter who struggles to find work. On days he does get hired and paid, he'll rent a room somewhere. On other days, he comes to his bridge, and said he says he's seen a frightening change.

"I've been in this spot here off and on for five or six years, long before this trail was thought of," Mechanic said. "And within the last year to year-and-a-half, people have started gravitating here, and they're obnoxious."

Dallas police have cleared out the homeless camps on the Cottonwood Trail at least eight times this year alone, and crisis counselors have come through to help, too.

Crystal was here when police came through.

"They came, they took my stuff, they cleaned me out one time," she said.

But as Hurst points out, the homeless will return. "She has nowhere to go, so she just comes back to where she knows as her home," Hurst said.

Hurst has reluctantly taken the advice of police and friends and has stopped biking on the Cottonwood Trail. But she isn't happy about it. She said she'd rather help fix the problem than just ignore it.

"We need to work all together to get this resolved," she said.


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