DENTON GREENBELT

Environmental Call To Action Trinity River Elm Fork Disaster in Denton Texas

The Denton Greenbelt Corridor is a stretch of the Trinity River Elm Fork, running from the dam at Lake Ray Roberts, Texas, to the outlet below Texas State HWY 380 into Lewisville Lake, Texas.

The area of the Denton Greenbelt runs along its entirety, and consists of the waterway, through the North Texas hardwoods, and the land on either side of the Trinity River is known for long bike and horse trails that are a great escape from the busy hustle and bustle of the Metroplex.

Elm Fork Trinity river at Ray Roberts dam hybrid

At one time it was also known as a great fishery. We had spawning sand bass swimming upstream – all the way to the dam at Ray Roberts, and it also was a vibrant fishery that also had a seasonal migration of feisty (sterile) hybrid bass from Lewisville Lake – all the way upriver to Ray Roberts Dam. Those were truly good times.

The Drought

That all ended with the drought from 2013-2015. Two years of drought led to the demise of many trees along the stretch of the Denton Greenbelt. Then, the rains came, and the floods came. They washed the deadfall into the Trinity River, and thus ended some of the greatest fly fishing in the four county area of Denton, Tarrant, Dallas and Collin Counties.

Denton Greenbelt City of Denton Jurisdiction

In simpler times the solution would have been, well … simple. Clear the deadwood, and let the water flow. But these are not simple times. Three governmental jurisdictions are directly involved in the Denton Greenbelt Corridor. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the City of Denton, Texas. This is where the simple solutions butt up against red tape, funding, committees and “studies” of the problem, as if studies were actually necessary!

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The Floods

In 2015 and 2016, the Texas rains did come, and with large releases from Ray Roberts Dam, the dead wood was packed tight to form blockages all along the Trinity River Denton Greenbelt. In a classic game of hot potato, the potato ended up in the hands of the government with the most power, most jurisdiction and the most money – the USACE, aka. Federal Government. The philosophy of the USACE?

The USACE’s philosophy was quite convenient, if completely off base, “Let nature take its course.” How convenient it was to forget the fact: Before Lake Ray Roberts was impounded in 1988, nature was taking its course. Once the lake was there? Nature was no longer taking its course. Man had taken control of every facet of the Trinity River from where it enters Lake Ray Roberts to where the Trinity River met Lewisville Lake.

Meanwhile, the fish were trapped in the Trinity River. The floods would drop a few fish in below the dam – with the huge releases, but not many. The non-local population, oblivious to any environmental problem, fished out the trapped fish and those dropped in. It wouldn’t make any difference.

Years Go By

Years went by with nothing being done. The log jams were choking out the migrations, until the trapped fish were finally gone, and by about 2020 the once great fish migrations were gone.

When I started on this crusade, the TPWD obviously passed the buck to big brother USACE, and the City of Denton? Anyone working there was more concerned with their jobs, and keeping their heads down than in being educated about the positive economic impact a healthy and flowing Trinity River would have on the City.

City Maps were shown to me that showed, in hard copy, the lines drawn around the water – years ago, to not include the Trinity River. “It’s not within our jurisdiction to do anything.” A letter was written in late 2021, to the USACE Chief at the Fort Worth District. We are still waiting for that response … to a letter that was written just to ask for matching funds ($50-thousand) for a “study” of the problem.

THINK ABOUT THAT! Any time you see, “study,” that means jobs and that means years. And typically, that means more studies, and more money for those on the job … for people who need the funds to keep coming to get paid!

TPWD was equally hands-off. They only responded to the vocal minority of people who used the horse trail for fun and profit. In 2021 the TPWD under the direct control of the Lake Ray Roberts Chief, undertook the rebuilding of the Denton Greenbelt 380 Park (along HWY380). This project was misguided at best. That’s because a huge log jam existed right at the Denton Greenbelt 380 Park!

Rains came, the dam wasn’t even opened, and the proudly published renovations were once again devastated. Who would have been surprised by that? I called that event months before it happened. The Trinity River was running through the parking lot, and the restrooms, and the trails at every log jam along the way! The Elm Fork Trinity River Greenbelt park that had been shut down for years? It was shut down once again.

NOTE – Part of the Trinity was dredged and cleared right below HWY380. That was funded by the Texas Department of Transportation to insure the integrity of the bridge at HWY380. Nothing more than that. The funds were depleted and the contractor left after about a hundred-yard clearing.

Besides all the contacting and research I had been doing behind the scenes over the years since 2016, I also raised my profile to two of the three governments involved – not my favorite place to be, and still all alone.

By the beginning of 2022 I was done with it. This rock was going to roll right back down the hill over me, and I could care less. The frustration led to an easy decision to leave it all behind and do the business startup on South Padre Island in 2022-23.

UPDATE 2024

Now that I am back in North Texas, back in Denton, how can I just let this go? First, that is what the governments involved would love! Second, it still is probably an impossible task. No help, and no one stepping up to help me. Third, how can we allow something so valuable as a great waterway – the Elm Fork of the Trinity River – sitting right here, go so neglected? Fourth, what about the future, the economic benefits, the benefits for the citizenry who desperately need these escapes?

Robbie Merritt 940-300-4064 [email protected] — Ray Roberts Superintendent

Gary Packan 940-349-7460 [email protected] — City of Denton Parks & Recreation

Colonel Calvin Kroeger USACE Fort Worth District