LAKE GRAPEVINE -- Franklin's gulls, with their distinctive pink breasts, strolled the otherwise empty beach at Meadowmere Park one recent day. Across the small spit of a peninsula from the beach, a few Forster's terns, a couple of snowy egrets and a little blue heron walked along the shore or in the shallow water looking for food.
Earlier in the morning, Ray Chancellor, a Southlake resident who has been studying the birds around Lake Grapevine for decades, watched a yellow-headed blackbird perch on a nearby picnic pavilion. It was a rare sighting, he said.
Most of these birds stop at the park to rest and refuel during their annual migration. For instance, Chancellor said, the Franklin's gulls have come from Peru and are on their way to Canada. Other birds, like some of the 17 species of sparrows, call Meadowmere Park home.
However, as Meadowmere is developed for human use, fewer and fewer birds are making that pit stop or building their nests in the swampy lake backwater or on the ground in the tall prairie grass. Plans now under consideration by the city would further open the park for recreational uses, including in 10 sensitive acres in the heart of Meadowmere.
Chancellor, Georjean Sherriff of Grapevine and others are afraid that more development of Meadowmere would "adulterate" the natural ecosystem.
"On some mornings you could find 400 to 500 birds along here," Chancellor said of the little peninsula's north shore. "It is a major fueling stop during April and May. ... There is a uniqueness to this park that you can't find anywhere else on the southern side of the lake."
In another part of the park where tall prairie grass can provide cover for nesting birds, thousands of dickcissels once gathered, Chancellor said of the sparrowlike birds.
Now, as more and more of the prairie grass is being mowed, he estimates that the dickcissel population has fallen by two-thirds.
Sherriff points out that the changes do not just affect birds; frogs and turtles to larger animals and even the wildflowers are also at risk.
"It breaks my heart that there is more of a concern for tourism than what citizens want," Sherriff said.
Leased from corps
The new parks and recreation master plan, as developed by Pros Consulting, will be considered by the City Council after a public presentation and comments May 17. That draft plan, developed for $39,690, makes many recommendations for city parks and recreation facilities.
Much of Grapevine's lakeshore parks are on land leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Evans said. Of the 1,286 leased acres, 482 have been designated by the corps to be "environmentally sensitive areas." Development of those areas is limited to a few nature trails. Ten of those sensitive acres are in the heart of Meadowmere Park, but not along the shoreline.
Evans said the master plan will not be the guide for Meadowmere and two other city parks -- Rockledge and Wall-Farrar. Those three parks will have their own, more comprehensive plan.
Changes are already happening at Meadowmere, however. The beach was added a few years ago. Next to it, there is a short dock where paddle boats are rented. A low-water boat ramp could be added next to the dock. Close to the peninsula's north shore, the field is mowed for tent campers. Elsewhere, prairie grass has been mowed for a day-camping area, while pathways have been cut through other grassy fields.
All these changes encourage human access to more of the park, which scares off wildlife, Chancellor said.
Evans said his department must perform a balancing act between various public uses of the parkland. While he said he is sensitive to the concerns for preserving the area's ecosystem, residents also want to use the parks for other activities.
He pointed to survey and focus group studies done for the parks master plan that show the creation of a birding center and trails for bird watching as only the 12th most-wanted amenity behind such things as restrooms, hike and bike trails, beaches, kayak rentals and an amphitheater.
Evans said his department has made a recommendation to more than double the amount of land designated as environmentally sensitive in the park system. In addition to the 482 acres of sensitive land set aside by the Corps, Evans said another 502 acres of city-leased Corps land has been identified.
"That would mean 984 acres of ESAs of the 1,286 acres, or 76 percent, we manage," he said of the leased acreage. Another 50 acres of city-owned land along Big Bear Creek will also be designated as sensitive.
"We looked at the shoreline," Evans said of the identifying process. "We looked at the migration patterns of not just birds, but deer, bobcat."
At the same time, he said, he knows there are people who do not want to see any development.
"We have to do what the majority of the people want," Evans said.