Seven days after torrential rains buried River Legacy Parks in floodwaters up to 5 feet deep, it mostly reopened for business Friday.
It was not without scars, including flattened grass and smudges of mud remaining on parts of the 7 miles of concrete trails. Standing water kept the three pavilions and the two smaller of the three playgrounds closed Friday, but they were to open within days.
Martin Sanchez, supervisor of the city park system’s north district, and his eight-man cleanup crew started work on the park within hours of the rain ending May 29 and had it ready for reopening a little ahead of his estimates.
He shared credit with the nearly flawless weather that followed the crew all this week.
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“Three or four days in the sunshine will make a difference,” he said Thursday, pausing to enjoy the bright rays on his face. “Good medicine.”
Most of the cleanup focused on the 10 to 12 inches of mud left by the receding floodwaters, which had submerged 40 to 45 percent of the main park area, Sanchez said. The goo washed out of the Trinity River’s West Fork and smothered much of the 12-foot-wide trail that runs along the river. Mud also came from a fish and duck pond — which serves dually to control water flow — and buried long stretches of park road.
Workers used high-pressure water hoses and motorized sweepers to shove the sludge back to where it began.
Armando Belmares, supervisor of River Legacy Parks, said the floodwaters rose to near the top of the pavilions and about halfway up the tallest features of the main playground. Two small playground “pods” were completely submerged.
“The restroom building looked like an island by itself, like in a lake,” Belmares said. “There was water as far as the eye could see.”
Sanchez said a motivation for their hustle was concern for public safety. He said police made regular patrols to warn people who had found their way into the park to sightsee and snap pictures of the high water.
“There are some areas around here that are still not safe,” he said.
One major attraction of the park, the mountain-biking trails, all of which are composed of soil, were to remain closed through the grand reopening and beyond. Sanchez said mountain bikers should contact the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association for updates via its website at www.dorba.com.
Park employees expected a brisk welcome from the public.
Leslie Covert was hoping to drop in Thursday morning as she made her daily walk and jog on the sidewalk that passes by the gated park entrance. But traffic cones and sawhorses kept her away.
“I went in there before it flooded, and it was great,” said Covert, an Austin native and London resident who was visiting family in Arlington. “All week I’ve been checking on it when I go by, hoping it will be open.”
Sanchez said he wasn’t surprised that the park flooded, or even that it flooded so much. The nearly constant rainfall over the past few weeks saturated the soil throughout North Texas.
“The water had nowhere to go except the low area,” he said. River Legacy Parks are in a flood plain.
The greatest irreplaceable damage revealed by the receding floodwaters was surely the toppling of a huge pecan tree from the riverbank onto a trail. Sanchez estimated it at around 70 feet tall and 40-plus inches in diameter. Each of the tree’s two low limbs was thicker than most of the mature tree trunks in its vicinity.
It not only blocked the trail but also took out a large cedar elm on the way down.
A five-man crew from Arbor Masters in Grapevine, hired by the city of Arlington, was sawing the huge pecan limbs into 2- to 3-foot chunks and hauling them off the trail. Crew foreman Ralph Benavides said the cutting would take most of the day Thursday.
A faint dead-fish-like odor could be detected in some places. But Rafe Brock, a district fisheries biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said that description of the odor didn’t convince him of many fish casualties. He said any decomposing organic matter, like plants, can create the fishy smell.
In fact, the fish probably fared very well, Brock said. “Fish will thrive when it’s like this because of the increased available amount of habitat” created by flooding.
That’s especially true for smaller fish. A suddenly expanded feeding ground, even though not permanent, can help the fish grow larger and stronger sooner, he said.
Sanchez said the 1,300-acre park at 703 NW Green Oaks Blvd. normally draws about 500 people on weekdays and at least double that on weekend days. But he hopes visitors don’t come expecting to see the same park they saw a couple of weeks ago.
It’s not as pristine as it was.
“Those areas that were green before — give it a couple of weeks and it will be like it was,” he said. “You’ll never know we had a flood out here.”
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7186