Region offers a natural playground just a short drive from downtown Dallas
From deep in the heart of Dallas, it sometimes seems like the world is made of nothing except steel and asphalt. But natural beauty abounds less than 25 miles to the south, where a wide array of outdoor recreational opportunities can be found throughout the Best Southwest Partnership region.
A prime example is Cedar Hill State Park, a 1,826-acre urban oasis in the community of Cedar Hill. Miles of biking and hiking trails are highlighted by the DORBA Trail (Dallas Off-Road Biking Association), which crisscrosses 1,200 acres of wooded areas and open fields and is considered to be one of the top mountain bike trails in the state. Some of the more remote trails are popular with bird watchers, since there are nearly 500 species of birds in the region where the park is located.
For those who want to stay awhile, the park has 350 developed campsites – all with water and electricity, and many with sewer hookups as well – along with 30 primitive campsites. Restrooms with hot showers are scattered throughout the park. More than 200 free picnic sites – each with a sheltered table and a barbeque grill – are a park feature, as are two large group picnic facilities that are available for rent.
The centerpiece of Cedar Hill State Park is 7,500-acre Joe Pool Lake, with its two four-lane boat ramps, a lighted area for boat trailer parking and numerous fishing piers providing easy access to the water. Anglers can catch white crappie, largemouth black bass, catfish and sunfish in the lake, and a fishing license is not required to fish from the shore or pier. If you want to cool off on a hot Texas afternoon, there is a swimming beach with picnic tables, grills, restrooms and a playground all nearby.
A Plethora of Parks and Preserves
The over 200-acre Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center is in Cedar Hill, where the ecosystems of east, west and central Texas converge.
The center is managed by the National Audubon Society. The 86-acre Lester Lorch Nature Preserve in Cedar Hill was donated to the city in 1976 by the Lorch family, making it the first open-space program
in Dallas County. Highlights include a 5-acre fishing pond, a 2.5-mile trail and a 36-hole disc golf course.
Cedar Hill is also home to the Lester Lorch Nature Preserve. The 86-acre preserve was donated to the city in 1976 by the Lorch family, making it the first open-space program in Dallas County. Highlights included a 5-acre fishing pond, a play area for children with two nearby picnic tables, a 2½-mile trail that winds through woods and meadows and a 36-hole disc golf course.
Outside Cedar Hill, a number of other nature parks and preserves dot the Best Southwest Partnership region. For example, the Bear Creek Nature Park in Lancaster has a butterfly garden, a climbing rock, an equestrian trail, a fishing pond and pier, 2½ miles of hiking trails, a large open space and a pavilion with picnic tables and a grill.
The 220 acres of land containing the Cottonwood Creek Preserve in Wilmer has been lovingly maintained since the 1800s, as evident by the 200-year-old pecan trees. The property’s original owners also farmed and grazed cattle. Their descendants wanted the land to remain largely undeveloped, so it became part of the county’s open-space system in 1989 and is now the largest park in Wilmer. A 2.2-mile, soft-surface trail runs alongside a creek and is marked with signs highlighting points of interest. Flying squirrels can sometimes be spotted within the preserve, along with deer, raccoons and armadillos.
Butterflies and wildflowers take center stage at the 62-acre Mockingbird Nature Park in Midlothian. It is not uncommon to see as many as 100 Monarch and Queen butterflies fluttering around the garden near the park’s front entrance. Each spring the park bursts to color with blooming wildflowers, making it a popular time for nature walks. There also is a pond and a creek in the park, which is maintained by the city and the Indian Trail Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.
All told, there are nearly 5,000 acres of parkland in the Best Southwest Partnership region, including smaller, community facilities such as 44-acre Heritage Park in Glenn Heights, which has soccer fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts and walking paths. As a result, this is an area that can also be referred to as the Big D. As in, delightful.