South Oak Cliff is Green and Growing
Of all the DFW green neighborhoods, South Oak Cliff is the greenest, because it’s the most green. While it lacks walkability and its holistic offerings are few, the hilly terrain south of Clarendon between Loop 12 and I-35E boasts some of Dallas’ largest parks, plus it’s a short jump to the best scenery in Dallas County. The city’s biggest agricultural operations thrive here, as does the community garden scene. This eco-operated, multi-use enterprise in a reclaimed manufacturing plant has dreams of becoming a center vibrant enough to pull this diffuse community together.
An Overflowing Bounty of Parks
Kiest Park is to South Oak Cliff what White Rock Lake is to East Dallas: the open space around which everything revolves. One of the largest in Dallas at more than 250 acres, it’s got everything: gardens, sports facilities, recreation center, some imaginative children’s areas and a paved, mostly level, hiking trail nearly three miles long. Texas Recreation and Park Society recently named it a Lone Star Legacy Park that holds special prominence in the local community and the state of Texas.
To commune with a deeper level of nature, Oak Cliff Nature Preserve is the place. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the former Boy Scout camp is 121 acres of heavily wooded and intricately folded chalk hills dotted with meadows. The Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association, DORBA) , maintains eight miles of multi-use trails that is such an interconnected miasma that first-timers often get lost. Make sure to save their terrific interactive map before heading out. The perimeter trail is easier on hikers and skirts the lush riparian area of Five Mile Creek, where the old bois d’arc trees, pecans and oaks are quite massive.
For an even bigger dip into nature, take the U.S. 67 split off I-35E in Cedar Hill to FM 1382, to find hundreds of square miles of nothing but nature. The scenery evokes the Texas Hill Country with craggy limestone bluffs, clear-running creeks and scrubby forests. Cedar Hill State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/cedar-hill), the only public place to camp in Dallas County, is around 1,200 acres flanking nondescript Joe Pool Lake. A few pleasant lake vistas are on the eight miles of DORBA trails (dorba.org/trail.php?t=5), but most explore the ravine-rich interior. In addition to camping, it’s nice place to set up for a day of exploration in Southwest Dallas County. History buffs will appreciate its Penn Farm Agricultural History Center (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/cedar-hill/cedar-hill-state-park-history), with mid-1800s farm buildings and a terrific bluestem prairie.
Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center (DogwoodCanyon.Audubon.org) is part of the vast greenbelt of forests and around Cedar Hill Lake State Park. The 205 acres at the mouth of a forested canyon has around three miles of trails through a surprising variety of habitats. While the trails are not long or challenging, there is a nurturing closeness to nature. Pets are welcome on Dog Days Sundays. The visitor center provides engaging insight into the area ecology with creative displays, live education animals, resident raptors and a fun gift store. Look for their fun, friendly events, including full moon hikes.
In the uplands across FM 1382 from the state park is the natural jewel of Dallas County: Cedar Ridge Preserve (AudubonDallas.org/cedar-ridge-preserve). Its 600 acres features epic views of the lake valley and an impressive nine miles of varied trails: short, long, strenuous, easy, steep, flat, forested and prairie, ranging from broad and graveled to narrow dirt. The noises and views of civilization fade. Birds and animals seen nowhere else in the county live here. The Dallas Audubon Society operates this rare and wonderful place, once called the Dallas Nature Center, but it’s the dedicated and ingenious volunteers that make this treasure come alive.
The Fine Art of Food
Some impressive agricultural operations occur in South Dallas and South Oak Cliff. Paul Quinn College, an African-American college, became legendary when it turned its football field into the We Over Me Farm (WeOverMeFarm.com), which trains students in the skill of growing food on a commercial scale. It even has a mascot: Spike The Touchdown Tomato, toting a turnip football.
South Dallas is considered a food desert, where fresh produce and unprocessed foods are hard to obtain. In a partnership with Good Local Markets, farm products are sold each Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Paul Quinn Market Located on a busy DART bus line, the operation brings healthy foods to all of South Dallas, healing a community on many levels.
We Over Me Farm and associates have expanded into locavore items like heirloom vegetables, specialty fruits, microgreens, herbs and honey. Locally manufactured pickles, preserves, sauces, plus breads and baked goods also join the menu. Non-edibles like handmade soaps and body care products are also featured.
Healing on a personal scale is facilitated by Eat the Yard (EatTheYard.net), an urban farming operation founded by two veterans that train and employ other veterans. A 17-acre farm in Desoto, plus a network of high-intensity garden spaces in yards and open spaces, create produce for local markets and restaurants. For more community garden goodness, visit Community Gardens of Oak Cliff (CommunityGardensOC.wordpress.com).
Enjoy fresh foods cooked for you at Sankofa Kitchen & Smoothie Bar (see Facebook). A bastion of lean chicken and turkey dishes, it has lots of vegan and vegetarian options. Ann’s Health Center & Market (annshfc.com) has brought healthy foods and advice to the area for decades, now with a cafe boasting a creative, fresh menu and some stellar sandwiches.
Community: Hipster, Heart Centered and Ecological
The spiritual heart of is Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff (oakcliffuu.org) with modern buildings and beautiful rock labyrinth that merge into the wooded landscape. Its humanist message of curiosity and spiritual seeking, kindness and compassion, laced with a strong commitment to justice, is a perfect philosophical match for the area. Join them on Sundays, for seasonal celebrations and a monthly jazz jam. The church is also the Oak Cliff location for Dallas Shambhala Meditation (Dallas.Shambhala.org/community/oak-cliff-satellite-center).
Trinity Environmental Academy (triea.org), operated by nonprofit Sustainable Education Solutions, is a charter school dedicated to nature and science-based education for Dallas youth and families. It stresses sustainability, environmental stewardship and service to the community through its classes and summer camps, located near the Great Trinity Forest and Paul Quinn College campus.
Tyler Station (TylerStation.com) aims to be the compelling center that draws all these disparate elements of South Oak Cliff together. Its location next to the Tyler/Vernon DART light rail station gives that dream some punch. The 70-year-old building, a former manufacturing plant, was environmentally renovated by developer Monte Anderson, creator of the Belmont Hotel and founding president of the North Texas chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Enterprises in Tyler Station’s co-working space include arts and crafts (jewelry, art, sculpture), creative industrialists (furniture and décor making, crafting, welding, woodworking, landscaping), white collar (design, videography, media relations, law, finance) and manufacturing (Oak Cliff Brewery). All tenants must participate in the recycling program and are encouraged to reuse and repurpose materials. Classes at the martial arts and movement studios, and festivals like MayFair, keep it busy with happy, shiny people.