Love Affair with the Lake

Love Affair with the Lake - Running at White Rock Lake in Dallas
Photo: © LN Hanson Photography

I don’t remember when I first met her. But I remember when I fell in love with her.

A series of events drove my migration from the east coast back to Dallas in the fall of 1997.  I came back a runner.

As a minted runner and new to a town I inhabited five years previous, I knew where I needed to run.  At a place called White Rock Lake.

The lake originated as a water source.  Dam completion occurred in 1911 and White Rock Lake came to life after a sizable rainfall in 1914.  At the time, folks considered White Rock Lake a bit outside of town but by 1920, visitors started fishing, hunting, boating and swimming.

By the 1930’s, White Rock Lake became a popular weekend destination. People purchased permits from the city to build a little shack or fishing cottage. Shacks quickly filled the east shore and during the Depression some of these structures transitioned to full time homes.

In the later part of the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps camp, a project of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, transformed the overall architecture of the lake.  The program employed over 200 young men, who lived in a wooden building at Winfrey Point.  These CCC men built almost all the buildings seen around the lake today –Winfrey Point, Doran’s Point (now called Flag Pole Hill), and the Big Thicket.

When the war broke in the 1940’s, military personnel made Camp White Rock Lake their temporary home.  Between its’ opening in November 1944 and October 1945, Camp White Rock Lake housed 300 German prisoners.  Many of these prisoners worked in the Centennial General Exhibits Building at Fair Park, repairing GI uniforms and equipment.

By the 1950’s a severe drought hit Dallas.  White Rock Lake reverted to a water source for drinking purposes, resulting in beach closings and swimming bans. Even today, swimming continues to be banned. In the early 1970’s, voters approved a bond program for improvements at the lake, including new parking areas and biking tails.

It is these White Rock Lake trails where I started every Saturday morning. I parked in the same parking lot, right off Lawther Drive (named after former mayor Joe E. Lawther and paved in 1931). Parked in the same space (cursing if someone had the gall to park in my spot). I ran in the same direction.  A ritual foolishly thought driven by goals, desire to maintain mental health and trim waistline, those miles around the lake taught me something else entirely.

When I tell people I am a runner I get that look, usually followed a once over and a stare that screams disbelief. I don’t look like a runner. I am not fast. I am not agile. I am built to last in perhaps a weight-lifting competition or rugby match.

However, once I hit the trail around White Rock Lake none of those things matter.  I felt smooth and swift of foot.  My mind wandered.  At times I seemed to awaken, not remembering the miles that past, the breaths taken, the hot sun or the ounces of sweat that drenched my clothes. I saw many of the same people every week. People that definitely looked like runners would speed by me. People that didn’t look like runners sped by me. None of this seemed to matter because these Saturday morning dates made me feel like a runner. The water, trees, ducks, birds, trail, bikers, runners, and walkers in my running sphere allowed the noise to ooze out of my head.  The consistency comforted me.  By no means a private sanctuary, White Rock Lake felt like a big secret.

During these runs I told a thousand stories, imagined a bucket of dreams and made some tough decisions. My running impeded my social life. I questioned why I let it overrule personal relationships. Then through running I realized if running won then perhaps the relationship wasn’t meant to be.  I ran from things and I ran toward answers.

White Rock Lake became a serious relationship for me.  Sometimes I don’t give her enough attention and the relationship falters. But I find my way back to her.  The love affair may be different, the landscape of the lake vastly improved as she gracefully ages, but my love for her eternal.

White Rock Lake historical information quoted from Sketches of a Growing Town, by Darwin Payne, 1991.

Article and photography by Laura Hanson

Photography may not be used without explicit permission.