Leonhardt Lagoon, Dallas

Well, folks, I’m back from my trip to Far East Texas, otherwise known as the Carolinas. I had a great time while vacationing, and the landscape was beautiful, but alas — since it’s a bit far from DFW, I won’t be going into too much detail on this blog about what I saw and did. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to offer you a little information about my trip, so here’s a nice website about the cool archaeological site I visited while I was away. It’s called Topper, and contains evidence that people might have been in South Carolina as early as 50,000 years ago (!).

But now I’m back in Dallas/Fort Worth (and what a fun pass through the airport that was, both ways), and my thoughts are turning once again to the attractions of the area I call home.  Considering the restful nature of the vacation just past, I’m reminded of one of the most restful areas that I know of in the Metroplex. It just happens to be located in Fair Park, and it’s called the Leonhardt Lagoon. It’s named after local philanthropist Dorothea Leonhardt, and was initially built in 1936 by the WPA.

The Leonhardt Lagoon is basically a large, shallow lake, which provides an intimate window into an environment more endemic to East Texas than to the Dallas area. It’s located just behind the Dallas Museum of Natural History (whatever it’s called this week), and offers a quiet place where you can experience nature right in the middle of the city. They’ve also landscaped it in a lovely manner, so you get the best of both civilized gardening and natural growth. I was quite taken with these lovely flowers, for example — just one example of the beauty they’ve wrought here.


On the other end of the scale, check out this huge bald cypress tree, which has been allowed to grow unchecked in its preferred swampy environment:


In the next picture you can see the cypress “knees” that grow up from a well-watered cypress. Let me tell you: they may look picturesque here, but they can be a real pain when you’re trying to stumble through a southern swamp. I speak from experience, I do.


I know I’ve mentioned the lagoon in passing once or twice, but I’ve not gone into detail about it previously, mostly because it was partly closed off for maintenance. You see, there’s this odd structure/sculpture/platform/whatever that swoops around the ends of the lagoon, and allows you to basically walk out into the lagoon a short distance. This is Patricia Johanson’s opus “Saggitaria Platyphylla (Delta Duckpotato),” a gunite work that dates from 1986 and is interesting, to say the least. (That’s interesting in a good way, incidentally.) Apologies to Ms. Johanson, but I prefer to think of it as “the Spaghetti Explosion.”  Until recently, it was closed for repairs or upgrades, but as of May 2008, it’s open to all and sundry. It offers some entrancing close-up views of the lagoon, not to mention the improved access.



As you can see from the pictures of the Spaghetti Explosion, the Leonhardt Lagoon is rather large. Here are a few other views that offer an idea of its size.




While the lagoon serves human purposes, including as a place to rest and play (as you can see the swan boats pictured above), the initial purpose was to serve as a display area for wildlife, a purpose that was largely defeated early on by excess lawn fertilization. The extra fertilizer (and we always use too much) washed into the lagoon and promoted the growth of green slimy algae, choking out the native plant and animal species. Johanson’s initial visit to Fair Park led not only to “Saggitaria Platyphylla” (a.k.a. the Spaghetti Explosion) but also to the living lagoon we can enjoy today. It was she who proposed the “living exhibits” visible here now; a delighted museum staff was all too happy to oblige. The rest, as they say, is history. Living history.

I’ve shown you the trees and landscaping, but there are plenty of critters that live in the water itself. Turtles are extremely common, varying from plain old river cooters to gigantamous snapping turtles that I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Here’s a shot (admittedly a bit bright and sparkly) where I was able to capture images of three (maybe four?) water turtles.  There was a big snapper to the left of that plant (outside this photo’s frame), but he was so deep he didn’t show up in my other photos. You could see him if you really looked, though.


There were also quite a few fish swimming around; according to the nearby Fair Park Aquarium, resident species include largemouth bass, Guadalupe bass, and various sunfish. I was delighted to note that visibility on the west side, at least, was excellent to several feet, allowing me to view the spawning beds of the local sunfish. It’s nice to see that the place has developed a self-sustaining ecosystem, after that bad patch in the 1970s.


See the regularly-spaced circular depressions in the above picture? Those are the nests of the sunfish, which we call “bream” down here (It’s pronounced “brim”). They sweep them out using their tails, lay the eggs, and then guard them fiercely until the eggs hatch. I’m not sure if it’s the males or females doing the guarding, but I guarantee you they’re extremely serious about it. If another fish or turtle gets close, they run them off tout suite. If you look very close at this picture, you can see a hand-sized sunfish stationed at each of the nests. It’s not easy to see them, but they’re there.

Once again: you’ll find the Leonhardt Lagoon at Fair Park, Dallas, just behind the Museum of Natural History. It’s open whenever Fair Park is open, which is just about any day. It’s free, too. Go and enjoy!

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