The property known as Big Cedar Wilderness features 225 acres of tree canopy and 175 acres of escarpment topography. Courtesy of Trust for Public Land.
June 23, 2023
The city of Dallas just ensured that a beloved natural area in southwestern Dallas will remain natural.
Last week, the Dallas City Council voted to acquire a nearly 300-acre property known as Big Cedar Wilderness near Mountain Creek Parkway and Interstate-20.
The 282-acre wooded parcel at 5950 Eagle Ford Drive in Dallas has been privately held by Brad Phillips and his company Liberty Bankers Insurance Group and is estimated to be worth more than $17 million.
Last year, Phillips, who had run on the trails at Big Cedar when he was younger, approached the Trust for Public Land about preserving it as public parkland.
For the past 14 months, Trust for Public Land has worked with Phillips, the city of Dallas and community stakeholders among others to secure the property with help from Dallas’ Reforestation Fund and ensure it remains a natural space.
“I'm proud to be a part of the preservation of Big Cedar Wilderness,” said Phillips. “I look forward to watching it continue to prosper and serve outdoor enthusiasts both locally and beyond.”
A shady trail at Big Cedar Wilderness in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Trust for Public Land.
According to Trust for Public Land, Big Cedar Wilderness features 50,000 trees and 175 acres of escarpment topography, along with creeks, ponds and wildflower meadows. The nature area has been used for decades by local hikers, mountain bikers and members of a neighboring church for outdoor recreation and respite — all with the consent of private landowners.
But the park’s location on private property always kept its future on uncertain ground.
Robert Kent, Texas State Director for Trust for Public Land, said we only have to look at the recent Fairfield Lake State Park debacle to see how that scenario can go wrong. In that case, the state park land had been rented from a private landowner for nearly 50 years, who then sold it to a developer, despite outcry from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the public. After attempts to negotiate a land purchase failed, the state is now in the process of using eminent domain to wrest control of the park back.
Fortunately for Big Cedar Wilderness, the property’s owner recognized the value of the park to the community and generously donated it, said Kent.
“We’re now going to have this property permanently protected,” he said. “That’s such a great win for the city of Dallas and the people who love this property.”
NORTH TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
A wildflower meadow at Big Cedar Wilderness. Courtesy of Lori Crider.
“It’s the same geologic formation that you find west of Austin,” said Kent.
With its hilly terrain and cliff views, the park offers 22 miles of trails and spectacular sunsets.
The natural area has also been a popular venue for Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association, who have served as stewards of the property and whose mountain bike ramps and jumps dot the landscape.
Jason Barton, DORBA's vice president of trails, who regularly rides in Big Cedar Wilderness, said the mountain biking community is thrilled to see the property preserved.
"It has so many great natural characteristics like heavily wooded steep terrain, open rolling fields, and all sizes of creeks, with the occasional beaver pond. There’s just so much naturally occurring wildlife to be seen in the area!"
Texas Master Naturalist Lori Crider, who volunteers at the park, describes Big Cedar Wilderness as a hidden gem.
“It’s my favorite place,” said Crider, a resident of Las Colinas, who has been visiting the natural area for 20 years.
She and her fellow members of the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter pick up litter and remove invasive plants on the property, namely privet.
She said the park has the same scenic beauty as its neighbor to the south, Cedar Ridge Preserve, which attracts throngs of hikers after work and on weekends.
“[Big Cedar] is much calmer,” she said. “There’s more than 20 miles of trails and it’s really spread out.”
There are 22 miles of trails at Big Cedar Wilderness in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Trust for Public Land.
Once the city’s acquisition is complete this summer, TPL will continue to collaborate with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department and community stakeholders to enhance the existing amenities and plan for greater ease of access.
“Dallas Park and Recreation is extremely grateful and we are prepared to be thoughtful stewards of Mr. Phillips’ generosity and Trust for Public Land’s leadership,” said Arun Agarwal, president of the Dallas Park Board. “Our staff is already working to ensure Big Cedar is planned to fit well with our existing network of parks and trails.”
In the coming months, Kent said he will be working with the city of Dallas to develop a master plan for the park that is inclusive to all those who have cherished it over the years.
That includes Mountain Creek Community Church, which owns 80 acres of adjacent land that extends the park’s landscape and includes a parking lot used by hikers and mountain bikers.
“Everyone recognizes this property has been utilized and loved by mountain bikers, faith groups and hikers,” said Kent. “There’s plenty of room to do things that benefits all those stakeholders.”
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