ON A MILD SATURDAY AFTERNOON in January, I’m riding my bicycle along the Clear Fork of the Trinity River just southwest of downtown Fort Worth. It’s an easy ride through a primarily urban landscape, and the river itself is mostly tame—it gambols sedately over man-made stone dams and between broad sloping levee walls. Still, there are a number of hints pointing to the natural setting that once existed here. The water is clear, revealing a limestone riverbed that is the signature of so many great Texas rivers, and cormorants, ducks, and egrets congregate along the banks. Once I pass Forest Park, woods and open spaces on both sides of the river make it easy to forget that I am in the middle of Texas’ sixth-largest city. I surrender to the thrum of the spokes through the air and the rhythm of the tires on the concrete.
Believe it or not, I came to Fort Worth to ride my bike. While most tourists come to visit the now world-renowned Modern Art Museum or see the Stockyards, a rumor that you could cycle from Fort Worth to Dallas along trails following the Trinity River is what inspired me to make the 200-mile drive up Interstate 35 from Austin. I soon discovered that the rumor was too good to be true—for the moment, at least. As I write this, all the major municipalities between Dallas and Fort Worth—including Arlington, Grand Prairie, and Irving—have begun work on their portions of the Trinity Trails System, a grand plan for a 250-mile network of trails that will eventually tie together the main tributaries that make up the Trinity River watershed. When the project is finished, you’ll be able to ride from the southeast corner of Dallas County all the way north to the Oklahoma border and west across the Mid-Cities to Fort Worth. Right now, however, Fort Worth is the only city to have substantially completed its part of the deal and the best place to get a taste of what’s yet to come.
The Trails project is a massive undertaking but nonetheless long overdue. After all, the Trinity River, which is the longest waterway in Texas to begin and end in the state, is the original heart of the Metroplex. In 1839 John Neely Bryan came across the confluence of two of the river’s main forks. Believing the site had the potential to host a bustling commerce center, he returned to the spot two years later and founded Dallas. For the next few decades, settlements advanced rapidly toward the town up the Trinity River from the coast, and packet steamboats began to follow them farther and farther upriver. But the waterway was still wild and only intermittently navigable. Boats