Cottonwood Creek Preserve
Review: Cottonwood Creek Preserve is a 200 acre park in Wilmer, which features meadows and an old pecan grove. A part of the Dallas Open Space Program, the preserve is the largest park in Wilmer, and provides a nice place to stroll and explore, although the ‘trail’ isn’t in the best shape..
Distance: The city site lists a 2 mile trail, but the bridge is currently out. The trail is actually not well marked anymore, we hiked over 5 miles, but took many detours through the underbrush and explored. Your mileage may vary
Area of Town: Wilmer, south of Dallas off of I-45
Facilities: There is a picnic table pavilion located next to the parking area
Suitable for: Hiking
Type of Trail: Natural Trails (although frankly the trail is a bit non-existent)
Shade: The preserve has many trees, and there are opportunities to explore through the underbrush for the brave (beware the poison ivy)
Where to Park: There is parking on site
Official Website: Official Site
Nearby Trails: Goat Island Preserve, Tenmile Preserve,
Cottonwood Creek Preserve History
Cottonwood Creek Preserve is one of the Dallas Open Space Program protected areas. For those unaware, this program was started in 1976 to preserve natural spaces for the enjoyment of Dallas County residents. There are 21 protected preserves, some which are well known (Cedar Ridge Preserve, Spring Creek Forest Preserve)and others I’d never heard about, including Cottonwood Creek Preserve.
The preserve is located in Wilmer, south of Dallas near Beltline and I-45. It’s easy to find if you use your GPS of choice, and as you follow the directions, you’ll come to a dead-end in the road, with stone markers where a well maintained parking area awaits, where a nearby covered picnic area sits.
The preserve is the former site of a farm, where the owners raised cows for beef, and grew pecan trees. The descendants of the original family wanted the land to be retained and preserved, so they donated the area to the city to maintain and protect, and it became part of the Open Spaces program in 1989. It is the largest park in Wilmer.
Exploring the Far Side
We were the only ones when we arrived, except for a flock of Cornish Hens that were racing around a nearby field, looking for breakfast! After we spent some time watching them, we walked towards the bridge over the creek, saw a sign warning us of alligators, and then started exploring the far side. The trail initially looked more like the remains of an old road. The preserve on this side is a wide open space dotted with pecan trees, presumably part of a former grove. We safe a lot of evidence of wild hog activity, but didn’t encounter any on our exploration. The trail, such as it was, ended at a certain point, and we just walked further into the preserve through the trees. It was very peaceful. Except for the hawks and vultures overhead, it was quiet and picturesque.
While the official website for Dallas and Wilmer indicate it’ a soft trail with informational signs, we didn’t really notice where the trail was. We did encounter a few signs warning us of snakes or to ‘stay on the trail’, which we’d have followed had there been one. The official sites do indicate there is a bridge over the creek which we could have taken to the other side of the creek, but at this time the bridge is long gone, the remnants remain to show where it once stood. From looking online at some of the pictures of the bridge when it existed, I’m not sure I would have wanted to brave it when it was still operational!
One interesting thing to note, there was a crumpled metal fence towards the end of the preserve, which looks like someone drove through it. We did continue on through this area, and it led to the banks of the creek where further progress was blocked. We did encounter two guys on the far side, wearing head to toe camouflage clothing, fully masked, and holding rifles. When they saw us, they receded back into the woods. It was a bit unsettling. I’ve encountered hunters while out, these were not hunters.
On our return we decided to explore the brush along the edge of the meadow. We were able to get fairly far back into that area, although there was a lot of poison ivy, so beware. There was a series of depressions in the ground, perhaps the remains of an old fishery? We also ran into a very friendly German shepherd dog, we named him Buster, who followed us on the rest of our journey.
Exploring the Near Side
After having explored the far side, we crossed back over to the side where the parking lot lies, we were still the only ones visiting on this Saturday, and we started to explore the far side. The Cornish Hens were long gone, having finished their breakfast, but our new friend Buster still wanted to follow us. We followed the line of the trees that bordered the creek, and again this was a large meadow with pecan trees throughout. Again we saw several signs warning us of snakes and telling us to stay on the path, which no longer exists. We again found the remnants of the bridge, which by all accounts has been out of service for several years now. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of maintenance here, as the trail has been left to go wild.
As we continued through a more narrow opening in the woods, we came to another meadow, this one apparently having been more recently mowed. The sheered off remains of stumps of vegatation made an interesting walk, this is not an area you would want to try to navigate barefoot. Buster knew this area well, and whimpered at us. Once we’d fully explored this meadow, we returned to our vehicles. Not knowing if Buster had a home or not, one of our party offered him a lift, but he went back up the road to where nearby houses are located. He seemed in good condition, so we were glad to see he had a home to go to. Dumping of dogs can be an issue.
Cottonwood Creek Preserve is definitely not as well maintained as other preserves in the area, having been allowed to return to a more natural state. If you are looking for a spot to get lost in, to wander without need of guideposts, to just be in nature and explore, then this may be the place for you! We had a fun day exploring this, i would advise that you wear pants vs shorts, and sturdy shoes if you do visit. The poison ivy here was pervasive, and the near side meadow would be hard to navigate on less sturdy shoes. Also, the men in camo with rifles that we encountered across the creek was very strange and unsettling. I’d advise if you do visit the preserve, especially as nobody else was there when we visited, make sure to let people know where you are going, and it’s probably safer to go with a friend or a group, vs on your own.