Duncanville's Natural Wonder

Erika Browning, April 23, 2020
Photo Credit: Erika Browning
Ten Mile Creek is the natural waterway that begins at the west end of Duncanville, near Cedar Hill, and flows unrestricted through town for five miles. In the past it’s been a place for families to picnic and swim in its deeper “blue holes.” The creek is accessible from Harrington and Waterview parks, and from the section of land at Santa Fe, Cedar Hill, and Danieldale Roads, which was gifted to the city by the Ladd family 20 years ago. Mark Graham, a local editorial and portrait photographer, has enjoyed the nuances of the creek for many years. We wanted to learn about Ten Mile from his perspective.

When did you start photographing the creek?
I started going down there after I got my dog. I’d gone to Harrington Park before, but after I got my dog I just started wandering the area. He loved walking the creek and it just became a place to go a couple times a week. That’s how it got started anyway. Now it’s just an obsession. It really is. It gives me something to do that isn’t work related.

How has it changed over the years?
Trash. Way way more trash. I’ve really never smelled overflow until the last year and a half, two years. I won’t go into that, but it’s pretty bad.

How do you envision people using the land around the creek?
I’m pretty open to anything except development. If it became a park, I don’t want to see it with a bunch of concrete. It’s a flood plain, and we don’t need more concrete. For myself, just a natural green space, natural trails, volunteers that will come in and clean up, a self maintaining place. Ideally I’d like to see a giant, initial clean up, then have it become a once a month thing. It’s going to take a monstrous effort to get it cleaned up. Ten mile is the watershed for Duncanville. I’m not sure people understand how important it is. Everything winds up going through Ten Mile Creek, it cleans it up. The creek itself looks very clean.

Are there other places besides Harrington Park where people can actually enjoy the creek?
You can enjoy the numerous branches that flow into it. If you can explore, on Bentle Branch you can walk all the way right into the creek at Cedar Hill Rd and Joe Wilson. I’ve just walked all the way down, it’s very pretty. You can do the same way with Stuart Branch, which is the one that runs right into Harrington Park and is where I’ve talked about trying to make a green space all the way down. You have to be willing to fight the underbrush. It’s very pretty as it is, but you’ll get cut up and lost. It’s just there for any of us to use. Ten mile goes all the way to the Trinity River. You can walk along it in Desoto; they actually have put in paths. Lancaster has a nature preserve that’s hardly used at all, very pretty. There’s lots of places.

What are some of the fun activities that people could engage in along the creek?
Oddly enough, I’ve seen it when the water’s high enough, it’s rated for kayaking when the water’s really flowing. In state guides it’s listed as a place to kayak, a five mile area. As it is right now, hiking, down along either the Ladd land or Harrington Park, just getting into it and walking. Just get in the creek, wander up and down. Parts of Harrington Park have long had a history of swimming and picnicking. I very seldom see anyone down there. But numerous people have told me they spent every summer in the creek. The city has done a poor job of promoting it. There are areas that could be great swimming holes.

I’ve been all over it. I have looked back online to see what Ten Mile Creek entails. I moved out here because I’m a small town person. I see this as our little section of the hill country; it’s of the same land. When I moved out here, I used to go to Harrington Park then, and I didn’t really pay much attention to it except that little area. But I got to realize, this is like the hill country. I started looking online, there’s Ten Mile Creek, there’s Five Mile Creek; I got to looking at where it flows into Trinity. We changed where it actually physically flows into it in order to improve being able to water crops. But right there where it flows into Trinity, there’s an old dam, a lock, from when they were trying to make the Trinity navigable. It just became a fascination to me. You get down there and it’s like another world. Between Lancaster and the Trinity it becomes a huge drainage area. It becomes a low point where when it floods it really spreads out. There’s a little community along the Trinity called Sand Branch that has no running water. That’s how isolated it is. I had long ago, when I worked at the Dallas Times Herald, done a story on the rock pits. We’d get out in our waders and go look for alligators. I saw a few almost 30 years ago, but now there are probably more. It’s intended to be a nature area that they haven’t developed yet. It’s a different world and it became a fascination. It’s history, it’s very real to me. The natural habitat we have far outweighs a lot of other things that are out here. I don’t know why people can’t see it. That really is what amazes me as I have become more and more concerned about Ten Mile, photographed it more, shared it more: how many people live out here, have lived out here for years, and don’t even know it exists.