Everyone knows that the Trinity River has four forks. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a fifth: the ghost fork.
Photo A: I took this photo while standing smack dab in the center of the Trinity River channel just east of Riverside Drive. You can see the rim of one bank against the sky. The quick among you will notice that I am not drowning; nay, I am not even damp.
In fact, sometimes you can walk the bottom of this stretch of the Trinity River channel for a mile or more and not get your knees wet.
This is the ghost fork.
This 1951 Sanborn map shows the Trinity River east of Riverside Drive. That’s the river running west to east and arcing to the north. That’s Sycamore Creek coming up from the south to flow into the river. But that 1.5-mile-long arc of the river was narrow and slow-moving. And that was a problem because when the Trinity was in a mood, it was prone to flood, as it did in 1889, 1908, 1922, and 1949.
So, in the 1950s and 1960s the Army Corps of Engineers unkinked the river. The Corps dredged a new channel—a wide, straight, .9-mile-long bypass (yellow line on map) between the east and west ends of the arc. The new channel left the old channel high and (mostly) dry. (This map shows residential streets between the old channel and new channel. I’m not sure those streets were actually developed. That land now is home to old quarries, natural gas facilities, and illegal dumping.)
Just as construction of the bypass channel orphaned that arc of the river and created the ghost fork, it also orphaned a stretch of Sycamore Creek.
This aerial photo shows the old river channel, the new river channel, and the orphaned stretch of Sycamore Creek. The orphaned stretch of the creek has been filled in, but one bend of the stretch is still discernible by the trees that lined it.
The yellow letters indicate where photos B-E below were taken.
In the mid-1950s the air of the East Side was full of dust and diesel: While the Corps was dredging the new Trinity River channel, the Texas Turnpike Authority was building a turnpike between Dallas and Fort Worth (see Sanborn map). In fact, just east of Riverside Drive the new river channel and the turnpike would run parallel and only seven hundred feet apart.
The west end of the ghost fork of the Trinity passes in the shadow of another ghost: The screen of the Meadowbrook drive-in theater is just a few yards to the west.
Photo B: On the opposite bank of the new channel can be seen the outlet of Sycamore Creek.
Photo C: The ghost fork is cut off from the new channel but is still fed by rain runoff. Thus, the old channel sometimes has water in it.
Photo D: The bridge over the old channel in Gateway Park. The new channel can be seen beyond.
Photo E: Beyond a narrow island in the new channel can be seen the tree-lined outlet of the ghost fork. Even though the west end of the ghost fork is dry upstream (photo A), the bypassed channel sometimes discharges runoff into the new channel. Thus, the ghost fork of the Trinity, orphaned and forgotten, continues to fulfill its ancient job description: to move raindrops downhill toward the Gulf of Mexico.