Rockwall County Open Spaces: ‘We must not delay any longer’

ROCKWALL COUNTY, TX (Nov. 21, 2022) In 1986 my wife and I fled the City of Garland and Dallas County. After church one sunny Mother’s Day morning, we visited our future home in Heath. Our three little children jumped out of the car and ran toward the lake without bothering to look inside the house. We knew instantly that we had found our lifetime home.

The main attraction was the open spaces. I was raised on a farm, and if I was going to work in Dallas, I needed to live somewhere that provided more of a view than a backyard with a privacy fence and a front yard along a street so busy that the children couldn’t play there. At that time Heath had a population of less than 2,000 and Rockwall County had a total population of less than 25,000.  We weren’t in West Virginia, but it was Almost Heaven!

I am certain that my story is similar to many, if not most, Rockwall County residents. Whether you were born in Rockwall, moved here in 1986 as I did, or arrived last week, we all want the peaceful lifestyle, open views and limited congestion that Rockwall County has provided.  Although we share that mutual experience and vison, we also all know that our peaceful lifestyle, with usable open spaces and non-motorized mobility, is in jeopardy.  What was previously a 10 minute drive on a 2-lane road to the Y, is now a 30 minute drive on 4-lane roads with traffic that makes me nearly lose my religion.

Although we can never go back to 1986 (or whatever year you arrived in Rockwall County) – the good news is that we can change the direction in which we are currently headed! And even better, there is a plan – all we need to do is to implement it.

In 2008, the Rockwall County Commissioners Court adopted a policy position on Open Space, stating that “The dynamics of Rockwall County’s geography and its rapid population growth present a very small window of opportunity to act on the quality of its future. Therefore, our future is now.”  At that time three primary objectives related to Open Spaces were identified: (1) to preserve quality stormwater corridors (i.e., protect floodplains and greenbelts); (2) to protect and establish corridors essential for countywide open space connectivity for non-motorized mobility modes (i.e., build trails); and (3) to explore development of a major preserve/public amenity that could potentially be developed in the future (i.e., develop a large public park).

The Commissioners Court subsequently commissioned a study on Open Spaces, which resulted in the issuance of the Rockwall County Open Space Master Plan in December 2015.  (

The Open Space Master Plan was developed through a planning process with 4 primary phases: (1) data collection and inventory; (2) needs assessment and analysis; (3) synthesis to align community values and needs with available opportunities; and (4) establishing implementation strategies. The Master Plan was developed by an Executive Committee and a Steering Committee that included concerned citizens from all portions of our County. These concerned citizens put in innumerable hours of work to develop the Master Plan, and it was delivered to the Commissioners Court with great anticipation that action would be taken to achieve the goals and objectives laid out in the Master Plan – goals and objectives that are commonly sought by a huge majority of Rockwall County citizens.  For example, the Master Plan stated that 95% of survey respondents indicated that it would be beneficial to have a connected trail network linking key locations across the County. That’s right, 95% of Rockwall County residents agree on this!

Despite these good intentions, it has now been nearly 7 years since the delivery of the Master Plan, and little has been done to implement it. There has been talk, and some planning, but little serious action has been taken to implement the Master Plan. Unfortunately, during that same 7 year period, our population has grown, new neighborhoods have been developed, and Open Space opportunities have diminished.

However, it is never too late to begin to improve our situation! In less than two months, three new members of our five-member Commissioners Court will be sworn in. This new majority has the opportunity to take action to preserve Open Spaces in our County. Although cities have the obligation to regulate development within their borders, the necessary steps to make substantive changes and improve preservation and access to Open Spaces are best coordinated at the County level.

Following completion of the Master Plan, the Rockwall County Open Space Alliance was formed as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to save Open Spaces in Rockwall County. The Alliance is dedicated to protecting Rockwall County’s water and land and connecting communities through Open Spaces. The Alliance can be used to work with the County to begin implementation of the Plan.

It will take money and time to preserve Open Spaces, and this will require commitments from both the public and private sectors. However the value of preserving Open Spaces is much greater than the price that will be paid to do so. The goal is well worth it – preservation of Open Spaces for the benefit of future generations! Each of us can help. First, by letting our elected officials know that we support Open Space preservation, and, additionally, by supporting the Open Space Alliance to achieve these worthy goals. Please join me in fighting for our future!

Submitted by Lorne Liechty of Heath. Photos by Nell Welborn, president of the Open Space Alliance. 

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