Texas Buckeye hikes honor a 40-year-old tradition

Eileen Fritz McKee, daughter of Ned and Genie Fritz, inhales the delicate sweet aroma of a Texas buckeye on the Ned and Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail. Photo by Jennifer Weisensel from Wild DFW.

March 15, 2024

by Amy Martin

Read the original post at: https://greensourcedfw.org/articles/texas-buckeye-walks-keep-alive-40-year-old-legacy

Beneath the massive bur oaks that anchor the slippery floodplain floor and the spreading boughs of towering Shumard red oaks that render dappled shade, an ivory cloud of creamy Texas buckeye blossoms hang suspended in the deep forest twilight.

The buckeyes (Aesculus glabra var. arguta) must have been a startling sight to Ned Fritz when he trudged to this grove one March in the late 1970s, at the behest of naturalists and native plant fans. There was no trail —  just a bearing by compass a mile or more into the Great Trinity Forest to find this place on the Trinity River.

The Great Trinity Forest moniker arose among Ned’s environmental colleagues during the epic fight over a planned Trinity barge canal, which he helped defeat in 1973. A new threat surfaced a few years later: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans for a wide swale adjoining this river. It meant leveling numerous Great Trinity Forest trees.

Ned and Genie Fritz
Genie and Ned Fritz in the 1980s at the picnic pavilion of the Ned and Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail. Photo by Bud Melton.

Ned marshaled his legal arguments and lined up his science against the swale through his and his wife Genie’s organization, Texas Committee on Natural Resources (TCONR, tee-con-er). But Ned knew how to win this one. People needed to experience the forest to understand what they almost lost — and might lose again.


In the early 1980s, Ned’s annual Texas Buckeye Walks began. Walkers were greeted by a tall red-headed man, exhorting them to set aside all apprehension and follow him into the wet, bottomland hardwood forest so deep, the twilight was perpetual. It was an adventure — an unforgettable one.

“There was no trail and it was always muddy,” said daughter Eileen Fritz McKee. “He wanted to share what he’d found and people followed that passion. No matter the mud.”

As with all things Ned, the walks hit the headlines. At times, hundreds would come, even though the hike’s muddiness was legendary. This wild forest, these rare blooming trees, seeing the Trinity up close instead of from a bridge — it was unimaginable that it was in Dallas, so close to downtown. People came with friends, who returned the following year with more friends.


Texas buckeye flowers
Texas buckeye flowers. Photo by Scot Miller. 

When he was 80, Ned recruited naturalist Jim Flood to carry on the walks, starting in the mid-1990s.

Ned respected Jim’s deep knowledge of plants in general and the Great Trinity Forest in particular. They both found peace in the deep woods.

“Texas Buckeye Walk became an annual event and saved the forest,” wrote Flood.

The spring excursions fueled support for the Great Trinity Forest and the river. TCONR applied immense pressure. Activist troubadour Bill Oliver penned a popular tune about the struggle. Instead of a swale, USACE created Upper and Lower Chain of Wetlands on the other side of the Trinity.

Jim Flood created a permanent trail to the buckeyes.

His leadership reign ended after the spring 2015 walks. That year’s massive flood kicked the Chinese privet infestation, already getting dire by then, into high gear. Guided hikes became sporadic and scarcely publicized. Convincing people to walk a couple of muddy miles to see barely visible blooms amid the privet was a hard sell.


Ned and Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail Restoration Team before heading into the woods to do their work. Photo by Scot Miller. 

Kristi Kerr, a Fritz family friend, stepped up in 2022.

Working closely with Dallas Parks and Recreation, she marshaled monthly restoration teams, with Trinity Coalition underwriting the effort. Volunteers slightly widened the narrow dirt path so it could be seen during lush summer greenery. They knocked back the privet so walkers didn’t have to flail through its drooping branches.

The trail — now officially named the Ned & Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail  — re-emerged. The splendid Texas buckeyes ensconced themselves in a riparian forest ruled by a 100-plus-year-old bur oak now named Ned — all utterly infested by privet.

Volunteers, many from North Texas Master Naturalists, liberated as many buckeyes as possible from the privet. Once starved for light, water and nutrients, the flowering trees could flourish again. The Parks Department promised the volunteers that the city would follow up with trunk treatments to prevent resprouting. It hasn’t happened yet but hope springs eternal.

After the privet management was well underway, the consensus was clear: The walks had to resume if Ned’s legacy was to endure. Kerr kicked them off in 2023 in a big way — four weekends of walks with a superb lineup of walk leaders, each with a compelling area of expertise or experience.

Trailhead sign and map at the Ned and Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail
Trailhead sign and map at the Ned and Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail. Map by Teresa Patterson | Scooter Smith.

This new approach to the Texas Buckeye Walks paid big dividends:

“About 85 people participated in the walks and 95 percent of them had NEVER been on the trail before!” said Kerr. “This is why we present these guided hikes. The walkers were delighted and in deep gratitude. All promised to come back and bring their friends and family.”


2024 pose before Ned, the giant bur oak
Hikers in 2024 gather before Ned, the giant bur oak at the trail’s end. 

The 2024 lineup for the 2.5-mile walk continues the excellence. These hikes will fill, so reserve soon. Be sure to sign up to be notified of changes due to weather. Walks are rescheduled if it’s raining or the trail is too muddy.

Meet at the Ned & Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trailhead at 7000 Bexar St. in Dallas across from Bonton Farms. Extra parking at Buckeye Trail Commons Early Head Start at 6717 Bexar St.


• March 16, Saturday: 10 a.m. to noon
Leader: Richard Grayson. Grayson will share how Ned’s river activism inspired him; stories of Ned and Genie and the many threats the Trinity has endured over time. RAINED OUT.

• March 17, Sunday: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Leaders: The family of Ned Fritz Michael McKee (grandson) with Eileen Fritz McKee (daughter) and Kristi Kerr (family friend). The trio will share tales of life with Ned, the family’s great nature vacations and Ned-guided walks and fun times at their famous Cochran Chapel house. RAINED OUT.

Eileen Fritz McKee with sons William, left, and Michael, right, a trail restoration team leader, pay a visit to Ned, the bur oak. Photo by Kristi Kerr.

• NEW: March 19, Tuesday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Leaders: Amy Martin and Kristi Kerr Leonard – Spring Equinox Wet Walk.

• NEW: March 23, from 10 a.m. to Noon:
Leader: Richard Grayson – Gain crucial insight into the Trinity River and its plight.

• March 23, Saturday: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Private hike for Bonton families, led by kids from T.R. Hoover Community Development Center.

• NEW: March 24, Sun: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Leaders: Michael McKee with Eileen Fritz McKee and Kristi Kerr Leonard – Great Trinity Forest trail restoration and tales of Fritz family nature excursions.

• March 30, Saturday: 10 a.m. to noon.
Leader: Bob Richie. Learn about edible and medicinal plants in the Great Trinity Forest.

• March 31, Sunday: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Leaders: Marion Lineberry of the Texas Historic Tree Coalition and Kristi Kerr. Learn about trees of the Great Trinity Forest, trail restoration and Bonton history.

• April 6, Saturday: 10 a.m. to noon.
Leader: Amy Martin. The Wild DFW author shares the legacy of Ned and Genie Fritz, and Trinity River history and ecology.

• April 7, Sunday: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Leaders: Shelby Smith and Caleb Hinojos of North Texas Master Naturalists. Learn the ecology and cultural history of the Bonton Woods.

• SPECIAL HIKE!​ April 13, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Leader: Steve Smith of Trinity Coalition. For hearty hikers only. Approximately five miles of trails-in-the-making. Hikers will take the Trinity-White Rock Trail to the river-creek confluence, and then onto the Bois d’Arc Trail to the Bonton Pond and levee. Both trails are still in progress and not yet approved by the park department.



• History. For more extensive background on the trail and the walks, plus more info on the buckeyes, visit this Ned Fritz Legacy webpage, The Trinity Blooms Again: Texas Buckeyes.

• Walks. For more information on the 2024 walks and essential trail tips, visit this blog post.

• Ned Fritz. The walks are a presentation of Ned Fritz Legacy, an online ebook-in-progress about the noted environmentalist. Walks and trail restoration support provided by Trinity Coalition.

• Volunteering. Join the Ned & Genie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail Restoration Team.


Texas buckeye trail hikes kick off Saturday

Buckeye Trail named for local environmental trailblazers

Your guide to exploring the Great Trinity Forest

Stories, tributes, images sought for Ned Fritz biography

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