Aaryaman Singhal: Laying Groundwork for Greenspace

Story by Misty Jackson-Miller. Photos by Hunter Lacey.

About 80% of the litter removed from a Groundwork Dallas project site is what you might expect—glass, plastic, styrofoam—but volunteers regularly make some unusual finds. Like golf balls. And shotgun pellets. Once, the group had to haul off a septic tank. Another time, it was a refrigerator. And then there’s the shoes. Chief Operating Officer Aaryaman Singhal has collected a surprising number of shoes over the years, and though he’s never found an actual pair, he’s picked up “all sizes, all types, sneakers, dress-shoes, every kind of shoe you can imagine.”

Sometimes, it’s the worksites themselves that are surprising. The story about the snow-dusted clearing is legendary. Small pieces of styrofoam had blown all over a pocket of Hines Park like a Christmas display gone amok in the middle of a warm Dallas summer. Aaryaman says it was like “someone had shaken a snow globe.” However, as those tiny pieces of styrofoam are toxic to local wildlife, the Groundwork volunteers meticulously removed each and every piece by hand.


Much of Groundwork Dallas’ conservation efforts take place along the Elm Fork Greenbelt and Trinity River Forest. Because much of this area lies in a floodplain, their work often involves litter-removal. As of October of this year, they’ve removed over 47,000 pounds of trash. But Groundwork Dallas is also known for clearing out the invasive privet which displaces native vegetation, flagging diseased trees, building park trails, and installing benches and picnic tables at their project sites. They are monitoring the urban forests for signs of emerald ash borer, and they are, they believe, the only nonprofit with an MOU with the city of Dallas to use chainsaws on city property.

“We would love to be known as the on-the-ground crew that is developing national park quality green spaces in Dallas, and for educating the next generation of environmental stewards,” says Aaryaman. “We want to be the ones actually doing the work. We want to be on the frontlines of that.”


Aaryaman joined the Groundwork team as a volunteer shortly after moving to Dallas four years ago. “I’ve always been interested in environmental issues,” he says. When he was younger, his family would sometimes visit his extended family in India. His relatives would often wake up at 4:30 a.m. just to run the water filter, to make sure they would have enough clean water for the day. If unexpected company dropped in for a visit, the household would sometimes run out of water. Aaryaman has seen firsthand how important it is to protect the environment, “not to save the planet,” he says, “but to save ourselves.”

After his first litter clean-up event, Aaryaman says, “I could see the immediate impact we were having—all of the volunteers, working together. It was very rewarding.” A year later, Aaryaman joined Groundwork’s board of directors; in 2018, Aaryaman took on the role of COO. In fact, many of Groundwork’s staffers got involved with the organization as volunteers, and “everyone in our office works in the field on a regular basis,” he says.

On any given clean-up day, volunteers will arrive from all over Dallas, some as teams from other organizations, others as individuals who just happened across the event listing on meetup.com. Whatever their reason for being there, everyone leaves with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.


Among the volunteers who regularly turn out for park projects are the students from the Green Team. The Green Team is Groundwork Dallas’ marquee youth program which promotes environmental education and provides paid job-training to underserved students–but most importantly, the Green Team’s mission is to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards by nurturing an appreciation for green spaces, especially those as near as a few blocks away. Stewardship is, after all, an integral plank of Groundwork Dallas’ outreach—a focus on the “now” with an eye toward the future. “Green Team youth,” says Aaryaman, “get such an exposure to activities they wouldn’t get at school.” Students enrolled in the program earn certifications, attend conferences, and even go on camping trips, with all of the gear provided by Groundwork Dallas and REI.

All of Groundwork Dallas’ work and programs are done in partnership with other organizations, says Aaryaman—nonprofits, corporations, church groups, and local schools—”and we couldn’t do it without the support of our community and ordinary people who are willing to get their hands dirty.”

Through the sustained efforts of Groundwork Dallas volunteers, what was once a tract of land which had been known for illegal dumping, has been transformed into a space where you can get away from the noise of Dallas—without ever actually leaving the city. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The group is looking at new sites in the Bachman Creek area near Dallas Love Field, as well as LB Houston Park in Dallas. The Frasier Dam site is their current area of focus, with the goal of installing more picnic spaces, creating a park for youth mountain biking, and building three more miles of tails. “We’re working to make it better, but we’ve come a long way. We want to get it to the point where you can go out and enjoy it as a family,” says Aaryaman.

Today, Hines Park is exactly that kind of place, where adventurers can explore a new trail and families can spend the day, screen-free. It is a place where naturalists can enjoy the seasonal changes in the urban forest canopy, and where birders can catch a glimpse of a yellow-crowned night heron or a great egret skimming the water for an unlucky fish. Anglers, too, can paddle out to their ideal spot to cast a line, where they might catch a bass or catfish. “Groundwork Dallas is providing outdoor spaces people can enjoy with family and friends,” says Aaryaman, “and you don’t have to travel far away to get that experience.” Humans and animals alike. Believe it or not, Hines Park is said to have the largest beaver dam in urban Dallas, which is to say, it has become the kind of place where a family of beavers can put up a few sticks and make it their home.

For those who are interested in participating in a future Groundwork Dallas project, you can find more information at groundworkdallas.org or their meetup.com page.

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