April 1, 2013

Prairie park moves forward even as Fort Worth grows

The grassland preservation effort seeks more community support.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

Older than civilization itself, yet fresh and alive as if born this morning, the 2,000-acre Fort Worth Prairie Park is becoming a regional grassland park for all of North Texas and a national epicenter of ecological health. After seven years of hard work, it's time to complete the park.

People and foundations from Fort Worth, Dallas, elsewhere in the United States and even Paris, France, and Australia have supported this globally significant preservation effort and the education and eco-therapy programs it offers.

The Fort Worth Prairie Park has been featured at the International Urban Parks Conference. NBC-5 TV's feature on the park was nominated for an Emmy.

Phase I involved protecting the 235 acres of the Rock Creek corridor. With that accomplished, it's time for the North Texas community to pull together and complete the next two parts.

Phase II is upslope acquisition of the precious virgin prairie eastward to Old Granbury Road. Phase III encompasses acquiring outlying lands; improving their connection to adjacent federal public land near Benbrook Lake and designing and building a Visitor Center and Ecological Health Field Institute with a sunset overlook.

Ecological health is an emerging national movement defined as "the interdependent health of humans, wildlife and ecosystems." Through the Fort Worth Prairie Park, youth and young adults for years have learned how to "live like a watershed;" build stamina and resilience; hone processing, adaptation and critical-thinking skills; refocus on their scholastic education; and enhance personal wellness. The completed park will also provide eco-therapy for U.S. armed forces wounded warriors. This effort to protect a remnant of our ancient living landscape for another 1,000-plus years is going to cost several million dollars. But so do buildings lasting only a few decades.

Investment in this crown jewel will solidify Fort Worth's stature as a leading destination for new ecological education and practices. Already we have the impressive Botanical Research Institute of Texas complex and TCU's Environmental Studies Institute. The park also will offer a rare experience of wild tallgrass prairie on a landscape scale.

Whether it's saving our native landscapes, reconnecting people with wild nature as a matter of our own health or buttressing ecosystems for climate change resilience, Fort Worth is showing how it's done.

Additionally, the new Chisholm Trail Parkway, which cuts through a portion of the prairie, is nearing completion, and the North Texas Tollway Authority has committed to lessening the road's impact through green safeguards. Those include keeping the stretch through the wild prairie area free of night lighting so as not to disturb the natural day-night cycle of the plants and animals; re-seeding native vegetation along the landscaping; and cleaning maintenance equipment before mowing to prevent infection from transported invasive species.

Plans for the visitor center and field institute are inspired by the El Yunque National Forest portal in Puerto Rico, a beautiful, interactive and art-inspired facility that distills the local rain forest experience and engages with the dynamic yet urgent story of rain forests worldwide. El Yunque rain forest is the third-most visited site in Puerto Rico.

The Fort Worth Prairie Park can do the same for grasslands, ecological health and Fort Worth. We show our heart and vision by providing prairie refuge not just for people but also rapidly declining Monarch butterflies, intercontinental migrating birds and local prairie wildlife. And we help protect the Trinity River watershed and unique American Indian, Anglo and African-American prairie history, too.

A highly motivated Friends of the Fort Worth Prairie Park committee has formed. Everybody's help is needed now to complete this project.

Jarid Manos is founder & CEO of Great Plains Restoration Council.

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