New Airfield Falls trailhead pays tribute to aviation history

12/25/2013 12:00 AM

12/25/2013 8:16 AM

The Tarrant Regional Water District’s newest trailhead gives a nod to Fort Worth’s military aviation history.

Two years ago, the water district paid to have a McDonnell-Douglas C-9 from Naval Air Station Fort Worth disassembled, keeping the wings and tail section to become the centerpiece of the park. The plane section has sat at the new trailhead, just outside the gates to the base on Pumphrey Drive, where the Trinity Trails now reach.

Airfield Falls, designed by Kevin Sloan Studio in Dallas, also gives the water district a unique opportunity to display native plants in a demonstration garden, showing Tarrant County residents how water conservation can work in their own yards and gardens.

The trailhead project has been in the works for more than three years, said Linda Christie, the district’s community and government relations director.

The 2.5-acre site provided enough land to do a good-size project, she said. It’s known as the place where folks have jumped the curb and parked cars on the grass for years to gain access to Tarrant County’s only natural waterfalls, along Farmers Branch Creek, fed by the Trinity River.

A couple of years ago, the district connected the site to the Trinity Trails, more than 40 miles of recreational trails along the Trinity River and its tributaries.

The trailhead is currently closed for construction. The $1.2 million project, which includes the cost to disassemble the plane, is scheduled to be completed next fall. It will have a 30-space parking lot, restrooms and picnic facilities.

“This is the perfect spot for the gardens we wanted to do,” Christie said. “It’s really an important and great educational project. It’s a lot of pluses.”

Westworth Village owns the property, but the water district has an interlocal agreement with the city to build and maintain the trailhead and trails there.

A large portion of the trailhead will focus on water conservation education, including the placement of four 5-by-5-foot educational signs highlighting sustainability features along the trail.

Features include landscaping and drip irrigation. The conservation garden will have a series of native plants and flowers, each specifically placed to meet its needs for sun or shade.

Beyond the garden, the parking area will use pervious paving to prevent storm water and pollutants from running off into the creek. It will also feature a water retention area that naturally filters storm water pollutants with vegetation.

A play area with Habiturf will be added. Habiturf is a mix of native grass species developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin as a durable low-maintenance grass that requires less water and mowing.

The aircraft will be rebuilt and mounted in an abstract manner on steel supports, and in a position to look like it’s taking flight. From the back of the plane, a sidewalk will wind to the trail, resembling a vapor trail. The original lights on the aircraft will be refurbished and used to light the monument when approached. Lighting will also be placed along the sidewalk.

Tom Struhs of with Struhs Commercial Construction is handling project construction.

Struhs, the developer behind the Trinity Uptown development on the north edge of downtown, said he was an avid model plane builder as a kid, so this project is right up his alley. He said he’ll have to work with steel tubing to make a fuselage and nose section.

“There’s a lot of cleverness about the design,” Struhs said.

According to military records, the C-9 was delivered to Iberia Airlines in 1972 and was flown commercially in Europe for 18 years. In 1990, it was sent back to McDonnell Douglas and converted for military use, providing Navy cargo and passenger transportation.

Afterward, it was delivered to NAS Memphis and was used there until about 1996, when it was decommissioned, eventually making its way to Fort Worth, where it was used for training. The Navy scapped it in September 2011, a few months after the water district approached the service about obtaining an aircraft for the Airfield Falls project.

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