The 50-acre Broadcast Hill, purchased last year by the city of Fort Worth, is the first parcel to be purchased through the city's Open Space Acquisition's program. Photo by Don Young.
Oct. 20, 2020
Nature lovers cringe every time they pass by yet another wildflower meadow or wooded lot plowed under for development.
Now the city of Fort Worth is making an effort to protect some of these undeveloped parcels.
The Open Space Acquisitions Program was launched last year to preserve more wild space within city limits.
It's overseen by an interdepartmental team, headed up by Jennifer Dyke, the stormwater program manager for the city of Fort Worth.
“We want development, but we want smart development,” Dyke said. “We really want to try to identify those key natural areas that should remain natural.”
Dyke said natural areas have multiple benefits for the community. They provide outdoor recreation, help with flood control, improve air and water quality, create wildlife habitat, reduce the urban heat island and improve surrounding property values.
“This isn’t about creating more traditional parks with soccer fields but rather keeping them in their natural state and allowing more passive uses such as hiking, birdwatching, picnicking and nature photography,” she said.
Natural recreation areas, like the city-owned Fort Worth Nature Center, provide many benefits including recreation, wildlife corridors and flood control. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.
And although Fort Worth is home to two of DFW’s natural jewels - the 3,600-acre Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, and the biologically rich Tandy Hills Natural Area, the city ranks at the bottom behind other U.S. cities when it comes to green space. The Trust for Public Land’s “Parkscore” rating puts Fort Worth at 94 out of 100 in park access, acreage, investment and amenities compared to other U.S. cities.
Meanwhile, Fort Worth is the 13th largest city in the nation with a population of 900,000. The city is booming and growing by around 20,000 people a year. That means a lot of land is being plowed under.
“We estimate that around 50 acres a week of undeveloped land is lost for new development,” said Dyke. "That's a pre-COVID number.”
This summer, the city enlisted the Trust for Public Land to help them identify the best property to conserve.
“The Trust for Public Land is coming up with a tool for Fort Worth that we can utilize, to try to identify those high priority areas and then work together to hopefully go out and actually acquire some of these properties or work with land owners, possibly to protect them through conservation easements.”
As for paying for land acquisition, she said the program can be funded in a variety of ways - through the city’s Mineral Trust Fund, department budgets, bond elections and private funding.
Broadcast Hill is located next to the Tandy Hills Natural Area. Its purchase in 2019 by the Open Space Acquisitions Program expanded the park by 50 acres. Photo by Don Young.
Last year, the Open Space Acquisition Program made its first purchase when it acquired a 50-acre parcel known as Broadcast Hill for $620,000. The property, which expanded the Tandy Hills Natural Area, was paid for by gas well revenue and a $60,000 donation from Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area.
Dyke said in recent weeks, they have formed a stakeholders group and held their first meeting with about 70 people on the virtual discussion. Stakeholders include Streams and Valleys, North Texas Council of Governments, Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Cross Timbers Master Naturalists and Native Prairies Association of Texas, along with civic and business groups.
“I’m very excited about the possibilities of an open space program," said Suzanne Tuttle, the former manager of the Fort Worth Nature Center, who is a member of the Open Space stakeholders group. "Fort Worth leaders set a great example over 100 years ago when they purchased all the land around the newly-created Lake Worth for a metropolitan park. We still benefit tremendously from that foresight a century later. This new program will allow us to continue to pay it forward far into the future.”
Dyke says preserving natural space is a national trend and she hopes to glean information from other cities.
“We don't want to reinvent the wheel. We want to learn from those cities that are doing this and that are doing it well.”
She believes Fort Worth residents are solidly behind the program, based on their research.
A 2019 survey revealed that 81 percent of respondents support conserving open space within the city.
“So I’m thinking with COVID, with everyone looking for these areas to escape out of their homes, that that number might even be higher now.”
Open Space Aquisitions Program Public Meeting
About: The city of Fort Worth's program was launched in 2019 to conserve high-quality natural areas as the city grows to provide environmental benefits and recreational opportunities that support economic development and enhance the livability and desirability of Fort Worth. A public meeting is being held this week and a survey is being done to get resident's feedback.
Public Meeting: Oct. 22, 2020 at 6 p.m. Online.
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