Central Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, is destined to become a landmark attraction in the community and the North Texas Metroplex.
The vision for this 172-acre Blackland Prairie site features a 36-acre lake system as a scenic amenity that addresses regional flooding issues, while collecting and cleansing the storm-water runoff from surrounding suburban neighborhoods.
The master plan includes a new public-safety facility and adult-activity center (The Summit) that will anchor the park as a part of the cultural fabric for residents.
Restored prairie and wetland landscapes are the backdrop for numerous recreational and educational opportunities, including planned interpretive opportunities for local students and residents.
Some venues that are anticipated for future development include a mixed-use area that will include food and beverage outlets, retail and neighborhood services, and some residential space.
Other planned amenities include a community recreation center, amphitheater, and an interpretive children’s playground celebrating the history of Grand Prairie and the local environment, regional water park or aquatic facility. An environmental-education or interpretive center could be used to convey the unique story of the park, man’s interaction with nature, and the resulting impact on the local ecosystem.
Previously used for dry-land farming and pasture, the site is located in the central portion of the city, surrounded by light industrial, commercial, and mixed uses, as well as low-density residential. A service road abuts the eastern boundary of the site, and provides vehicular accessibility throughout the region.
The property was acquired by the city in February 2000 for inclusion into the overall city parks and open-space plan. As the neighboring freeway corridor and access roads were developed, it was determined that the existing infrastructure was undersized for the build-out capacity of the regional watershed.
The need for regional storm-water detention was apparent; since this was the only parcel available in the area, its inclusion within the park program became inevitable.
Becoming An Icon
As the city and design team approached the project, the mission was to provide a centralized regional park with “state-of-the-art” design and facilities. However, the inclusion of the detention basins ultimately posed a number of challenges.
The master plan had to evolve in responding to the hydraulic and mitigation requirements and the resulting decrease in land available for active recreation facilities.
Once the engineering parameters for the flood control issues were addressed, the primary goal was to maximize recreational and interpretive potential for the site, and to accommodate the need for new public-safety facilities. An interactive planning and design process changed the perception of the flood control basins into a beautiful series of interconnected lakes and a surrounding boardwalk that unite the various areas with the park.
The master plan and Phase I construction were approached as a partnership with city officials, key stakeholders, the general contractor, and the design team. Numerous discussions were held to sort through issues ranging from recreational opportunities, maintenance requirements, engineering feasibility, aesthetics, and, of course, the budget, in order to create not only a park, but a destination that would be an icon for Grand Prairie.
The active master plan now envisions a trendsetting suburban campus that mixes passive and active recreation, city services, environmental education, and interpretation opportunities.
The main natural feature within the park–Warrior Creek–flows across the site from west to east, and has continually eroded with the onset of local development over the last 50 to 60 years. Historic aerial photos indicate the natural creek corridor was altered prior to the 1940s for easier cultivation and access to adjacent parcels.
As the small farmsteads on site were abandoned, early successional plants, such as eastern red cedar and mesquite, became established on the site, depleting the remaining native grasslands.
In order to alleviate expensive mitigation and significant delays in Army Corps of Engineers permitting, the decision was made to restore the creek to its historical alignment, creating numerous aesthetic and educational opportunities.
A Broad Scope
As the program for Phase I construction evolved, facilities such as the Public Safety Building, The Summit, Esplanade, Grand Lawn, amphitheater, boardwalk, bridges, and trails have set the stage for anticipated future improvements.
The landscape is designed to be as natural as possible, delivering aesthetic beauty with an emphasis on low maintenance and sustainability, while maintaining quality open space for recreational use.
Ultimately, Grand Prairie Central Park is to be a “people’s park” that includes mixed uses to offset operations and maintenance costs, as well as to encourage a broad awareness of the project’s recreational and ecological potential.
The initial phase of construction establishes the infrastructure of a sustainable park that will become the flagship of the city park system.
The Warrior Creek corridor has been restored to its pre-1940s alignment, and has been planted with native riparian tree species along its edges, providing the basis for the re-establishment of wildlife habitat and natural erosion control. These restorative efforts, as well as the elimination of the invasive cedars and mesquites, and the installation of a short grass prairie within the park, represent the initial phases of work, blending contemporary facilities into a naturalistic setting.
Notable amenities provided within Phase I include the outdoor leisure area, greenhouse and community garden at The Summit, the grand steps at the future mixed-use area, pedestrian bridges and lookouts over the lakes and waterfalls, and numerous public art installations.
Current active and passive recreational opportunities consist of open-field play, fishing, picnicking, and strolling or bicycling around the five lakes and short grass prairie.
Other opportunities in conjunction with The Summit include bocce courts, horseshoes, washer pits, and an outdoor grill and lounge area, in addition to the numerous activities within.
Future additions to this area will accommodate paddle boat and kayak rentals, a commemorative area for historic and significant citizens of Grand Prairie, and a large performance or festival-events area adjacent to the amphitheater to include changing facilities, concession pavilions, and a stage with electrical and lighting appurtenances.
Circulation throughout the park is accomplished via the Esplanade Road, pedestrian bridges, and a pedestrian trail ranging from 20 feet wide at the boardwalk down to 8 feet wide in other areas in the park, that ultimately links up to the city’s regional trail system.
A significant part of the master-plan mission is that the entire project be designed with sustainability in mind.
The buildings seek LEED Gold certification, and the site utilizes solar-powered as well as LED lighting. The waterfalls between the lakes and overlooks incorporate recessed fiber-optic lighting for flexibility in the lighting scheme, such as seasonal change and special events as well as energy savings.
The landscape requires minimal maintenance and irrigation, and the design consists of native and adapted species, well-suited to the local climate and soils. The vast majority of the site will be mown only once or twice a year, and receives no supplemental irrigation other than limited manicured areas adjacent to buildings. These areas will be irrigated from the detention lakes with no potable-water utilization anticipated.
Site furnishings and finishes are concrete, galvanized steel, and natural stone in order to eliminate as much maintenance as possible, minimize the environmental impact, and complement the surrounding landscape to enhance the brand and identity that is uniquely Central Park.
Fred Walters has over 15 years experience with public- and private-sector projects. His studio has designed many swim centers, lounge pools, competition lap pools, waterfalls, and children’s spray parks. Fred’s analytical and creative thinking skills are evenly matched, allowing him to readily combine creative design with appropriate technical solutions. For more information, visit www.mesadesigngroup.com.