Following a surge of funds from the May bond election, Fort Worth’s open space conservation program is making moves to preserve land throughout the city. 

The new push will begin in southeast Fort Worth. On Nov. 29, City Council members approved a $2.5 million purchase of five properties spanning 29 acres on the western shoreline of Lake Arlington. The acquisition marks the program’s fifth since launching in 2020 and the first approved this year. 

The city already owns several parcels along Lake Arlington and behind Eugene McCray Park. Brandi Kelp, who runs the open space program from her position in Fort Worth’s stormwater management department, said the area was a high priority for city staff seeking to expand Eugene McCray and create a trail system for the public to enjoy. 

“We wanted to create more of an amenity for the residents over there,” Kelp said. “That area is undergoing a lot of development and we wanted to create an opportunity for trail-oriented development – mixed uses and restaurants and things that benefit the community economically and also tie into the open space and trails that we’re creating over there.” 

The cost was split evenly between Fort Worth’s parks department and the open space program, which obtained $15 million from a voter-approved bond in May. The program also has millions to spend on capital projects from Fort Worth’s oil and gas trust. 

If council members approve three more expected acquisitions over the next few months, the program’s coffers will have about $2 million in oil and gas funds and a little over $11 million left in bond funding, Kelp said during a Nov. 15 work session with council members.

Priorities for open space preservation

The city uses a set of seven criteria established by the Trust for Public Land when deciding which areas are high priority for conservation.

  • Ecosystem preservation, such as prairies, wetlands and other wildlife habitats
  • Stream, river, and lake health
  • Community health
  • Recreation
  • Flood control
  • Equitable access to open spaces
  • Economic development, including raising property values

Where will the city head next? Kelp originally expected council members to vote Nov. 29 on another acquisition of a property just west of Rosehill Park in east Fort Worth. But the $400,000 purchase is paused because council members had more questions about the proposal, Kelp said.

City staff plan to install natural surface trails, signage and a gravel parking lot on the site, which is located on Nosilla Street. The area is home to rare migratory bird species cataloged by a member of the Fort Worth Audubon Society. Kelp expects the society to partner with the city to build bird blinds — camouflaged shelters used to observe wildlife.

“It could really be a very unique environmental education opportunity,” she told council members on Nov. 15. 

Fort Worth is also close to obtaining just under 50 acres at Primrose Station, adjacent to Chisholm Trail Parkway near Benbrook. The property contains “critical habitat” for wildlife and would connect to the Fort Worth Prairie Park, an open space project that came out of advocacy from the nonprofit Great Plains Restoration Council. 

The last property currently under consideration is in far southwest Fort Worth and would connect the West Fork of the Trinity River to the other side of Lake Benbrook. The parcel is located just south of the Walsh Ranch development, Kelp said.

Other priority areas include the north Fort Worth prairie, the Basswood area, Ten Mile Bridge, the Trinity Trails, Lake Worth Water Department land and trail connections along the Sycamore Creek watershed trail, according to Kelp’s Nov. 15 presentation. 

Beyond obtaining more land, the open space program also obtained a $150,000 grant from the North Texas Community Foundation’s conservation and environment fund to build trails and signage as well as remove invasive grasses from the Tandy Hills Natural Area. A portion of the natural area, Broadcast Hill, was the open space program’s first purchase back in the summer of 2020.

The program has been successful because city staff involved developers and several different city departments in the process since the start, Kelp said. 

A path at Tandy Hills Natural Area. Don Young, president of Friends of Tandy Hills said it is important that people stay on the path and out of the flowers. (Rachel Behrndt | Fort Worth Report)

“Pulling in the developers in that community was a critical piece to the whole thing because now they just see the value of what we’re doing and they see the value to their developments and a lot of them live here, too,” she said. “We want to create these really nice communities for our current and future residents.” 

Kelp is also hoping to work alongside other city governments who are leading open space initiatives, possibly through a working group convened by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. That initiative is still in its early stages, according to Edith Marvin, the director of environment and development for the council of governments. 

Nonprofit organizations in the area need more financial support to fund conservation easements, Kelp said. Those agreements allow landowners to keep the title to their land but agree to permanently limit certain kinds of development on the property. 

There’s more demand from landowners interested in signing easements than there is funding to complete them in Texas, according to previous reporting. Kelp imagines that a future working group will focus on how to bring organizations together with the goal of increasing the amount of funding available to complete those agreements. 

“There’s a big gap between what we’re able to do right now and there really aren’t a lot of active nonprofits who are able to hold and maintain those conservation easements,” Kelp said. “We’re working with a lot of those partners and basically trying to bring everyone together who’s already working on things separately and hopefully have a greater impact when we’re all working together.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...