Since her children were “itty bitty,” Ann Smith has taken her family to walk through Julian Feild Park, Mansfield’s oldest park. Although the land belongs to the city, her family felt a sense of ownership over the tree-filled property, Smith said.
But just beyond Julian Feild’s serenity garden lies a largely undeveloped piece of parkland known as James McKnight Park West. The forest near Walnut Creek looks virtually untouched, Smith said.
“That’s one of the most underused parks as far as I can tell,” Smith, a 40-year Mansfield resident, said. “I’m excited to see it get a little busier.”
More people could be headed to the park soon thanks to a $750,000 grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Between now and 2026, Mansfield residents will have access to a new trail system, playground, exercise equipment and the city’s first disc golf course.
The city identified several unfunded needs during the development of a 2020 parks and recreation master plan, Matt Young, executive director of community services for Mansfield’s parks department, said.
The McKnight West park, which was initially developed through a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant nearly 35 years ago, emerged as the highest priority location that had yet to be funded.
“This second grant will add those needed amenities that these residents can actually use,” Young said. “They can run around in the grass and use it as open space, but there’s no amenities for them to engage in fitness or play or any kind of gathering space. That’s why this grant was important to us, to finish the original vision.”
Bedford’s Boys Ranch Park was also among the 20 projects selected by the state’s Local Park Grant Program, which is funded by a portion of sporting goods sales tax and off-shore gas royalties from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
A $750,000 grant will fund a hike-and-bike trail, tennis and pickleball courts and a gaga ball pit at the Bedford park, among other amenities. The funding will also expand the park’s current disc golf course from nine to 18 holes.
“The City of Bedford is thrilled to receive this grant money, which will go toward several resident-requested amenities,” city spokesperson Molly Young wrote by email. “The Texas Parks and Wildlife funds will help expedite the timeline for which these projects can be added to Generations Park at Boys Ranch.”
Neither the Mansfield nor Bedford improvements have a set timeline for completion, though Young said the state gives cities three years to finish a grant-funded project.
Government entities sponsoring a park project must contribute 50% of the total cost to earn the grant. Bedford will use a portion of federal funds it received for COVID-19 economic relief to complete improvements at Boys Ranch Park. In Mansfield, funding for the park will come from the city’s half-cent sales tax fund.
Mansfield officials will soon hire an outside firm to construct new amenities and hold public meetings with residents about their ideas for the property. Enthusiastic disc golfers have already contacted city staff to share their excitement over the new course, Young said.
Like the rest of North Texas, Mansfield’s population has exploded over the last two decades. In 2000, 28,000 people called the Tarrant County city home. Now, nearly 75,000 people live in Mansfield.
As more land transforms into homes and businesses, Mansfield has tried to keep up with demand for open space, Young said. Twenty years ago, the city established a parkland dedication ordinance requiring developers to preserve a certain acreage per resident. But that wasn’t the case when the city first started to develop, he said.
“Unfortunately, at that time 50 or 60 years ago, cities weren’t planning for open space,” Young said. “Our northeast quadrant of the city right now has about 45% of our population, but we’re grossly deficient in park land because it built out so fast and we weren’t able as a city to acquire the land.”
The city’s parkland requirement for developers has helped ease that burden, as have grant opportunities to fund more park improvements, Young said.
While Smith and her neighbors look forward to more recreational opportunities at the park, she wants the city to take care of the forest and the wildlife it supports.
“I’m hoping that, when they develop it, they will really work to save a lot of that cover, that canopy, because it’s a sweet spot for the animals and the birds,” Smith said. “The trails won’t hurt the animals, and the disc golf, I’m sure they’ll tuck that in as best they can. It’s going to be a cooperative effort.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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