This April, the Fort Worth Report is spotlighting individuals and institutions across Tarrant County who are working to create a more sustainable community. This is the first story in our 2023 Earth Month series. Read previous stories here.
When Mark Paukune arrived in Fort Worth more than a decade ago, he discovered the Trinity River the way so many new residents do: by running along the nearby trails. He didn’t think twice about how the trail system got there, or what it took to maintain miles of terrain.
Joining the board of nonprofit organization Streams & Valleys, which fundraises and coordinates projects along the Trinity River, gave Paukune an opportunity to understand the river’s history – and where its future is headed.
“There’s not many organizations that exist that have this type of collaborative partnership and can come up with a great idea and then bring all the partners along,” Paukune, a managing director at Bank of America, said. “Look around our city and there’s evidence everywhere of the impact Streams & Valleys has had.”
Since being founded in 1969, members of Streams & Valleys have worked alongside the city and other partners, especially the Tarrant Regional Water District, to make the river more accessible to Fort Worth residents. While city staff maintain parks and the water district cares for the trail system itself, Streams & Valleys serves as the lead fundraiser for trail improvement projects.
The organization has frequently played a crucial behind-the-scenes role, whether advising on park master plans or co-creating Mayfest, one of Fort Worth’s most popular festivals, in 1973.
“There’s been a lot of whispering in the right people’s ears and then getting out the big club when it was necessary, but quietly,” said Stacey Pierce, who became executive director in 2013.
Same mission, more visibility
Running under the radar allowed the organization to forge successful partnerships and bring together resources from different agencies, Pierce said. But, when Streams & Valleys created a 10-year strategic plan in 2018, board members and donors questioned “whether the general public is aware” of what the organization does for the Trinity, according to the plan.
In the five years since the master plan, known as Confluence, was developed and adopted by Fort Worth City Council members, Streams & Valleys has done its best to ensure the plan isn’t left “on the shelf,” Pierce said.
One example is the Bomber Spur project, which aims to turn seven miles of overgrown land in west Fort Worth into a trail system connecting the Las Vegas Trail, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base and Lockheed Martin areas to the Trinity Trails. The nearly $12 million project is scheduled to complete phase one by 2025, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
Other projects included in the 10-year plan include making improvements along Forest Park Boulevard, reconnecting the trail system at Sycamore Park and building a trail connection at the Fort Worth Zoo, among others.
Pierce, alongside board president Paxton Motheral, have been hitting the road pitching their vision for the Trinity Park and Trail Enhancement project, a $3 million initiative that has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Once fully funded by philanthropic donations, the project would bring a wildflower meadow, butterfly garden, lighting elements and widened trails to one of Fort Worth’s most visible parks.
What will it take to get those projects across the finish line? Bringing in more people who can serve as ambassadors for the river – and donors to Streams & Valleys – is the key, said Jennifer Harnish, a longtime board member and former chairwoman of Fort Worth’s parks advisory board.
Staying connected to the river
Streams & Valleys can serve as the unifying force and take advantage of the increased federal funding flowing to parks and environmental initiatives, Harnish said.
“The things we want to accomplish with our partners are some really big projects,” Harnish said. “The more people hear about it, the more we can engage our community, it will just make them happen. They will happen – they just need to happen a little faster.”
Pierce points to the moves her organization has taken to bring Fort Worth residents into the fray. About 200 members have joined the Friends of the Trinity River program, which organizes recreational activities and an educational series, T*RiverTalks, for both small and large donors.
Board members acknowledge there are still funding hurdles to overcome and people they’ve yet to reach, especially in the city’s inner neighborhoods that are more disconnected from the river. But Johnny Campbell, longtime board member and president of City Center Fort Worth, said Streams & Valleys is positioned to lead the way.
Campbell remembers when developers turned their back to the Trinity, thinking of it as more of a “backyard ditch” than a welcome amenity. Now, there are districts named after the river and a number of cafes, shopping centers and other businesses that face the water. Streams & Valleys has been there through it all, advising on developments and bringing partners together to maintain the health of the river, Campbell said.
The more people who can come together to ensure the Trinity’s future is bright, he said, the better off Fort Worth will be.
“The river is something everyone can rally around,” he said. “The river doesn’t mistreat anyone. The river doesn’t treat anyone differently. Nobody ever says, ‘Gee, I wish that river wasn’t there. Can we get rid of it?’ The river is ours.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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