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Dallas Proposes the Country’s Largest Urban Park

A 10,000-acre Nature District could turn the Trinity River into the city’s centerpiece

Proposal for Trinity Park (The Trinity Trust)
smithsonian.com

Paris is known for the Seine; London, the Thames; New York City, the Hudson. But Dallas? According to Patrick J. Kiger at Seeker, it soon could be known for its own waterway: the Trinity River. The river flows 15 miles through the north Texas metropolis on its journey to Galveston Bay, and over the last century the city has done all it can to isolate the river from the town. But a newly proposed 10,000-acre urban park could make the river the city’s centerpiece as well as the largest urban green space in the United States.

Dallas has had a difficult relationship with the Trinity. Though many of the area’s first settlers farmed its banks, its tendency to flood in the spring chased them away. A 1908 flood killed five people and left 4,000 homeless. That’s why over the 20th century the city straightened the river and built 23 miles of levees that cordon the river off from the city. “Engineering and other efforts worked in the past to corral the river, so flooding would not occur,” Brent Brown, an adviser to the Trinity Trust, which is restoring the corridor, tells Kiger. “Now we're in the next chapter, where we move beyond that to bring back a more natural landscape.”

Stephen S. Smith, board chair of the Trinity Recreation Conservancy writes at Dallas News that the new park will actually be a combination of projects happening between and around the levees will collectively be known as the Nature District. A 1,000-acre section of the project already hosts the Trinity River Audubon Center, The Texas Horse Park and the Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Mark Lamster at Dallas News reports that the city recently unveiled plans for a 285-acre park near downtown between the levees designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The park would be the crown jewel of the Nature District and provide views of the city from the levees, open spaces, native vegetation and would allow the river to meander and raise and lower rather than speed through its channel. “We are trying to make a place that when you have left you feel you were just connected to the lost nature of the Trinity River, all interwoven with a wide range of more normal park activities and all choreographed with level changes and meandering paths and with overlook paths above,” the architecture firm tells Lamster.

Along with that the new park, the corridor would connect another 2,000 acres between the levees and the 7,000-acre Great Trinity Forest. The plan includes a 17.5-mile spine trai connecting the green spaces and will include new trails in the forest. It also includes new sports fields and native vegetation and wetland restorations. In all, the vast park’s 10,000 acres would be the largest in the U.S. and over 10 times larger than Central Park.

The city announced that it hopes to break ground on Trinity Park by 2021, though the $250 million price tag is pretty steep. In October, philanthropist Annette Simmons donated $50 million to the project. But not everyone is so optimistic about the project's future, which has surfaced in different iterations over the years without going anywhere. Former city council member Angela Hunt tells Dallas News' Robert Wilonsky that the city should just start building the park with the money it has. She’s also worked against the proposed toll road that will go directly through the green space. “This is the newest new design for the park," she says. “And what’s fascinating to me is we continue to update this park and do more colors and models. When are we actually going to build it?"

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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