Fort Worth asks voters to approve a $124 million refresh for the city’s parks, community centers
Fort Worth’s parks department is asking residents to approve the biggest bond proposal in the department’s history. The pot of $124 million would go towards renovating parks, rebuilding community centers and adding a pool in Stop Six.
A big, rusty metal scoreboard creaked and squeaked in the wind one blustery April day at Echo Lake Park. The sign is shaped like a baseball, and capital letters along the top make it clear who played here: the Southside Little League.
Joe Guerrero was once president of the Southside Little League. The league hasn’t played in years, he said, but before it went defunct it produced an Olympic medalist in baseball and a lot of memories.
Guerrero said he’d love to see a new little league start up here.
"I hope to God that it'll come back, but it does need cleaning up. It needs a little makeover here,” he said.
Bottles clog the grass and broken glass litters the parking lot. The blue plastic of the playground slides is sun-bleached white.
This park deserves to be just as nice as ones in wealthier parts of the city, Guerrero said.
“We don't have any billionaires or millionaires, all right? We have only our bills to pay,” he said with a laugh.
The City of Fort Worth wants to make $5 million worth of improvements to Echo Lake Park, which could include fixing up the ballparks and adding new playgrounds, picnic shelters, walking trails and lighting.
For any of that to happen, though, voters need to approve the park funding proposal in the upcoming bond election on May 7.
The money for Echo Lake Park is a small piece of the $124 million the city is asking for to refresh parks and community centers across the city. The Stop Six neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth would get a significant chunk of the money as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize the neighborhood, with $17.5 million for a new community center and an additional $8.2 million for a pool.
“The Lord created parks”
This is the biggest bond program in the Fort Worth park system’s 113-year history, according to Fort Worth Park & Recreation director Richard Zavala.
When asked why parks are so important, Zavala put it in Biblical terms.
"In the Book of Genesis, on the third day, the Lord created parks,” Zavala said. “And on the seventh day, he created recreation.”
To Zavala, good parks are fundamental to a happy, healthy city. And while the bond proposal does include funding for Fort Worth’s big, established, city-owned attractions, like the Fort Worth Zoo and the Botanic Garden, more than half of the bond proposal projects are in neighborhoods where most residents are people of color, Zavala said.
Zavala sees the bond as an investment in the future. Some of Fort Worth’s central parks, like Trinity Park and Forest Park, are more than a century old.
"Fifty, 100 years from now, people aren’t going to know who you and I are, but by golly, they're going to appreciate what we left them,” Zavala said.
Open space in a fast-growing city
Out of the country’s 50 biggest cities, Fort Worth grew the fastest between 2010 and 2020, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. That makes park planning even more important, said Kristine Stratton, president and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association.
"The fact is, it's a lot easier to build in greenspace up front than it is to try to carve it out after development happens,” she said.
The Trust for Public Land tracks park development around the country. In Fort Worth, 6% of the city’s land is used for parks and recreation, compared to the median of 15% for all the cities and towns in the Trust’s database.
The city is buying land and setting some aside for future park development, like Rock Creek Ranch Park near Lake Benbrook. Another proposal within the overall bond package would secure $15 million to buy more open space.
That’s especially important as climate change makes weather more severe and unpredictable, Stratton said. She pointed to flood-prone Houston, which uses its parks to absorb excess stormwater. Pavement and buildings suck up heat and can make a summer day feel even hotter; green space helps keep things cooler.
Parks also allowed people an outlet during the early days of the pandemic, when maybe the only outing that people could make safely was a walk in the park. Bond proposals for parks usually pass by large margins, Stratton said, but the margins have been even bigger in the last three years.
"Parks and Recreation are incredible solution providers and utterly essential to community health and well-being,” she said.
The future of Echo Lake Park
Some change could come to Echo Lake Park even if the bond doesn’t pass. The Worth Heights Neighborhood Association is lobbying the city to rename the park after the founder of the Southside Little League, the late Ciquio Vasquez.
Vasquez made himself a steward of the park. Guerrero remembered picking up litter with Zasquez and the kids after baseball games.
Worth Heights Neighborhood Association Vice President Vicki Bargas used to watch Southside Little League games with her best friend, whose five brothers all played. She remembers that the park was a huge part of Vasquez’s life, and even his death.
"When Mr. Vasquez died, his funeral procession actually passed by the fields,” she said. “I mean, that is how strong he and his family were about this."
The proposal to rename the park in honor of Vasquez is set for a City Council vote in June, Councilmember Elizabeth Beck confirmed. The Council will also vote to rename the ballfields in honor of Fort Worth native Patrick Zamarripa, one of the five police officers killed in a shooting in downtown Dallas in 2016.
Guerrero, who’s 78, said he wants kids to be able to play baseball in this park again soon.
"I want to think about building it up, and keep going until I'll be looking from heaven," he said. “I'll say, 'Hey, that was a strike.'”
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