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Trinity Park Conservancy Unveils Plans For Harold Simmons Park In Dallas

Hundreds of people flooded into Gilley’s Thursday night for a first look at Trinity Park Conservancy’s plans for a new, 200-acre park flanking the Trinity River in Dallas. It would go in the floodplain between the Margaret McDermott and Ron Kirk bridges near downtown. The $150 million park is designed to survive — and thrive — even when the river floods.

Trinity Park Conservancy’s CEO Brent Brown told the packed room a stone's throw from the river that flooding’s been part of the Trinity since before Dallas was Dallas. While city leaders changed the river's path in the 1930s it still floods. Embracing that was a guiding principle.

“Work with the river,” Brown told the crowd. “Keep it natural. Enhance it.”

The park’s landscape architect is Michael Van Valkenburgh, who’s worked on other parks across the country that get flooded and survive. He said some park objects, like a kid’s playground, will get built on high ground.

        View this post on Instagram                   Your opinion matters to us! Take our survey to influence the design of Harold Simmons Park and the future of the Trinity River. A post shared by Trinity Park Conservancy (@trinityparkconservancy) on Nov 19, 2018 at 10:00am PST

The low ground will belong to plants that love water. 

“What’s really important is water in the root zone," Van Valkenburgh said. "So what we’re really talking about is this ability to survive in anaerobic conditions when air is diminished in the soil. Willows love water. They’re like always right at the river’s edge.”

Native oaks, generally upland species, he says — they’ll go on high ground.

That’s just a simple example. Bigger changes are afoot that’ll alter what are now just a few bike paths and open land. How big a change?  

“Like night and day,” Van Valkenburgh says. “It’s going to be an entirely different experience. It’s amazing now, but it’s singular.  It’s a space defined by levees, little river in the middle and its dead flat. And this will be contoured and  irregular and clumps of plants and open areas. It’ll be beautifull to be in.”

One thing that won’t be there? Roads.

This is the first Trinity park plan in more than a decade without a highway between the levees. A groundbreaking is set for 2020. The park’s opening is planned for 2022.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.