(Photo: A rendering of the Kirby Creek Natural Science Education Center in Grand Prairie, representing the very definition of environmental education)     

June 6, 2012    

It’s been re-opened only since late last year, but Kirby Creek Natural Science Education Center is already making a big impact on as many as 17,000 Grand Prairie ISD students annually as well as adult students wishing to learn about organic gardening and composting offered by the City of Grand Prairie's Solid Waste and Recycling Division according to Environmental Services Manager for the City of Grand Prairie, Patricia D.B. Redfearn, Ph.D

“This sensory garden, for many, is the earliest introduction that these students have to the natural environment where they may see, touch, taste, feel and hear their surroundings and learn how to interact positively with nature,” says Redfearn, “It’s importance as a positive place for this introduction cannot be over-estimated. That it is accessible to everyone; that's priceless.”

Part of a bigger plan for Grand Prairie’s greener future, the improvements at Kirby Creek featured an expanded and improved teaching vegetable garden and composting area, upgrades to the demonstration gardens and interpretive signage, and the addition of a cistern for rainwater harvesting, a hot house and a new kitchen herb garden. Improvements were also made to the bog garden and sensory gardens, and the original gravel paths were replaced with pavers and decomposed granite pathways for improved accessibility.

The reopening of the Kirby Creek Natural Science Education Center was actually part of a park master plan from 2008 and Tim Shinogle, Park Planning and Development Manager for the City of Grand Prairie says “The actual construction design closely mirrored the park development master plan completed in 2008.  The master plan did break the overall design into a series of construction phases. We were fortunate that funding was available to complete all phases in one construction contract.  We also received great benefit from the general contractor, Parkscapes Construction, with the principal of the company performing the onsite construction management and coordination.”

It was Oliver Windham, the landscape architectural consultant on the project who Shinogle says was instrumental in unifying the group through a series of visioning design discussions during the master planning process.  His creativity and focus on the big picture brought the team together, but there were challenges.

“This beautiful learning center was the result of many years of collaboration between the City and the School District,” Redfearn says.  “It was sometimes hard to get everyone to the table at the same time, but the project was so compelling that it finally took on a life of its own.” Shinogle adds too that the largest challenge was merging the ideas of the different entities that have a stake in the Kirby Creek Natural Science Center. 

Kirby Creek is not the end of the line in Grand Prairie’s master plan either and Shinogle explains that the Parks and Recreation Department is currently working on an update to the city wide Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan, which will guide staff and City Council on decisions regarding open space acquisition, development and renovation. 

“Two key areas where opportunities exist for expanded outdoor education and recreation include Central Park, a 172-acre regional park and the Lake Parks, with more than 3,000 acres of developed and undeveloped U.S. Army Corps of Engineer property leased to the City of Grand Prairie for lake oriented recreational facilities and programs,” Shinogle adds.

Currently, the Department is also working on expansion of the Dalworth Recreation Center, beginning the initial phase of improvements at Lynn Creek Park West with an entrance road, natural surface trail system and prairie restoration and plans for an additional phase of development at Central Park, with road improvements, amphitheater, Trail of Values, and the EPIC, a community recreation center, to complement the Summit at Central Park, the award winning center for ages 50-plus.

“In our urban metroplex environment, opportunities to interact with nature are far too few,” Redfearn concludes.  “Facilities such as this garden provide a valuable way for students of all ages to get up close and personal with the natural environment.  This was such a worthwhile project that everyone wins.  We will continue to seek out opportunities to promote environmental education and look forward to many more years of collaboration with the school district.”

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