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Little Park on the Prairie

An artist’s rendering shows a family walking on a nature trail toward the Blackland Prairie Park pavilion that will be built on Tower Road in Temple as part of a $75 million “Places & Spaces” capital improvement plan.

Small slice of undisturbed Blackland prairie to become part of Temple parks program

DAVID STONE | OUR TOWN TEMPLE

A small piece of blackland prairie that reputedly has never been touched by a plow will soon become one of Temple’s newest parks, Temple City Manager Brynn Myers said this week.

“The land is undeveloped and has been in a conservation program,” Myers said. “We don’t want to develop it into a regular park. We will put in some nature trails and a pavilion for educational purposes.”

The land — dubbed Blackland Prairie Park — is located off Tower Road southeast of the Temple landfill.

Kim Mettenbrink, Temple’s park planner, said the park is 10 acres, and five acres is true remnant prairie land.

“The northernmost five acres of the preserve consists of true remnant prairie,” Mettenbrink said. “It’s part of only 1 percent  of Texas that still exists in an undisturbed remnant prairie. This is a rare piece of land that helps us understand the role and importance of the prairie for wildlife, soils and a healthy sustainable ecosystem.”

Blackland Prairie Park is one of 50 Temple park projects in a massive $75 million “Places & Spaces” capital improvement plan that will be funded between 2023 and 2027 by Certificates of Obligation bonds, Myers said.

Certificate of Obligation debt is similar to General Obligation bonds in their usage and retirement but do not require voter authorization and are not used for refunding debt.

Construction and restoration costs for Blackland Prairie Park are estimated at $3.1 million.

The pristine five acres is teeming with native grasses such as big and little bluestem, Indiangrass, sideoats grama and big muhly.

The other five acres has been disturbed by cattle ranching and evasive non-native grasses have been introduced, but soon that acreage will be converted to flora native to the Blackland region of Central Texas.

“The Fire Department is conducting controlled burns on the non-native area to get rid of invasive species such as King Ranch grass,” Mettenbrink said.

Once the prescribed burns are complete and non-native species have been eradicated, that land will be reseeded in native grasses and flowers such as Turk’s cap, scarlet sage and purple coneflowers.

Myers said the city has purchased additional land adjacent to the future preservation park for the construction of restrooms and a parking lot large enough for 22 cars and two school buses.

“We didn’t want to build a restroom and parking lot on this preserved prairie, so we purchased some adjoining property,” Myers said.

The park area is naturally divided by wetlands consisting of a small creek, a pond and a large number of gilgais. Gilgai are small round wetlands that are found on prairies where soils are dense, and they are unique only to the American prairie and parts of Australia and Africa.

“We will need to restore native flora in the wetlands area as well,” Mettenbrink said.

While most of the park’s nature trails will be constructed using crushed granite, she said the wetlands will be crossed using boardwalks.

“There are native trees in the wetlands area, including cedar elm, cottonwood and live oak — it’s a nice mix,” she said.

Along the nature trails will be nine benches, trash containers and 16 interpretive signs highlighting the types of wildlife and plants found in the park. Signs also will provide educational information about Texas prairies.

“There’s a lot of wildlife out there,” Mettenbrink said. “I’ve seen deer, waterfowl, birds of prey, squirrels and rabbits.”

A large pavilion will be built near the center of the property and will provide classroom and learning opportunities for local children and adults, Myers said.

“We’re hoping the park draws interest from naturalists, master gardeners and others interested in promoting conservation and the botanic history of the area,” she said.

Future Blackland Prairie Park visitors use a boardwalk to cross a wetlands area in the artist’s rendering. Blackland Prairie Park is one of several new parks that will created under the “Places & Spaces” capital improvement plan that will funded by Certificates of Obligation between 2023 and 2027. In addition to the new parks, the program includes dozens of park upgrades and improvements throughout the city.

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