Construction is underway for a new trailhead entrance and other improvements at Twelve Hills Nature Center, a five-acre urban preserve located in the north Oak Cliff area of Dallas.
Once complete in early 2010, it will serve as an outdoor classroom and passive recreational area open to the public, educating adults and children about environmental stewardship and community building through the grassroots creation and maintenance of a native Texas Blackland Prairie and small wetland. It will also provide open-air gathering and learning space for students from nearby schools, scout troops, early childhood and community programs.
Twelve Hills' master plan was designed through a partnership between the north Oak Cliff community, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Halff Associates, and TBG Partners' Dallas office, a landscape architectural and land planning firm that designed the trailhead entrance and also provided pro-bono services for the design and construction documentation of Twelve Hills.
The seeds for Twelve Hills were planted eight years ago when neighbors from north Oak Cliff met to discuss the fate of a 20-acre vacant tract of land located behind Rosemont Elementary School. After years of negotiations between community leaders and government officials, the area now represents one of the finest examples of urban planning in Dallas. Dallas Independent School District (DISD) purchased 10 acres to build a much-needed primary school, a neighborhood developer purchased five acres on which to build new homes, and the Twelve Hills organization purchased five additional acres to create an urban oasis to serve as a rich wildlife habitat and environmental education area for local school children. Twelve Hills currently has educational and walking trails, as well as newly planted trees and a newly installed birdhouse built by neighborhood scout troops.
After four years of fundraising efforts and design work, construction has begun on its $250,000 trailhead entrance, which will be the only major permanent structure located at Twelve Hills. The new gateway entrance/trailhead was designed to create a prominent sense of arrival and to draw people from all directions into the urban prairie. It will have an emphasis on sustainable building techniques and will be used for outdoor programming, interpretive graphics, founder and donor recognition, local art display and other recreational uses. The area's rolling terrain inspired the form of its overlapping stone walls, which are comprised of mossy boulders and create quiet, protected spaces for people to gather and rest, directing views toward nature instead of the street. The walls also serve as places for signage while windows or openings in the walls offer glimpses into the site from the street. Immediately inside the park, a dedication wall will identify current neighborhood and civic leaders and many foundations that have donated time, energy and money into the creation of Twelve Hills.
In addition, native plants will be used exclusively and include low-maintenance grasses, wildflowers and perennials with little water needs, providing another educational opportunity. All paving will be porous including the native flagstone, which will be set on a decomposed granite sub-base, and the parking lot will be constructed of Gravelpave, a unique product manufactured by Invisible Structures. The concrete sidewalk leading into the site from the street will have leaf and animal track imprints while embossing skins and color, resembling cracked mud while also creating a genuinely unique arrival experience.
Because of its location, Twelve Hills has tremendous value as an educational tool. It is next door to Rosemont Elementary, a school of 1,000 students, and is also within walking distance of more than 1,500 inner-city students ages 4 to 14 and more than 2,000 area high school students. The property is also easily accessible by the public, bordered by residential neighborhoods, and includes a small creek -- Coombs Creek -- in its southwest corner, allowing for habitat enhancement and bird-watching.
"The fact that Twelve Hills is so accessible enables it to educate a larger number of urban residents than most prairie projects and other nature preserves that tend to be located further away and attract only people seeking out nature," said Carolyn Perna, landscape designer at TBG Partners' Dallas office and also a neighborhood resident. "Students and neighbors will be able to learn about land stewardship and the natural world at Twelve Hills on a regular basis, rather than only on the occasional field trip to somewhere outdoors. It is a manageable size for the typical urban resident and a perfect entry into the natural world and into the ethics of conservation and land preservation."