Fort Worth wants to ‘play big’ with new plan for parks. Leaders want public input first

dfwnewsa | January 18, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Fort Worth wants to ‘play big’ with new plan for parks. Leaders want public input first

Victor Flores, a senior maintenance worker, pressure washes surfaces Feb. 27, 2023, at Dream Park in Fort Worth. The play area, located within Trinity Park, opened in 2019. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
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The last time Fort Worth adopted a new master plan for its park system, the city was in the early months of a global pandemic. The 2020 plan was based on a needs assessment conducted in 2019 — the same year city leaders decided to begin purchasing green space for conservation.  


Four years and hundreds of acres in open space acquisitions later, city staff are back at the drawing board to create a new master plan for parks, recreation and open space. 

Before they develop the Play Big! plan, Fort Worth’s parks staff are turning to the public for input through an online survey and a series of community meetings from Jan. 24 through Jan. 27. The deadline to fill out the survey, originally set for the beginning of the month, has been extended to Jan. 31. 

Attend a Play Big! parks master plan public meeting

Fort Worth will host several public meetings on its parks master plan on Jan. 24, Jan. 25 and Jan. 27. Click on any of the links below for more information, and fill out the online survey in English or Spanish here. 

Highland Hills Community Center, Wednesday, Jan. 24

Northwest Library, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24

Golden Triangle Library, 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27

Handley Meadowbrook Community Center, 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27

Master plans help cities like Fort Worth obtain funds from Texas Parks and Wildlife, which gives higher priority to grant applications that meet goals established in city documents. Updating the plan every five years allows city staff to better understand where to prioritize investments, said Joel McElhany, who oversees parks planning for Fort Worth. 

“In a city, naturally, just like in your personal life, you have a limited amount of resources but you have a vast amount of needs,” McElhany said. “We need to hear what the priorities are from the public in order to identify the highest priorities, so we can put our funding behind what is most needed and what is most wanted out there.” 


The master plan process comes as Mayor Mattie Parker brings a new focus to green spaces in the city. In October, Parker launched her Good Natured initiative with a goal of preserving at least 10,000 acres of green space over the next five years. The city’s open space program is already drawing from a $15 million bond, approved in 2022, to purchase available properties near Lake Arlington and the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, among others. 

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City officials acknowledge that Fort Worth faces a wide range of challenges within its parks system. Out of the 100 largest U.S. cities, Fort Worth’s parks system ranks 88th, according to the Trust for Public Land’s 2023 ParkScore Index. The nonprofit organization scores parks systems on factors such as acreage, access, investment, amenities and equity. 

Fort Worth scored lowest on amenities, coming in below average for availability of permanent restrooms, splash pads, dog parks, basketball hoops, playgrounds and senior and rec centers. The city also spends $86 per capita on publicly accessible parks and recreation — a below-average investment compared with other major cities. 

Equity was also an obstacle for Fort Worth, according to the Trust for Public Land’s data set. Residents living in neighborhoods of color have access to 15% less nearby park space than those living in majority-white neighborhoods, while residents in lower-income neighborhoods have access to 14% less nearby park space than higher-income communities. 

The comprehensive master plan allows McElhany and his staff to look at the level of service that Fort Worth is delivering to its residents and ask key questions, he said. 

“How many acres of parkland should we have per 1,000 people? What’s the national standard, and then what are we hearing here locally about if people want more or less?” McElhany said. “The comprehensive park system master plan defines those level of service standards, and what’s the big vision for the city of Fort Worth.” 

After staff complete the initial discovery phase, they will draft a plan and come back for another round of public input and town hall meetings, McElhany said. After making adjustments, the city’s parks advisory board will vote on the plan before sending it to City Council for approval in early 2025. 

Alongside the Play Big! plan, city officials are conducting a study on aquatic resources and launching an “aspirational study” identifying areas where the parks system can reimagine amenities and improve visitor numbers. McElhany anticipates public input will be at the core of each plan, helping city officials understand where to direct increased funding for parks and open space.

“Having all this attention on parks and open space right now is just awesome. Honestly, what a great time to be in the parks department and in this business, but it’s also a great time to be a resident in Fort Worth,” McElhany said. “I live in Fort Worth and I use the parks with my family. We’re using the parks and using the trails. It’s just, really, an exciting time to be here.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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