Highland Park officials have made preparations for doing substantial work in the Hackberry Creek greenbelt corridor before. This time, they hope to come up with conservation and restoration plans town residents will accept.
“They’re passionate,” Mayor Joel Williams said, saying many residents haven’t been bashful about telling him what they think about “the most beautiful natural resource in Highland Park.”
“What I hear is, ‘Don’t mess it up,’” Williams said.
The town has hired landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm MESA to develop a master plan for the creek corridor and budgeted $5.8 million over 10 years in the Capital Improvement Program for projects.
Work would begin with a $1.5 million phase in the 2018-19 budget year, followed by about $500,000 annually after that, town administrator Bill Lindley said.
The plan will cover a mile-long stretch from near Byron Avenue generally southward to Armstrong Avenue, including Prather and Davis parks, but excluding locations that cross private property.
It will propose projects to address erosion prevention as well as the condition of banks, landscaping, and pedestrian bridges in the corridor, and could include new walkways, benches, site amenities, landscape lighting, and irrigation, depending on what residents want.
To gather public input, the town has been conducting an online survey and meeting in person with residents.
“Obviously, we are talking about something you care about,” Williams told 51 residents attending a late January meeting at Armstrong Elementary School. “I want to assure you – each of you – that the council you elected cares very much about Hackberry Creek, too.”
Residents at the meeting were divided into groups and asked to look over creek maps and photos and put their thoughts and desires for the greenspace to paper.
Common themes emerged: no additional concrete, no additional bicycle and pedestrian amenities, no public art. Keep it “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn like,” “natural and wild,” a place where children can explore and play, not an attraction for out-of-town visitors, they said.
Director of town services Ronnie Brown noted how in 1992 the town was ready to move forward with improvements to the creek, but backed off when residents objected to plans that proved too aggressive and that would have added amenities such as boulders that would have made the creek “too much like Colorado.”
This time the focus is on preserving its existing beauty, he said. “I’ve had the chance to walk up and down the creek as you have. It’s a wonderful experience.”
MESA managing partner Stan Cowan said his team looks at the creek corridor from the standpoint of what people experience and feel as they move through it.
“Mother nature has done a wonderful job, and we respect that,” he said. “Parks are all about memories at the end of the day.”