UNIVERSITY PARK — While it’s the adjacent building that gets all the attention, a 15-acre park is one of Laura Bush’s favorite parts of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Just steps away from the building that is home to the archives, museum and public policy institute, native blackland prairie grasses, wildflowers and trees on rolling hills share a backdrop of the Dallas skyline.
“All the wildflowers you see here are wildflowers that bloom this time of year,” Bush said during a recent walk through the Native Texas Park, which is open to the public. “I’m very interested in conservation. I’m interested in the use of native plants in the environment, so when we started to build the building I knew that I wanted these grounds to be native.”
The park, which opened with the center in 2013, was recently recognized in a study of about 100 “exemplary built projects with quantified environmental, economic and social benefits.”
The study, by the Landscape Architecture Foundation, found that the park saved more than $820,000 in disposal costs by using all 100,000 cubic yards of soil excavated during the construction of the building, and only requires about four mowings a year using native Habiturf.
“The goal was to restore the land to what this part of Texas would have looked like when it was settled and to give people a chance to see what their own property could look like if they used native plants,” Bush said.
The study said that the design of the library represents “a new, forward-thinking model of a presidential library,” noting that the landscape is “a significant departure from the landscapes of past presidential libraries.”
“Instead of large swaths of pavement and high maintenance, water-intensive plants, [the center] uses native, drought-resistant plants and has an innovative stormwater system which captures runoff to supply irrigation water,” the study said.
Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, the park was the first presidential center to attain the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum designation in 2013.
Valkenburgh worked with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas to create a native, drought-resistant grass mix. The park includes more than 900 native trees — including some live oaks and cedar elms from the former president’s ranch in Crawford.
Laura Bush, who did a lot of work with the National Park Foundation while in the White House, has been eager to continue her conservation efforts now that she is back in her home state.
“We started [at the ranch], but I had already been interested for years in the use of native plants and when we bought the property we started restoring the prairie,” she said. “But this was the perfect place to do this kind of Texas native landscape.”
In 2011 she founded Texan by Nature, a conservation group that works with Texans, whether it be big corporations or smaller groups, to incorporate native plants.
Walking along the park after a brief rain earlier this month, Bush took a moment to admire the freshly-bloomed bluebonnets, Texas paintbrush and pink evening primrose throughout the wildflower meadow. The former first lady said she sees people walking their dogs along the 1-mile trail that runs through it, but she hopes more will come by, especially this season.
“All Texans have to get their bluebonnet photo,” she said.
IF YOU GO:
What: George W. Bush Presidential Park
Where: George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the SMU campus
When: No cost, open from dawn to dusk
Special offers: The center is offering guided Bluebonnet Tours through on Thursdays and Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. through October. Free with the purchase of Museum admission, space is limited and tours are available on a first-come, first-served basis.