Water Education Building and Benny J. Simpson Ecopark
About The Water Education Building and Benny J. Simpson Ecopark
Located in one of the most densely populated and fastest growing urban centers in Texas, the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas is focused on improving urban living by meeting the demands of a growing population while conserving natural resources for generations to come. As part of a campus revitalization project due for completion in 2019, special attention has been given to restore ecosystem services using a holistic approach to design, integrating conservation measures throughout, in order to serve as a cornerstone for environmental education and outreach in north Texas. The principal effort behind the inception and designation of The Water Education Building and adjoining ecopark is as the home to AgriLife’s urban water program, Water University, which enjoys enduring partnerships with over 60 cities in the region, providing natural resource conservation education classes for their residents.
Project Description & History
At over seven acres, the Benny J. Simpson Ecopark resides next to the new 10,000 sq. ft state-of-the-art Water Education Building on Texas A&M AgriLife’s North Dallas campus. In addition to sustainable architectural design principals, the environmental education facility utilizes a 30,000-gallon cistern for rainwater capture that not only supplies water for the landscape but also provides the sole source of water used in the building’s restrooms. The overflow from the cistern enters a retention pond, designed to capture and naturally filter stormwater runoff, minimizing sedimentation and removing pollutants that would otherwise enter the watershed. Adjacent to the retention pond, the project also incorporates a 4-acre demonstration of Blackland Prairie in an area that not long ago, served as agricultural research plots.
Restoration: In keeping with A&M AgriLife’s water education and environmental conservation mission, the project demonstrates a number of sustainable landscape management practices on the property. The retention pond utilizes native riparian plants and erosion-control fabric has been used, to stabilize stream bank slopes, wetland fringe and low-lying riparian areas to reduce erosion, capture sediment, and remove pollutants.
The restoration of the four-acre Blackland Prairie strives to re-establish plant species indigenous to the area, not only for their ecological function but also with a specific focus on reviving habitat for urban wildlife threatened by urban sprawl. In addition to benefiting a resident population of Cooper’s hawks, great horned owls, coyotes and bobcats, the Dallas Center’s effort seeks to create quality habitat for migrating monarch butterflies and other pollinators by planting native host and nectar plants throughout the prairie, incorporating rescued prairie plants from a nearby remnant patch slated for development.
Along with a commitment to environmental excellence, The Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Dallas also strives to pay homage to one of the institution’s most noted emeritus faculty, Benny J. Simpson. The co-founder and former president of the Native Plant Society of Texas, Benny dedicated over 40 years of service as a pioneer working with and promoting the adoption of resource-efficient native landscaping. Over 50 mature trees from Benny’s collection were incorporated throughout the project, telling a living history of the site and its continued stewardship.
Since 2006, five members of AgriLive Water University have taught more than 2,600 sustainability-directed classes surrounding the water conservation and stormwater management nexus with over 20 unique horticulture-based subjects, reaching 65,000 people with face-to face interactions. The program provides volunteer trainings for several conservation-centered organizations (including Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, and Native Plant Societies) around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and beyond.
With the added resources of the Water Education Building and Benny J. Simpson Ecopark at Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas, the potential for continued positive environmental impacts in this community will only grow in coming years.