Two University of North Texas at Dallas student organizations have been volunteering to help restore and beautify the historic gardens, paths and meadows of Oak Cliff Parks, including working on the sprawling 184-acre Kiest Park Conservation Area.

The Kiest Park Conservation Area includes several picnic areas, a four-acre Memorial Garden and several stone structures built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1934. There are 60 acres of old growth forest and a wildflower meadow with trails that had become unpassable until the “Friends of Oak Cliff Parks” – a non-profit organization dedicated to the maintenance of the parks – began restoring the property with community involvement in 2009.

The students of the Biology Club of UNT Dallas, under the direction of Dr. Kelly Varga, have been heavily involved in the service project. They have cleaned trails, trimmed overgrown branches and cleared out underbrush. Not all of the work was physical. The Friends of Oak Cliff Parks also obtained a $10,000 “Grow South” grant, allowing for the installation of bilingual educational signage. The information for these signs and many smaller directional signs was translated to Spanish by UNT Dallas students during a course under the direction of Dr. Mara J. Queiroz-Vaughn.

On Oct. 7, the main loop of the Conservation Area was reopened and dedicated. Guides were on hand to show unique features of the park that were once covered in brush.

Coordinating the student, faculty and staff volunteers for these service projects is a vital responsibility of Dr. Larry Terry, Assistant Professor of Public Leadership and Director of the UNT Dallas Urban SERCH Institute (Service, Education and Research for Communities with Hope).

“Service is one of the pillars of the SERCH Institute, and our students, faculty and staff take on projects like this one as often as we can to support the communities we serve, particularly in South Dallas,” said Dr. Terry. “Partnering with the Friends of Oak Cliff Parks organization has been rewarding work for all of us, and helping restore these historical areas has a lasting impact. It was a challenge that our university was excited to be a part of.”