ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A native grasslands and wetlands area, which would include fishing and a jogging/hiking trail, could be created near the Abilene Zoo if the project gets the $1.5 million grant needed.

Abilene Zoo Development Manager Denae Duesler addressed Abilene’s Parks and Recreation Board earlier this week to seek their support for the grant.

The Zoo is seeking a $1.5 million grant from America the Beautiful, which would fund their project to restore native wetlands and grasslands to this area in full.

If the grant is approved, then some of the water features and under-utilized areas of Grover Nelson Park on Zoo Lane will be redesigned to include flora and fauna that would have been found in this area before modern civilization moved in.

Included in the project would be a new water feature, created by moving the current dam and road that separate the north and middle ponds at the back of Grover Nelson, to combine the two, making a lake that’s almost as big as Tittle Lake, which is currently the main water feature at the park. This new water feature would then be stocked with native fish and surrounded by a hiking and jogging path that will connect to the current paths at Grover Nelson, creating more fishing and recreation opportunities.

A deep basin will be dug in this new lake to help sustain the wetlands environment even during times of drought, and the remainder of the space, around 5 acres, will be turned into grassland with native grasses, trees, and even Bison.

Duesler says Bison will be a huge draw for the Zoo, but in order to include them in their grasslands project, there will be plexiglass walls installed to keep them in the habitat and out of the neighborhoods surrounding Grover Nelson.

That way, those recreating at the wetlands lake will still be able to view the grasslands and Bison for a more immersive experience.

The Abilene Zoo’s 10-year master plan, which includes an elevated boardwalk, would also feed into this area.

The America the Beautiful Grant is highly competitive, but zoo officials are hopeful that Dyess Air Force Base will give Abilene an edge because the grants are often awarded to projects that serve the military community.

Abilene’s Parks Department and the Zoo are also trying to workout who would maintain which part of Grover Nelson Park.

Right now, the Parks Department is asking that they maintain Festival Gardens, which has a lot of event bookings, in exchange for giving the Zoo responsibility for the north lake.

Abilene’s Parks and Recreation Board did offer their formal support for the grant application and the exchange of Festival Gardens for the north lake between the City and the Zoo.

Zoo staff will officially apply for the grant Thursday and will know if they are going to receive it in November.

City Council and the Abilene Zoological Society must both also recommend the exchange of control of the properties at Grover Nelson before that is finalized, but this does not have any impact on the grant.