Green, Healthy and Sustainable In McKinney
McKinney is not only among the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex region, but also in the United States. The 2022 population is 206,654, up 26,849 just since 2018 (McKinneyTexas.org/294/demographics-census-reports). The median income is $90,725. Thirty-one percent of residents have bachelor’s degrees, and 15 percent have graduate-level education.
With a diverse and educated populace, McKinney is home to a mix of employers in the scientific, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Wistron Green Tech, Tenant Tracker Inc., Encore Wire, Traxxas and Brandon Industries are all based in McKinney. Mayor George Fuller affirms that the city’s brand, “Unique by Nature” gives a nod to the natural beauty of the city. “McKinney is a beautiful community made up of gently rolling hills, natural streams and full of majestic mature trees,” he says. “Our residents care deeply about protecting these open spaces. In our most recent citizen survey, 95 percent of residents said creating and preserving open spaces is the most important priority to protect our high quality of life.”
Fuller adds that last fall McKinney residents put these words into action: a crew of volunteers planted 800 seedlings and 870 young trees near Wilson Creek. “This will positively impact the environment and help protect the crucial drinking water supply to Lavon Lake, which serves clean water to two million North Texas residents.”
Both longtime and newer residents show community spirit through volunteer efforts that honor McKinney’s legacy. This has led to a budding arts and cultural district, verdant outdoor space and an extensive parks system. Dedication to historic preservation is prominent throughout the city, as evidenced by its historic downtown square.
The city of McKinney’s environmental education division provides outreach about residential recycling and water conservation. “We place a high value on green initiatives and sustainability in McKinney, and these have long been important to our residents,” says Environmental Services Manager Eric Hopes. “There are a variety of programs and services that we offer to make it easy for our residents to participate in protecting our planet.”
The city offers curbside pickup for recycling as part of their weekly trash services. Assistant City Manager Steve Tilton says the city is developing a 20-year master plan for refuse and recycling. “This will focus on identifying best practices in the industry we can incorporate into our next refuse and recycling contract that expires in 2024,” he explains. “We are taking a deep look into the latest technologies and potential partnerships with other communities to ensure we are maximizing our potential for increased sustainability.”
The recycling program is supported by Trash Talk, the city’s successful and award-winning trash and recycling campaign series on social media. The series revolves around a family sharing quick trash and recycling tips in humorous ways. Denise Lessard, communications and media manager for the city of McKinney, says the engaging videos resonate with people and show them that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make simple, small changes to their habits that make a huge environmental impact. Seminars and classes throughout the year educate residents on ways to be environmentally conscious. Topics vary from building a rain barrel to planting native and adaptive plants.
The McKinney Monarch Initiative helps preserve the declining monarch butterfly population through 25 action items that include co-hosting native plant sales through partnerships with Collin County Master Gardeners and the Heard Museum. Kids’ programs feature Take Care of Texas, with an array of educational resources for parents and teachers to help instill green habits in children.
Healthy Greenspace Equals Healthy People
The McKinney Parks & Recreation Department manages more than 3,000 acres of parks and open space. During the peak summer season, it employs approximately 500 people that maintain and program 50 parks, sports fields, recreation centers and public pools.
“Overall, there is great support for our parks from our city council, city manager and so many of McKinney’s new residents,” observes Michael Kowski, director of McKinney’s Parks & Recreation department. “I’ve seen newer residents really embrace how we address public green space. They are bringing their own idea of recreation to McKinney which we are weaving into our very successful legacy that honors McKinney’s past while leaning toward the future.”
Kowski notes that McKinney has an impressive tree canopy that allows the parks to function in different ways. Erwin Park showcases a natural setting with wooded areas, walking and hiking trails, native plantings and camping. The Master Naturalists group, a citizens’ organization that partners with McKinney Parks & Recreation to support the parks, helps maintain Erwin Park’s natural character. The department also partners with nonprofits such as the Dallas Off-Road Bike Facility (DORBA) for trail development and maintenance at this park.
The smaller neighborhood parks within McKinney’s system average 10 acres. “We’re very intentional about incorporating nature into those, such as providing shade structures to reduce the heat effect,” Kowski says. George Webb Park has a manmade river with interactive water features. Prestwyck Park blends new park features into the existing floodplain and tree canopy. There are kiosks with informational boards along the trails so people can learn about the natural environment they’re looking at.
The youth recreation program has roughly 10,000 kids enrolled. To meet the demand, Kowski says the department is always looking at creative ways to add sports fields and complexes while working with nature. They continue to install rain gardens and native butterfly plantings in the parks to attract monarchs along their migration route. Other sustainable practices within the department include repurposing old playground equipment. A company disassembles it piece-by-piece and ships to other countries, where it’s reused.
The McKinney Parks Foundation (MPF) is not under the city’s umbrella of control, but is an extension of the department. Rich Szecsy, a founding member, had served on the city council-appointed Parks Board. “I wanted to continue to do more for the parks and open spaces. The City needed a resource to coordinate volunteers, seek access to grants and be able to partner on bigger initiatives,” he enthuses.
The group works to preserve, protect and maintain park lands and open spaces. McKinney Parks Foundation offers education and advocacy for natural spaces within the city. They team up with Master Naturalists, civil engineers and other professionals. Accomplishments over the last four years include reclaiming the nature trail at Towne Lake. They’ve recovered and planted 1,400 trees at McKinney Greens. They recently cut more than four miles of a new nature trail at Gray Branch Park. “This is well over 4,000-plus volunteer hours for the MPF,” Szecsy notes.
“The McKinney spirit allows us to embrace the natural environment because we think it sets McKinney apart from a lot of our neighboring cities,” Kowski says.
A Leader in Farming
When the first settlers arrived by covered wagon in the area that is now McKinney, they established commodity crops such as corn, flour and cotton, setting the groundwork for a farming culture that still stands today.
Restaurateur Rick Wells, of Rick’s Chophouse and Harvest Seasonal Kitchen farm to table restaurant, is a leading farm advocate who works to promote McKinney and its family farmers and ranchers. “Since the 2010 census, Texas grew more farms than any state in the U.S.,” says Wells. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks the Lone Star State as first in the nation for total number of farms, with just over 248,000. “There are so many exciting things happening in North Texas, and particularly in Collin County.”
Farms such as Honey Creek Farm, Pure Land Farm, Lewellen Farms, Lake Forest Farms and Babylove’s Farm use regenerative and organic methods such as no-till and open pasture animal grazing. Wells emphasizes that McKinney’s and Collin County’s successful gardening and farming ethos is cultivated in large part by the Master Gardeners program operated through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. “Texas AgriLife is a huge resource to the community,” Wells says. The Extension has a network of 250 offices throughout the state, and 900 professional educators to assist with all aspects of farming and gardening such as plant cultivation, animal science, insect pest management, water resources and more.
The Seed Project Foundation, started by Wells, funds educational, agricultural and community farm efforts. McKinney Roots is The Seed Project Foundation’s donation farm, built on a refurbished baseball field. Wells says the farm produced 10,000 pounds of fresh produce last year and 180 dozen eggs per week, distributed through distribution channels including The Samaritan Inn and Community Lifeline Center.
“Food pantries serve a vital need, but much of their donations are shelf-stable, processed food, so for us to be able to donate 10,000 fresh produce and 180 dozen eggs a week, that gives underserved families in McKinney opportunities they didn’t have before,” Wells notes.
Tucker Nickols is a longtime North Texas resident and current manager of McKinney Roots. He was working at a farm to table restaurant and retail space, Patina Green, where he built connections with the North Texas farming community. During the pandemic shutdowns, Wells offered him a full-time farmer position. McKinney Roots has hosted more than 500 volunteers at the farm since its inception. All those helping hands not only lift the community through farming, but encourage a rapid spur of ecologically development.
Nickols plans to launch a community composting program for people to bring their kitchen scraps to create compost to decreases the waste stream. “If I can turn the community’s food scraps and horse manure into food, then we’ve helped to close the cycle in a full way that provides food for members in our community that are left behind," he notes.
Historic Preservation Offers a Window to McKinney’s Past
Historic preservation is promoted by academic leaders and environmental groups as a tool for building sustainable communities. Preservation uses existing materials and infrastructure while reducing waste and preserves the historic character of older towns.
Chestnut Square Historic Village, located a block from McKinney’s historic downtown square, is overseen by The Heritage Guild of Collin County. It preserves and maintains 10 buildings, the oldest dating to 1854. The buildings include period artifacts showing how people lived in Collin County from 1854 through 1940. “We do what we can to support our community members and get them interested in history,” emphasizes tour manager Jamie Seibert. “We really try to connect our current residents with our past residents.”
The organization hosts several exhibits throughout the year, such as a recent women’s fashion exhibit reflecting specific decades and a military exhibit showcasing past military patrons of McKinney throughout different wars. Events free to the community include the recent Easter Egg Hunt. The McKinney Farmers Market is held on the Chestnut Square grounds from 8 a.m. to noon each Saturday.
Chestnut Square hosts Public Village Tours twice per week, as well as school groups by reservation. Students can learn about history and how residents, not just in McKinney, but throughout Texas, lived. Chestnut Square uses a large number of volunteer docents, curators and people that tend the gardens on the grounds and perform housekeeping and maintenance tasks. Seibert emphasizes that volunteers are the backbone of Chestnut Square. The organization has many furnishings and clothing pieces donated by families in McKinney. “It really was a community effort to make the Village what it is now,” advises Seibert.
Chestnut Square is part of a larger history, arts and culture scene in McKinney. The Heard-Craig Center of the Arts promotes fine arts through exhibits and education while preserving the historic properties of McKinney’s Heard and Craig families. The Collin County Historical Museum, located in a former post office building constructed in 1911, holds myriad artifacts of McKinney’s past and a free virtual museum.
A dedication to sustainable lifestyles, green space and uplifting community proves McKinney is committed to creating a sustainable city well into the future.
For more information, visit McKinneyTexas.org.