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Clear Water and Pure Intentions at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge

By David Boegaard

Most of us take our drinking water for granted. It is the most vital component to human survival. But the tap and the low prices deceive us into thinking our water is forever potable and easily available. Rather than respecting our fresh water, we too often use it to water golf-courses while drinking water that's no better, but 1000x more expensive and encased in plastic.

Fortunately, the people who founded our cities and towns knew the importance of fresh water to the their survival, and instituted government agencies to protect their water sources. The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge provide this essential service for the community of Dallas/Fort Worth, while also raising awareness of the essential part the natural world continues to play in our post-industrial world.

"The Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge was established to help protect the local watershed." says Michael Perez, Natural Scientist Supervisor for the Nature Center. While the Nature Center has expansive beauty, lovely walking paths, and engaging educational programs, its most essential task is protection. That's because the Nature Center's location encompasses the West Fork of the Trinity River, a major water-source for the region. "With the growing population of Fort Worth," says Perez, "it is important for us to protect the local watershed since Lake Worth is a major source for our drinking water."

The Fort Worth area sees the most distinct impact from the Nature Center's work, but every community downstream reaps the benefits, too. "The West Fork of the Trinity River converges with the East Fork near Dallas and the river continues southward into the Gulf of Mexico," says Perez with pride. "All of our efforts in protecting the watershed affect the health of their water as well."

And the Nature Center is not just protecting citizens by ensuring that there is pure, fresh water in the area. "The flora and fauna benefit too by having clean natural resources for their survival," notes Perez.

So how does the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge accomplish this Herculean task? They team up with Texas State University to monitor water quality by performing monthly sampling, in order to ensure water quality. For the wildlife, they maintain a strong ecosystem by performing controlled burns, removing invasive plants, and planting native species. These steps, says Perez, "are essential in providing high quality food for our local wildlife and preventing the loss of prairie habitat."

The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge's work isn't done there, however. "Preservation is accomplished with education as well." The Nature Center's education efforts extend from providing access to University researchers to providing a wide variety of educational programs for kids and adults.

The Nature Center's collaborations with researchers has made the area a resource for knowledge as well as water and natural beauty. And the researchers have benefited the community with the knowledge they've produced, suggests Perez. "Their conclusions and findings allow valuable information for biologists when making decisions and establishing protocol on best practices for managing our natural areas."

The Nature Center also has a wide array of educational programs, and even provides training for tour-leaders. For example, "the Cross Timbers Master Naturalist Chapter receives their training at the Nature Center with many of our staff leading the instruction," says Perez. In the summer, the Nature Center provides a number of camps, as well as Summer Natural History adventures for kids from Kindergarten through 6th grade. "Camps include lessons, age-appropriate activities and crafts, and hikes across the Refuge," notes Perez.

For a public organization that wears so many hats, volunteers play an essential part. We have many projects and opportunities for the community to come help us. "Projects may include volunteering time working at our greenhouse, assisting us with collecting and planting native seed, maintaining trails and more," says Perez. Other volunteering opportunities include giving talks to school and civic groups, and leading canoeing and kayaking tours. The community comes together for the Nature Center, and every bit of help is greatly welcomed.

The central tasks of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge are preservation of the water and education. But it's also a beautiful place to go for a walk or spend time with the family having a picnic. Ultimately, says Perez, it's about bringing people together to reconnect with the natural world. "It is essential that we convey the message that we are all connected through our natural resources and protecting them is paramount."

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