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Learning to Love and Understand the Natural World with River Legacy Foundation

By S. Mathur

The River Legacy Foundation uses educational tools to produce the next generation of environmental stewards. In simple terms, that means teaching children to understand and love the natural world. Kristi Payne, Marketing Coordinator, quotes the famous environmentalist Baba Dioum: "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."

Knowledge is the the first step in conservation, says Payne: "Once we show and teach children, families and adults about the plants and wildlife that call River Legacy Parks home, they are more likely to not be afraid of the animals in the woods and will want to protect its habitat and home by making good environmentally conscious decisions.

We teach our students - young and old - about the natural world and their place in it! The Foundation also works closely with the Arlington Parks and Recreation Department to provide stewardship volunteer opportunities - ranging from river clean-ups, privet removals to clean water monitoring."

River Legacy Parks is part of the Arlington Parks system. Its unique nature is due, says Payne, to the fact that "Most of its expansive 1,300-acres is still in its natural environment - from woodlands to wetlands to prairies - so that park users can truly experience a nature escape in the middle of the Metroplex." Eight miles of paved trails, off-road mountain bike trails, a children's play ground with tree houses, picnic pavilions and meadows take visitors through the varied landscape of riverbank, forest and grassland.

Visitors share this space with wildlife, Payne adds: "Because this public park was built to protect much of its ecological diversity, park users can enjoy seeing a variety of native wildlife from bobcats, raccoons, armadillos and so much more. The park is an attractive birding spot with more than 300 species of birds and is also home to the rare Devil's Cigar, an unusual fungus that makes a hissing sound as it blooms and is only found in parts of Texas and Japan."

The River Legacy Living Science Center is located next to the River Legacy Parks. Visitors can discover local wildlife and plants through aquariums and terrariums, interactive exhibits, nature trails, pond overlooks, exploration stations, and a gift shop. Payne says that there are also a "...number of wildlife ambassadors who help teach children and families about their habitats, characteristics and adaptations."

Entrance to the Science Center is free, as are the public events held on Saturdays. These include animal explorations, story times, nature walks and adult workshops. The Science Center also hosts a preschool enrichment program, summer classes, after-school clubs, home school programs and scout badge programs.

A sage piece of advice from a visitor offers a glimpse into the popularity of the park with humans and wildlife alike: "Follow posted speed limits. Seems like an obvious tip. Not only are there bikers, children, dogs, people walking, there is also little critters here like armadillos, possums, raccoons, turtles n such."

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