I would like to focus this month’s nature blog on Arbor Hills Nature Preserve located in Plano, Texas. In many ways going back to the 200 acre preserve adds value to my semester’s blog posts because I have been informally observing this place for 15 years. The house I grew up at in Plano sat in the neighborhood closest to this nature preserve. In the past few years, I have noticed a disturbing situation with the preserve: neighborhoods now completely surround the preserve on all sides, the parking lot for the park was recently expanded over a large field of Sorghastrum nutans (commonly referred to as Yellow Indiangrass), and the Texas drought has dried up many of the creeks throughout the park and surrounding areas.
The park is still beautiful and I am very happy The City of Plano and Carrollton have agreed to keep this large patch of land open and protected. The City describes Arbor Hills as “a 200-acre park featuring vast areas of natural beauty for walking, jogging, hiking, orienteering, and other outdoor activity”. It also features pedestrian trails, bike paths, and a playground. But what is most interesting is that this relatively small preserve is home to three completely different ecosystems: Blackland Prairie, Riparian Forest, and an Upland Forest. This area of Texas is right on the border of the East Texas forests, the Hill Country’s changing geography, and Central Texas plains. All of these are visible in the nature preserve.
I arrived at the Plano preserve at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, 23 November 2014. The weather was 63º degrees, sunny and very windy. The entirety of the park was covered in a layer of brown leaves that had previously fallen from the trees. I did not see any living animals or bugs other than a few beetles. Previously, I have seen a pack of coyotes, a mountain lion, deer, escaped cattle, cottonmouth snakes, garden snakes, a multitude of bugs, and a fox. I hope that the increased suburban sprawl has not forced these species to move away in the past couple years. The nature preserve no longer feels raw; it is now a common sight to see people trampling off trail in the “regenerating zones” of the park.
I would like to focus our attention on the 2nd and 5th image below. The second image was taken in the park’s Riparian Forest region. This region is home to many low-lying creeks that are lined with Oak trees and even some Willow trees. Poison ivy (which luckily I do not react to) and vines grow up the trees in this area. Fish, snakes and insects love this part of the park. The first and fifth image were taken in the Upland Forest regions of the park. I have seen many animals in this part of the park in the past. Coyotes and bobcats like the roam through this area because of the fantastic cover from the trees and an abundance of rabbits. My dog, George, is pictured unleashed in the 1st picture.
Many people who have not been observing Arbor Hills Nature Preserve for years will not notice human’s unfortunate damage to the park. I found a quote from Aldo Leopold that resonated really heavily with me after seeing the destruction of these beautiful ecosystems.
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac