Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Walk in Tandy Hills Park

I've spent too much time in meetings, in traffic, in discussions about contentious issues. Most of the work is important, some of it is just work. But I feel it chipping away.

That's why I decided that Saturday was time to recharge the batteries and get a hefty dose of nature.

I've been saying a lot lately that greenspace matters. And it does. On Saturday, I took a ride down the Trinity Trail on my bike, after a stop at Panther City Bikes to get a tube replaced. Bernie and Brian teased me about my general bike maintenance ineptitude. Yeah, I'm pretty clueless.

After the ride, I took the family to the Japanese Gardens for some koi feeding and Pacifi-Tex serenity. Domo arigato.

My wife, my daughter and I rounded out the day with a nature hike in Tandy Hills Park with our tour gides, Don and Debora Young. Don is more than just the unofficial expert on Tandy Hills Park, he's a huge advocate for the environment in Fort Worth. He's the driving force behind FW Can Do -- some of the most vocal opponents to urban drilling in the city. Don's also the man behind PrairieFest -- a celebration of our connection to the natural world.

The Youngs live in an Austin funky house literally across the street from the park. "This is why we bought here," he said, stretching his arms out like he was going to give the park a big hug. "We wanted to be able to look out on this every day." So from their front yard, we left on our evening hike.

Saying that Don is passionate about Tandy Hills Park is like saying Georgia O'Keefe was passionate about Santa Fe. And his enthusiasm is contagious. The 180-acre park between Oakland and Beach Streets south of I30 is one of the last swaths of prairie near downtown and when you are there you can get an idea of what Fort Worth looked like when General Worth first rode into the area a century and half ago.

One of the first things Don taught me about was Big Bluestem grass (in the picture above on the right of the frame). "You might not know this, but the roots of this grass can live to be older than the oldest Bur Oak in the Trinity Trees," he said. "Those roots can live to be hundreds of years old."

It's hard to believe wandering the trails through Tandy Hills that you are not that far from downtown. You are in the middle of a city, but it is completely a world away. "I like to think that the broadcast towers are some immense modern art sculpture," Don said.

"Most Fort Worth lawns might have only three or four different types of native plant species," Don said. "This park has over 541 native plant species."

I wondered how an area this close to downtown could remain undeveloped. It turns out that the Tandy Family -- no relation to the Radio Shack Tandys -- left the land to the city back in the Sixties on the condition that it never be built on or developed. So the upside is the site is largely undisturbed and the city hasn't done anything with it. The downside is, well, the city hasn't done anything with it.

Although citizens are working to save trees in other parts of Fort Worth, in Tandy Hills, trees are actually a problem. "On the prairie, natural fires keep trees from growing," Don said. "But here in the city, if there is a fire, the fire department shows up. So if you look at that hill over there (the photo above on the right), those trees are moving up that hill at about a foot a year. It's not going to be very many more years before the trees take over." Some people have a hard time wrapping their heads around these facts -- why do you want trees here but not there? Why do you want things to burn? But it makes sense. Look it up.

Not that there aren't supposed to be any trees. When you get down to bottomland, many trees thrive. But in other parts of the park, the trees are taking over and choking back the native grasses.

You can see below where the flash floods come roaring through. "The water can really turn this into roaring rapids." But the bottomland is also home to the Dog Tooth Violet, a very rare species in this part of the country," Debora said.

“That’s sideoats grama — the state grass of Texas,” Don said, pointing to the stalks of grass in the photo below.

Although Tandy Hills is his first love, Don understands the importance of bringing together people from all parts of Fort Worth to preserve our natural environment for future generations. That makes him one hell of a Texan in my book. As he would put it, "God Bless Texas. Help us save some of it."

Chesapeake purchased 55 acres adjacent to Tandy Hills Park in the hopes that they might be able to drill for natural gas in or near the park. "The said they just wanted to do seismic testing, but they were going to drive those seismic testing trucks all over the park. You can still see the orange flag below there where they marked the trail to drive through there (at the the middle of the photo below)," Don said. "Does it look like you could drive a truck through there?"

Honestly, Don, no. Chesapeake Energy -- good corporate citizen indeed. Because Don and many other raised so much hell, Chesapeake isn't encroaching on the park for now. Will that last though?

Of course, what would a natural area in Fort Worth be without a Jim Marshall birdhouse (below). That guy is all over the place.

"This spot is one of my favorite places in the whole park," Don said about the field in the photo below. "You really get an idea about what this park could be."

My evening hike through Tandy Hills was really a transcendent experience. Everything slows down and when it gets quiet, you can hear your soul. The noise of busy urban life falls away. That's part of the value of greenspace. It feeds our souls. Can you put a price on that?

I often ask the question, "What makes a city great?" Certainly the places like Tandy Hills Park are a big part of that. But so are the people like Don and Debora Young. This isn't a new fight for Don. To find out more, check out this Jeff Prince story from 2004. Or better yet, drop by Tandy Hills to see for yourself.

Thanks for tour, Don. It was time well spent.


Pete said...

That's awesome, Steve. I love that area, particularly down in the low areas where the creek goes through. I know we're supposed to appreciate the prairie, but I really liked the creek area. (And the prairie.)

Philip Hennen said...

What a fantastic article! And your pictures are wonderful, too! Thanks so much for getting the word out.

Steve-O said...

Thanks for your comments. I can't wait to go back. Maybe a Fort Worth blogger nature hike is in order?

Anton said...

I've driven by this area so many times and wondered how it was possible that so much beautiful land had remained undeveloped. Thanks for posting!