My family and I moved to the DFW area five and a half years ago for my husband’s job. It all happened very quickly. I’d moved several times before; I considered myself to be adaptable and resourceful. We expected to stay a while, so I hoped DFW and I would like each other.
I found plenty to like, but…I didn’t feel chemistry with the landscape. I’d lived in big cities before, but this one felt so flat, so sprawling, so unnatural. I began to miss wild spaces, a lot. In order to shake off my bad attitude, we visited lots of parks and impressive botanical gardens. But the feeling lingered.
One day, a friend encouraged my daughter and I to attend a preschool class at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. As we entered the beautiful 3600-acre sanctuary, I remember thinking, I can breathe here! I’m coming back again and again.
The preschool class was fantastic. Three and four year olds tromped single file through a sunny meadow with magnifying glasses and binoculars, looking for dragonflies and animal tracks. This was followed by a picnic lunch among wildflowers. That day stands out in my memory. It was beautiful and good and needed in ways difficult to express.
When I read Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, it struck a chord.
In this book, Louv tries to explain what felt intuitive to me at the Nature Center. He makes two big points:
- Children in our wired generation are increasingly divorced from the natural world, and this has important social, psychological, spiritual and environmental consequences for all of us.
- Children (and adults) need nature for healthy development.
Why do we need nature for healthy development? What gifts can we glean from nature if we seek it out, especially in urban areas?
Louv uses current research to argue the following:
- There is a connection between time spent in nature and a person’s physical and mental health.
- Nature is a powerful antidote for victims of trauma; it’s also great preventative medicine for the “normal” wear-and-tear of life.
- Time in nature engages all the senses; on the other hand, technology tends to shrink the senses.
- Nature encourages humility as we connect to a world larger than ourselves.
- Children can develop “naturalistic intelligence” if provided opportunities to spend time in nature.
- Nature fosters creativity. Many famous creators had dynamic experiences with nature as children. Play in natural settings is more conducive to creativity than play in “built” settings.
- Research shows that time in nature can help those who struggle with ADHD.
If this seems interesting to you, then I encourage you to read this book! Perhaps, like me, once you read it, you’ll be on fire to get your family into the wild.
Perhaps you’re new to the area and aren’t sure where to go? Maybe you’ve lived in DFW forever, but could still use some new ideas.
Below are six nature centers I would loved to have known about when I moved here, in no particular order. These are not the only beautiful, wild places around town, but what sets them apart are the educational opportunities they offer. From naturalist-guided hikes, classes for all ages, and special events, you’ll find much to inspire you here.The staff and volunteers at these places are knowledgeable and want to pass their love of place and nature on to others. So, to me, they seem like a great place to start.
DFW Nature Centers
Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge: One of the largest city-owned parks of its type at 3621 acres. Areas include forest, prairie, and wetlands habitats. Offers weekly naturalist guided hikes, classes, bison-feeding hayrides (we love these!), canoeing, and more.
Trinity River Audubon Center: Located 8 minutes from downtown Dallas on 120 acres. Areas include a mixture of bottomland hardwoods, wetlands and grasslands. There are 5 miles of hiking trails, a children’s discovery garden, and a beautiful “green” educational center with lots of interactive features. Educational programming focuses on school-aged kids and adults.
River Legacy Park preserves 1300 acres of oasis along the Trinity River in Arlington. The Living Science Center offers exhibits and educational programs for kids of all ages, including a unique nature-based preschool. There are hiking/biking trails, views of the river, and ample wildlife.
Bob Jones Nature Center: This jewel is nestled in Southlake on 758 acres and is devoted to educating about the Cross Timbers ecosystem. There are great hiking trails, classes and a variety of activities offered.
Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary: I haven’t visited this one yet but I plan to. My sources tell me it’s amazing! Located to the north, in McKinney. Habitats include blackland prairie, wetlands, bottomland forest, upland forest and white rock escarpment. There are 289 acres, trails, canoeing, and educational programs for all ages.
Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) Located on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, kayaking, visits to an 1870 log homestead, birding and other activities.
As I’ve spent more time in the pretty spots of this region, my chemistry with the landscape has greatly improved. It’s hard to love what you don’t know, after all. Just knowing where to get my nature fix helps me to take care of that part of myself that needs to be in pretty, wild places! I hope you’ll enjoy these recommendations. Take a look at what they have to offer, and make time to explore! Think of it as a need.