Aug. 18, 2023
Marshall Hinsley talks to Amy Martin, author of the recently released Wild DFW. Explore the Amazing Nature In and Around Dallas-Fort Worth, in this episode of the Texas Green Report, a podcast producted Green Source DFW.
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Exploring wild places and wild creatures in the Dallas Fort Worth area with a new book from journalist and naturalist Amy Martin in this episode of the Texas Green Report, a production of Green Source DFW and the Memnosyne Institute.
I'm Marshall Hinsley.
Amy Martin is a senior features reporter for the North Texas-based environmental news website, Green Source DFW.
A journalist and writer for more than 40 years in the Dallas area, Amy has covered environmental topics for a wide variety of publications and is the author of the new book, Wild DFW. Explore the Amazing Nature In and Around Dallas-Fort Worth, released by Timber Press in the summer of 2023.
Tell us about your new book.
It covers four counties in North Texas: Tarrant, Dallas, Denton and Collin Counties. And I was given a format for me to follow for this book. It's the same format that other books in this series from Timber Press follow.
And so there's Wild L. A., Philly, Miami, and Houston. So the first third of it covers natural history and ecology. It's like a little naturalist primer of North Texas. So you cover what the landscape and the terrain is like — geology, weather. Goes into some specific subjects like native species versus invasive species.
Dallas author Amy Martin. Photo by Stalin SM.
It covers citizen science like iNaturalist. Goes into a bit about what you can do with your backyard.
There's a lovely chapter on nature at night and also a chapter on creeks and watersheds, because to me, that's where so many of us get our first start with nature, is at our local creek.
Then there's a section on covering 115 species of plants and animals, fish, bugs. And it kind of lets you know basically who's living in North Texas in the land where you are. And then the final third is 25 hiking adventures that range from very sedate paved trails to trails, I call them “go wild.”
You're lucky to find them if you do.
Tell me more about the ‘go wild” trails.
Sometimes you just have point A to point B and see if you can make it there. Some of them were bushwhacking through a prairie, which was very fun. Because walking through a prairie is very challenging. You have to lift your legs up real high to get over the clumps of grasses.
So you walk like a drunk and it's very fun. Another one was trying to connect two trails in the Great Trinity Forest, and we had nothing to go on. But it was a real exercise in learning how to use your phone to keep from being lost. We did finally make it to where we were going. We had to work our way around a number of briar patches and privet clumps and things like that, but we did eventually make it there.
And then there's a few trails that are so seldom trod that you kind of have to parse them out and figure out where they are.
Tell me about the book itself? How many pages, how many photos what a person will find from cover to cover?
It is such a gorgeous little book. I scored with this layout artist named Sarah Crumb.
I think she's one of the best ones at Timber Press, which is known for its layout skills with books. If you’ve gotten comfortable reading on the internet in short bits with lots of photos and little kind of tangents and stuff. This book is laid out that way. It's like a little mini coffee table book. There's photos on each page. It's laid out with a lot of boxes and sidebars. And it's very much like reading on the internet. It's very easy to just pick it up and page through and start anywhere. It's about 65, 000 words. It's a dense book. It weighs 1 pound, 12 ounces, I'll tell you that. And it's about 356 pages long.
How long did it take you to write it?
It was a solid year of writing, and then there was another year of editing and wrangling the photos. I didn't realize that that was going to be part of it. It was just a line in the contract: author is responsible for 350 photos.
Wow, what a lot of work that was, because you had to obtain every photo. They couldn't be cell phone photos. Then you had to get permission to use that photo. You had to make a caption for the photo. And you had to tell Timber where you wanted that photo in your manuscript. So it's a lot of work, but actually the writer ends up with a great deal of control over their book.
What did you bring to the book, in terms of your credibility; where are you in the nature scene in the Dallas area?
I am so lucky to have access to banks and banks of experts. So I really reached out to the Texas Parks and Wildlife staffers. Everybody from our local urban wildlife biologists to some of the specialists like in reptiles and birds.
Amy Martin in her element. Photo by Katie Kelton.
I was able to reach out to the experts of Botanical Research Institute of Texas. And also experts from the Native Plant Society and Native Prairies Association of Texas.
They were balanced with having access to dozens of citizen experts — people who were truly knowledgeable, deeply knowledgeable in their field, whether it be dragonflies or prairie plants or particular kinds of snakes. They were so invaluable because their passion for acquiring naturalist knowledge was really inspiring to me.
Who's the audience for your book? And who did you target the book to appeal to?
I'm really writing this book with newbies in mind. I think there's enough information in the book that experienced naturalists are going to learn new things or see things in a new light. But mainly, I was thinking about the people who move here from other places. People who move here by the thousands every day from other states. And they land here and wonder where they are. It's not like the Midwest or Colorado or California, and they really don't know how to approach this land. And I try to get them to see it in a different way by giving them a bit of knowledge.
The example I like to use is the Eastern Cross Timbers. If you're not knowledgeable about it, it just looks like this forest that's short and brushy. But when you learn about these trees and about the ecosystem, you realize that some of these short trees are over a hundred years old, and they have remarkable qualities like being able to withstand fire, or grow out of almost pure rock.
And next thing you're realizing that you're in an ancient forest. It just isn't the kind of ancient forest that you're used to. I also try to get people to appreciate the Trinity River in a different way. They come from areas where the rivers are larger, or they're rushing down mountainsides, and the Trinity River's a prairie river.
And it's very different from one side of the Metroplex to the other. So I try to paint that picture of a river that develops right here in North Texas.
I think some people who are new to the area might be surprised that it's not just a river that you pass over on I-35 going into Dallas. Can you tell me a more about the recreation that you detail that's available on the Trinity River?
I do joke about that — that the Trinity River is much more than a blue line on a map. And once you start looking at it, you realize that the major recreation areas in North Texas are all oriented around the Trinity River from the Fort Worth Nature Center on the West Fork in Fort Worth. To the Great Trinity Forest, which is basically centered around where White Rock Creek meets the Trinity River and also Lake Louisville Environmental Learning Center is on the Elm Fork.
And if you keep going up the Elm Fork, you've got the gigantic Clear Creek Natural Recreation. I'm sorry, the Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center. And you keep going a little bit more and you've got Ray Roberts Lake State Park. And these are all places with thousands of acres at a time. And then there's lots of little parks as well.
And if the park isn't on the Trinity River, it's on a tributary of the Trinity River. It's funny to note that the Trinity River is our only river.
Sandy creek bank at Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center in Denton. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.
And as someone born in Dallas and who's lived here all my life, I was surprised to find out that the Trinity River almost wasn't the Trinity River.
The Trinity Barge Canal. I wish I had length to be able to go into that in the chapter, but we did dodgeball about 50 years ago when there was a lot of plans that were very serious and had millions of dollars invested in them to turn the Trinity River into a barge canal from the eastern edge of Fort Worth, all the way down to the Gulf. And it would have completely obliterated a river, but it got seriously far.
They were actually about halfway through creating the dam at the mouth of the Trinity River, and they were going to make a giant reservoir down there. That would have killed the shrimp fishing in the Gulf. There was a lot of lawsuits flying back and forth to try to stop this. The Texas Parks and Wildlife was adamantly opposed to it.
And then there was Ned Fritz, who led the fray up here in North Texas, and put together a remarkable coalition, and... Some prominent congressmen jumped in and particularly Alan Steelman, a Republican congressman who won his race against Earle Cabell, who was a huge canal supporter. And when Alan Steelman won his race, people started to realize that the public sentiment was not behind the canal.
Ultimately there was a bond vote. Citizens were told quite late in the game that they were going to have to pay $150 million towards this canal, which was going to cost a billion dollars in 1970s. And that would've been like $12 billion today. And they were expected to pay 150 million of that to start.
There was actually a clause in this bond election that would have allowed them to keep taxing whenever they needed more money. And the citizens turned that down in a bond election.
Was there anything in writing Wild DFW that surprised you, that you found out?
I was surprised to learn when I was writing the weather chapter — which was based on an interview with David Finfrock, the noted meteorologist from television — that tornadoes weren't the biggest killer of people in North Texas, that it was flash floods. And he pointed out something interesting, and that was that the last two tornadoes that have come through, we didn't have any casualties at all.
They were big tornadoes, powerful, but people have begun to learn how to pay attention to weather warnings, the difference between a watch and a warning, and also how to find a safe place in their house and to take it seriously that they needed to go there. He says, it's really heartening to someone like myself — a weatherman who believes in education — to see that it actually works.
He says, so why can't people learn “turn around, don't drown?” They somehow think that they can just zip through that little piece of water and it won't happen to them. And the sad statistic that still haunts me is how many flood victims are under the age of 10. That means their parents drove them into that water and the parents got out and the kid did not.
What do you think are some of the more odd facts or stories that people will come across in your book?
Oh the field guide is full of some of the oddest tidbits you can imagine. Because I tried to...there's so many good field guides out there going into great detail about birds and mammals, snakes. And I thought, I'm going to find the odd tidbits that will absolutely stop a party conversation, and people will look at you and go, “Tell us more about that.” So my favorite one is that armadillos can float. They have this amazing ability to inhale air in such a way that they float so they can get away from predators that way.
That's actually how they got over here from across Rio Grande from Mexico. But also they can inhale air in another kind of way and they sink to the bottom and they can walk on the bottom of the creek or the river for several minutes to also escape from predators.
The distance between an alligator's eyes and inches equals how long it is in feet. And that alligators, when they're trying to get a mate, the males do this astounding underwater rumbling that will send out currents. Like for many yards, and it is a very frightening thing to hear, and I can only imagine that all of the critters, the turtles and the fish, and everybody else must hear that and get away as fast as they can.
American alligators, like this one seen at Anuahuac National Wildlife Refuge near Galveston, can be found in North Texas. Photo by Michael Smith.
So there can still be found some alligators in the North Texas area?
We have quite a few gators. Alligators have been in North Texas and we're about as far north as they go. They have been in Fort Worth because the West fork of the Trinity River, kind of makes wetlands naturally over there.
And the alligators have been inside the city of Fort Worth since the 1800s. And so they've probably been here for centuries. There are quite a few alligators in Lake Worth, which is a broad, shallow lake. But we also have alligators in Southeast Dallas. We have a preserve for them.
Dallas County Open Space has a preserve for them that people are not allowed into until they work out some safety issues but they are an integral part. And when you actually go south a little bit following the Trinity River, you'll find plenty of alligators down there. And they generally are well fed and not terribly interested in eating you.
I would be very careful about taking a small dog.
You mentioned that the flood statistics you found alarming. Was there anything else about what you came across that saddened you, or disturbed you, or otherwise disheartened you?
I'm always sad about how little prairie that we have left. And there's a tremendous amount of prairie in this book, because the eastern half of the DFW is based in the Blackland Prairie ecosystem, and the western one third is based in the Fort Worth or Grand Prairie ecosystem, and of both of those, there is maybe one to two percent left of it because prairies are flat. They're easy to develop. They're easy to turn over into agriculture.
And those places that remain there, they're heartbreaking. Especially when you look around and you realize that everything that surrounds it was once this sort of prairie and now isn't that prairie any longer. I really have a lot of admiration for the groups out there that are defending prairies and trying to purchase more of them and save them because there is just so few left. And this is our heritage. Our heritage is the prairie. This book is as much about people as it is about the land.
Because these people who are working so hard to save prairies, to do something about invasive species, to rehab animals and bats and things. Their stories are woven all through here. And particularly when you get into the 25 adventures in the back third. Each of those adventures is taken with one or more people who are either experts in that property or are stewards of that property, and they bring a special kind of insight into these places. A lot of which I had thought I knew well, until I went with one of these insiders and discovered so many things that opened up that land to me.
I joke that it's essentially a love letter to these people, that here are individuals that are working really hard. And many of them, most of them are volunteers. Some of them are doing tremendously hard labor, hard physical labor. And for a lot of them, they will never live to see the results of their labor.
It's that saying of, that a good man is someone who will plant a tree whose shade they'll never live to see. And these people are like that. They're really investing in the land for future generations. And it's my hope that people read this book and go, “I want to be a part of that. I want to join the naturalists.”
Join the Native Plant Society, join the Audubon Society, and save more land and repair more land so that wildlife can flourish better.
Spectacular purple paintbrush in bloom at Tandy Hills Natural Area. Photo by Don Young.
You said that the book is written for people who are new to the area, as well as, I would imagine, people who have been in the area but who rarely divert their paths from the interstate or the sidewalk. What do you advise as the best way to become more aware of the natural world in the DFW area?
The perfect entry is to get involved with some of these groups like Audubon, Master Naturalists, Native Plants, Native Prairies, and so forth. But also to look around on Facebook and Meetup, and you'll find a whole host of outdoor groups, primarily lead group hikes. And I'm finding a lot of trepidation out there from people where they keep going to the same park over and over again because they know it, and they're a little trepidatious about going someplace new, particularly, for instance, someplace like Goat Island Preserve, where you have to drive to the southern edge of Dallas County, and you're way out in the boonies to go and visit this place, and so they would feel more comfortable if they went with a group first and that way they could be assured that they weren't going to get lost.
But I try to give people enough knowledge in the front section of the adventure section about how to get into these places and not worry about being lost. That, for instance, don't want to get lost? Pull out your Google Map. Google Maps will always tell you where you are. It's not just for streets. You can find your way around nature plenty well with a Google Map. A GPS does excellent. Just little tips like remembering where you parked. Your phone will also tell you where you parked. But remembering the direction of where you parked. Getting on Google Maps and surfing the park where you want to go and looking at it in a satellite photo and getting to know the land before you go there and you will feel less scared about going out.
But there are lots of groups on Facebook, for instance, Hiker Babes, which takes out just women, or DFW Outdoors, which must have an event a day going on out there where they will not only take you hiking, they will take you kayaking and float tripping, and all kinds of places. Bicycle rides and things. So there's a whole community out there that I would like to connect people to.
I hear often the criticism from people outside of the area who come to the Dallas Fort Worth area, and they say there's just nothing here. It's just so flat. I guess because you don't see mountains in the distance, or there's not a canyon or a major lake in the area.
What do you have to say to them, and what would your book teach them?
That is a primary lesson of the book is learning how to appreciate this land for what it is. It's not a vista driven land. It's an intimate landscape. It's one that you have to get close to and spend a little time with and have a bit of knowledge and then it will open up to you.
We don't have a lot of big elevation changes except in the southwestern corner of Dallas County, but there are a lot of terrain changes. For instance, if you go up to Spring Creek Preserve up in Garland. You're going to see prairies, you're going to see upland woods, which are very different from lowland woods or riparian woods.
The 200-acre Spring Creek Forest Preserve in Garland features ancient trees, fossils and rich plant life. Photo courtesy of Amy Martin.
You're going to see some wet areas that are where water pools and so become many wetlands. You're going to see true riparian corridors along creeks to where the trees are insanely large that you wouldn't expect them to be that large. You'll have forests that are where the trees are maybe topping at 30 feet and you'll go across the street and you will have trees that are 40 feet and you will go down to another section of it and you will have trees that are 60 feet tall.
They're immense. And so you have a lot of variety just in one park, but it is more of a subtle one. We tend to be at the tyranny of our expectations. And once we stop expecting this land to be what it was where you came from. Then you can start appreciating it. It's like pining for old boyfriends and old girlfriends.
Yeah. That still isn't gonna get you the old boyfriend or girlfriend back, so you might as well appreciate what you've got now. And it is an intimate landscape. You really merge into it. And I think this landscape really pushes you to appreciate the land with your whole body. We tend to go into, particularly vista driven landscapes, and it is all visual, but one of the things I do when I take people out into nature is to ask them, once we're down the trail a bit, to close their eyes for three minutes, and maybe even bring a bandana to put over your eyes.
The next thing you know, you're hearing everything around you that you weren't paying attention to before. And I ask people to breathe with their mouth open, to inhale with their mouth open, and notice how the smells are. That the smell of a prairie is going to be very different from the smell of a forest.
And how if you learn to breathe through your mouth, you can start to detect, for instance, you can tell when you're close to a creek. Just by that slight difference in humidity, and I also ask people to think of themselves as you're not... you're walking through air, and the air has a lot to teach you. So there's the pressure of the air on your body. There's humidity of the air. There is the speed of the air. What kind of breezes are coming through and if you awaken your whole body, you can start to detect these things you can actually detect for instance, changes in weather, if you will become very body aware.
And once you start to see yourself as not a set of eyes and a brain going through nature, but you're rather a body that is swimming through the air, nature becomes a much different experience for you.
And all these experiences are ones that you've got to be on a dirt trail, a natural trail to experience it. You're not going to get this on a paved trail. With bicyclists and runners going by. You need to get off the paved trail and onto the natural trails. And I am 100 percent dedicated to getting Dallas and other North Texas cities and counties to start putting in more natural trails so that people aren't overusing the same ones.
Cedar Ridge Preserve, the focus of that chapter is not just about the beauty there, but you get this picture of these people who are struggling with the inundation of visitors that they get every year. And this is run by a nonprofit, and they have — what, 300,000 visitors a year? And they're trying to run this thing on donations and a little bit of municipal money.
And try to get them to broaden their view and try new places. Be curious.
Among the new places that people, you might recommend to try what are some of the hidden gems?
I just do one of these, but There are a lot of trails along Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs, particularly on the inlets where the creeks that feed into the lake are.
There's always trails along these inlets and Lake Louisville and Lake Grapevine in particular have some really excellent trails that are just not used much. They're well known by people who live nearby, but not many people know about Pilot Knoll. Trail and the old Alton Bridge trail that are up there in Lake Louisville, very close to Denton.
People aren't aware of the trail that I cover in the book called the Bob Jones, I'm sorry, called the Walnut Grove National Recreation Trail. And you generally get to it by going to the Bob Jones Nature Center. And taking off from there, and it goes along the edges of Lake Grapevine on the tip of it, on the northern tip of it, where Denton Creek enters the lake.
Both, in, in both cases many of these trails are built by equestrians. And so they're wonderful, wide trails in these two places, they're sandy trails, because you're in the Eastern Cross Timbers, which is a sand based ecosystem. And they are real gems, and not taken by many people.
And even the horse riders don't go on them enough, because some of the trails, like Grapevine you're gonna get lost. But you will get found again. But they're very fun and these lake trails have the benefit of occasionally you do get a nice little vista of the lake and then you're back into the woods again.
I don't think enough people take the journey up to Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center in Denton, which is immensely big. Really has a terrific bunch of volunteers. It's well taken care of by the city of Denton. It's on Army Corps of Engineer land and it floods a lot. Parts of it flood a lot, but again, there are so many ecosystems there from prairies to some of the most lush.
Riparian environments I've ever been in the trees are so tall. It's like being in a cathedral. And the it's just lush land. When I was up there, it had flooded quite a bit. And there was like carps swimming down the stream, swimming down the trails, it was really quite a sight to see. But you could spend a whole day at Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center and then people in Dallas in particular just don't appreciate Ray Roberts Lake State Park, which is northeast of Denton.
It's not hard to get to. You can get up there in a zip on the highways. And here you have vast areas. Of walking. Again, you've got equestrian trail systems, and it has some of the prettiest prairie I've ever been in because you just go down this trail and then As far as you can see, there's nothing but prairie.
And then you walk a little bit and you're in some woods. And you walk a little bit more and there's a lake view. And you walk a little bit more and there's this wonderful pond with all these lush trees around it. I could spend days at Ray Roberts Lake State Park, and the green belt that comes out of it and goes down the Elm Fork of the Trinity River is also a really fabulous hiking experience.
Or you can go to Park Hill Prairie, which is in northeast Collin County. It's part of their open space system, and it's one of the go wild trails. You take this lovely little mode path to the top of the hill, and then it's go wander, and go get to know this prairie, and you feel like you're in pioneer times.
With this tall grasses and the hawks going by and the little rodents scurrying around in the grass and these are true gems. And, people will drive 30 minutes to go to Cedar Ridge Preserve. Why not drive 45 minutes and go up to Ray Roberts and walk trails where you won't even see anybody?
And they're vigorous. You can walk for, I don't know, 12 miles of trails, at least, at Ray Roberts Lake State Park. And that's just in one unit. You can go to the other side of the lake, and there's another unit with more hiking. There's truly a lot of options that we have. But we tend to go to the ones we know.
So I'm trying to introduce people. And these chapters are written in such a way that it's not, they're not terribly factual adventure chapters. They're more about, this is what it's like if you were to experience this place. I try to paint word pictures and body pictures of what it's like to spend a day with a couple of interesting gals at Ray Roberts Lake State Park and we went to this trail and we went to that trail and we went up to the lake and we had a great time and we sat down and we had sandwiches and I hope it, it gets across to people that you can go places, spend a day, disappear and come back with A fraction of the stress you went in with.
For someone visiting from out of state or out of the country even, is there a place in your book that you recommend as the ultimate wild DFW experience?
I think if you're coming from out of state in particular, you need to get to Fort Worth Nature Center because they got buffalo. And you can't hardly beat that.
For having that true Texas Western experience is to see their Buffalo. They used to have a prairie dog colony, but it got some nasty disease and died out. They have the alligators. They have, it's a very western feel at Fort Worth Nature Center. They have a lot of civilian , conservation core stonework there, which a lot of people, particularly from other countries, find that extremely charming.
So that, that gives you what they're expecting to see, which is open vistas and large mammals and rocks. Lots of rocks. I think, though, if I were to give someone the true magical experience, and this is where I think Dallas is missing the boat with nature tourism. We have the Great Trinity Forest and This is the largest bottomland hardwood forest in an urban area in the nation.
A bison from the Fort Worth Nature Center shows off the distinctive profile of the national mammal of the U.S. Photo by Michael Smith.
And there are people that particularly over 40, over 50, that they're not camping anymore. So they would love to come to a place where they can hike 10, 15 miles every day, and then go back to their comfy... Hotel room and have a nice meal. That's their idea of a perfect day. And we've got that here.
If we would increase the trail mileage. So if I wanted to give someone a magical experience, I would take them to the Holland trail. Which is quite challenging to find and follow, but it takes you very quickly deep into the Great Trinity Forest. And you can go to where the White Rock Creek meets the Trinity River.
And to me, this is the heart of the Great Trinity Forest. And it is wet, and it is wild, and it nearly became a barge turning basin, had that canal idea succeeded and so it's when you're there, you realize how lucky we are to have this dense, wild forest that is so quiet, except for the birdsong, which is sometimes deafening.
There's so many birds there. And most people don't get that deep woods experience.
You mentioned people, maybe a little older, who want to take in a little nature but don't necessarily want to camp overnight. How much does your book go into accessibility issues as far as recommendations or detailing how people who have some mobility challenges might be able to still enjoy the trails and nature.
I did make sure that there was something for everyone. And so I mentioned, for instance, that if you're car bound, if you're not really able to walk, but you can get around in a car, drive up to Ray Roberts Lake State Park, just drive around, you're gonna see deer, you might even see wild turkeys.
And then in the book, there is a prairie driving tour. So if you go out in the spring and also in the fall and you follow this route, you're going to see some gorgeous prairies and some wonderful wildflowers. I also cover the Trinity forest trail because there's a gentleman, Bill Holston, and he tends to go there every morning before he goes off to work as a lawyer.
And so here is the ability to experience a river. experience the Great Trinity Forest and still be in your business clothes. I also highlight a couple of places the Native Texas Park which is part of the George Bush Library, and Texas Discovery Gardens as places where you can go and get your nature on in a really a slightly wild way, and again, do it in your business clothes, do it in your before or after a date, it's good, easy, clean trails.
The Native Texas Park is a restored prairie at the George Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. Photo by Scooter Smith.
And then I focus on some trails that are wide, easy to do Spring Creek Forest. Two out of three of those parcels are just super easy to walk. You'll never get lost. If you do get lost, you'll get lost for five minutes, and then you get found again. So I tried to really cover the gamut of Of trails, and I mentioned, for instance, that if you're wanting to get that Great Trinity Forest experience, go first to Trinity River Audubon Center and do all the trails and not just.
The main trails, but do all the little side trails and dirt trails that they have there. So there's a number of trails that are graveled and they go right past the ponds, but there are trails behind those ponds that you can do. There's a trail that leads to the Trinity River, one of the few places where you can actually get right next to the bank of the Trinity River and see it and not have to worry about.
The bank falling out. And then there's a forest trail that is not one of the more popular trails at track because it's off by itself. It's along the entrance road, and if you take their forest trail, you will immediately get an idea of what the Great Trinity Forest is like. And once your appetite is whetted, and you have an idea of this really requires a certain kind of footwear.
If you go into the Great Trinity Forest, you need to have good hiking boots on. You need to have an overshirt for the mosquitoes. And, to also protect you from poison ivy. And so it's a primer of how to dress and operate in the Great Trinity Forest to where you feel more confident about taking on some of these other trails like the Ned and Jeannie Fritz Texas Buckeye Trail, or get brave and take the Holland Trail.
The late Kevin Sloan, a Dallas-based landscape architect who was a proponent of rewilding, the concept of bringing nature back to urban settings, said that Dallas was to him, unique, in that you could take a stroll through the Arts District and wind up in a forested area along the Trinity River in just a single afternoon.
What is your experience with that? Do you agree with that concept and how does Dallas compare to San Antonio or Houston or other cities in the country?
It is astounding that we have this great big blob of nature within our city limits that is five, ten minutes at best from downtown Dallas.
That really is truly remarkable. Houston has a big nature tourism business, but they're going in the areas around Houston, not so much inside of Houston. You go to Houston, you get a room, and then you drive 30 40 minutes to a number of big state parks and private preserves where you can just disappear from everything.
Dallas has that within its city limits, and all it needs to do is Start to market this in such a way that people get that visual idea. People have this idea that the Great Trinity Forest is a tremendously spooky place. It's got some spooky areas, but most of it is wonderful. You can go to Goat Island Preserve, which is in the southern end.
You can spend all day there. There's, I think, 12, 15 miles of trails down there. We are so blessed with this gift of the Great Trinity Forest, and a little effort was taken to connect these parcels. So we have county land, we have Dallas Parks and Recreation land, we have Dallas municipal land, we have a whole lot of land that is owned by Dallas Water Utilities.
And we have some private preserve parcels, for instance, Dallas Audubon, a good chunk of the Great Trinity Forest. If we were to start to conscientiously put these parcels together, and market them as the Great Trinity Park, we would See a tremendous amount of nature tourism business, bringing into the southern half of the county, which could really use an influx of commercial tourism business like that, but we're also missing an opportunity with the Elm Fork that the Elm Fork has a lot of potential that we're not thinking about.
And so there is the Frasier Dam Recreation Area. And this is 200 acres that was rehabilitated by a private group called Green Space Dallas. And they removed 20 tons of trash at minimum. Put in a system of trails, put in picnic tables and things like that. And that's the southern anchor of the Elm Fork Corridor, which goes all the way up to Lake Louisville Environmental Learning Center.
The Trinity River Paddling Trail was named a National Recreation Trail in 2020. Photo by Amy Martin.
And there are parks all along this, but they belong to a half a dozen different cities. So it would, you would have to take care to really unite them. And what's nice is that we already have a template for this, and that's when they created the Trinity River Paddling Trail, which starts at Lake Louisville and goes all the way down to Trammell Crow Park.
And this is now a National Park Service National Recreation Water Trail. So it can be done.
Tell me what we didn't talk about that people need to know about this book.
That it's gorgeous. It is so gorgeous. It is like a little mini coffee table book. And so it's really a great book too, to introduce people to nature. Not only just newbies, but people who wonder why you're crazy about hiking and not spending time with them.
Go ahead and buy this book and give it to them and then they'll understand. And I wanted to give a shout out to the cover artist, whose name is Mariell Guzman, who's a Fort Worth muralist. And the cover is so colorful that it is not what you would look at and think of as having a nature book.
It looks very pop art, almost. it's been a great interview. We've really covered a lot.
You've also included information on the area's insects.
Yes, I think there's about 10, 10 or more insects that are profiled, but certainly lightning bugs because of their being in such peril. Texas has more species of lightning bugs than any other state. Most of the species of lightning bugs can be found here in Texas and several of them have already gone extinct and more of them are on the way unless we change the way we operate our lawns.
And don't get so scared about standing water. If standing water has an ecosystem in it, it's not so much of a breeding place for mosquitoes. They're kept in check. And that's what fireflies need, is places that, where the soil stays wet all the time. That's what they need for their eggs and stuff.
I also have a section called summer bugs. And so I look at mosquitoes and chiggers and cicadas and I throw lightning bugs in there as well as these are the bugs of the Texas summer. And I try to get across to people how important cicadas are to nature's food chain out there. Cicadas kick in the heat of summer when the other foods are starting to abate and what a gift that is, what sharp planning by nature to produce this giant morsel of food, right when it's needed most. And cicadas are like nature's food buffet.
Everybody is out there eating cicadas, and one cicada will keep multiple birds fed, as they peck on it and stuff. And it's feeding everybody. They're just terrific.
Cicadas are the sound of summer right now. And certainly at night, it's just an amazing din. I love going out at night and hearing all of this. And there's an After Dark chapter in the book, which I thought was very clever of Timber to ask for.
And I try to break down what it is you're hearing out there. Because we all go in our houses at night and we forget about nature. And really in the cities, nature comes alive at night because we're all in our houses. We tend to underestimate just how much fun exploring nature at night can be.
And again, it gets you away from your visual and shifts you into thinking about sound and other sensations.
Yeah, it's amazing. You, at least I myself, don't see armadillos until maybe two in the morning.
Yes, yeah, it's in the cities, animals are nocturnal, whereas if they were out in rural areas, they would be diurnal. But they have learned that it's much safer to be out at night. I also tried to bring attention to what I think is one of North Texas's greatest animals, and that's the gar.
The alligator gar and the spotted gar because it's amazing that we have these ancient animals that have not adapted themselves for millions of years and they just love the Trinity River. It's a perfect place for them. And unless we change the way we manage the river, they could be very imperiled, too.
Because they need to be able to, the river needs to jump its banks and flood for the gar to be able to spawn. And as we continue to Put too much storm water into the river, it's eroding and the channel's getting deeper. And it's not jumping banks enough for the gar to have sufficient breeding areas.
So that's, for instance, one reason the Clear Creek is very important because the gar can, it does jump its banks up there. It's allowed to and the gar have a place to spawn.
I read recently that the Dallas area is predicted to become the nation's largest urban area in the decades to come.
Thousands move here every day — every day — and that's why it's so important to build this community of nature defenders, nature preservers, and to push right now for obtaining as much natural land for public use as we possibly can.
We're already limited to areas that are too rocky or too wet. So let's get as much of that as possible. Because they will figure out how to develop land that's too rocky and too wet. Just give them time. And Fort Worth is legions ahead of Dallas in this regard. They have been on a tear.
Collecting land, preserving land, buying land, and I just wish that Dallas was as serious about this as Fort Worth is. They have accumulated hundreds of acres just in the last year of prairies and cross timbers and other really important ecosystems.
Is there anything that you hear or that just irritates you to no end that either people assume about the area or that people are doing in the area. And I'm sure there is because if you're like me and you have these values, there is probably not a car trip you take where you don't encounter something that just gets under your skin.
Or maybe you're actually a very adjusted person, and you take everything in stride.
AMY MARTIN (laughs):
The disrespect we show the creeks really riles me up. And here we are faced with public sentiment that they want more green belts and more hiking where they can, you know, run, bike, hike along trees, which means in this area, you're going to need to be along a creek. And yet we're not treating our creeks with very much respect.
Dallas has really terrible stormwater management and water comes rushing off our excess of impermeable surfaces and goes rushing into the creeks and it's hot and it's loaded with pollutants and it's moving at a terribly fast velocity. And this is just strafing our creeks, completely strafing our creeks.
And that, Kevin Sloan pointed out, branch waters is what we are here in North Texas. We are laced by mighty creeks. Rowlett Creek is over 120 miles long. White Rock Creek is over 100 miles long. These are tremendous networks and they are overburdened and disrespected and creeks are ignored and they are the backbone of all urban nature is creeks.
Once the city stopped channelizing them, they didn't start caring for them. They have let them go into the state of disrepair, and they just, oh, I watched them mow right up to the edge of the creek. It's every creek. Any naturalist, any wildlife biologist will tell you that every creek needs 10 yards of thick foliage, trees and brush next to it.
Or you can kiss that creek goodbye. And yet, Dallas is mowing right up next to the creek banks. It has denuded a lot of the banks of White Rock Lake because people were pressing for them to look pretty. And as a result, they are eroding at an astounding rate. And we can't, and Fort Worth is guilty of this as well.
They keep the grass super short next to the Trinity River in Fort Worth in way too many places. I was at a park, a county preserver out in Coppell called Grapevine Springs, and I was looking at this really bad erosion problems, and I had to report to the park manager, if you would just raise your blade six inches and not mow so short, you wouldn't have this erosion problem that is going to cost you thousands of dollars to repair.
That you could have prevented just by not mowing so short and letting the grass and the brush and the bushes grow next to the creeks. It's one of my favorite rants.
Yeah. I think what most irritates me are lawn services and other just mow and kill, keep your green lawn going sort of services.
Oh these mosquito services.
Mosquito, yes, that's what I just thought of, exactly.
Yeah, they are basically waging devastation.
Because mosquitoes emerging from the water can travel, I think, up to two miles, some species. So if you are, in fact, spraying enough to kill mosquitoes, you're just creating a chemical warfare zone for everything that lives where you're spraying or fogging at night.
And, all of that stuff, and they will insist it's not true, but all of that stuff is deadly to amphibians and to reptiles.
And so now you've killed off the things that would normally be eating the stuff that bugs you.
And it's so hard to get people to understand that they are in a matrix of effect, that their actions have big impact, and that they cannot think of themselves as an island, that they are truly in a network whether they like it or not.
What I've learned from entomologists is that the best defense against mosquitoes is a simple fan.
Absolutely. Just put a fan on.
Yeah. They can't battle the airflow and also it gets rid of the carbon dioxide attraction just piling up around you as you're breathing on a still night.
Especially if you're under a porch. patio or something like that, you become this giant CO2 bubble underneath there, which just says, come and eat me.
And also a little we keep a little fan down low so that our feet are getting blown on because that, I tell you, and I go into this in the book, is that, the mosquitoes have a two-pronged attack here, and one of the mosquitoes — there's Asian mosquitoes and tiger mosquitoes, and southern mosquitoes and Asian tiger mosquitoes —and one of them likes to go down low, and the other likes to go high. So lovely.
One last thing where can someone get your book?
What I've tried to do is make sure that there are a lot of independent places where you can purchase the book, like Interabang Books, or Whose Books, or places like Dogwood Canyon, Wild Birds Unlimited is going to be carrying it.
It should be in most of the REI and Patagonia stores. And so I want people to...I love it when you buy it from Amazon. Barnes and Noble is an excellent place to buy it from. But you can also buy it from a company called Pretty Things, which is an online retailer based in Dallas.
And, my God, people were sending me pictures of what it was like when this package arrived with the book wrapped in lovely paper and bound with a ribbon with a couple of free teabags associated with it. And it's "Yes! That's why you shop Indy." You know, because some human tied that bow and put those teabags there.
So I'm trying to encourage people to buy it at independent places, but it's also, you could buy it through Walmart and Target online.
Very good. Thank you, Amy.
And hopefully we'll talk soon about some other amazing accomplishment of yours or information.
Yeah, maybe we'll just do something seasonal of what's going on this spring.
I'm Marshall Hinsley. You can learn more about Wild DFW on our website, and for a limited time, when you follow our link to purchase a copy, proceeds will support Green Source DFW and the Texas Green Report podcast. Visit TexasGreenReport.org.
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