Natural Excursions

April 1, 2006 by  
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Houstonians learn about nature in local sanctuary

As one of Texas’ first nature education facilities geared toward the education of children, the Houston Arboretum &Nature Center (HANC) is easily found by Houstonians on the western edge of Memorial Park. Encompassing 155 acres, this urban nature sanctuary boasts more than 5 miles of nature trails through the forest, pond and meadow habitats. HANC serves as an essential sanctuary to native wildlife, as well as an important educational facility for children and adults. Serving as a safe haven to native plants and animals, the arboretum is dedicated to educating the public about the natural environment and how everyone can help to protect it.

In peacetime and in war
The site that is now Memorial Park and the arboretum served as Camp Logan from 1917 to 1923. A World War I Army training camp, Camp Logan was deeded to the City of Houston in 1924 with plans of creating a park in memory of the fallen soldiers of World War I. Robert A. Vines, a local ecologist and educator, advocated using a piece of the Memorial Park land to serve as a nature sanctuary; and in 1951, the City Council agreed. At that time, 265 acres were set aside for the arboretum and botanical garden. Since then, roads and their rights-of-way have decreased the area to 155-acres.

A wealth of species
Throughout the sanctuary’s acreage, visitors can find various native plant and animal life in the three distinct habitats: forest, pond and meadow. If you’re searching for plant life, such as the parsley hawthorn, snowdrop tree or showy sesbania, the arboretum has got you covered. Many bird-watchers love this space, which is home to myriad species of fowl, including the Carolina chickadee, yellow crowned night heron and great horned owl. Southern flying squirrels, evening bats and nine-banded armadillos can be spotted throughout the 155-acres. Amphibians and reptiles are present, as well; so, whether you’d like to spot a broad-banded water snake or a five-lined skink, this is the place to go.

Discovering wildlife
The Discovery Room offers insights into Houston’s urban wildlife and natural habitats. Here, visitors can see what is not always easily seen in the forest, learn what lives in ponds and discover the stories the trees have to tell. This interactive environment includes things to touch, puzzles, mysteries and exploration possibilities. The expert naturalists at the Discovery Room help you with the many activities, microscopes, field guides, Discovery Boxes, puzzles and games.

Educating our children
As one of the original missions of HANC, more than 10,000 children are taught about science and the natural world here annually. For children ages 3-5, the Tadpole Troopers offer stories, games, crafts and walking tours through the forest. Naturalist Explorers, who range in age from 5-8, begin to learn about natural history and basic ecology while having fun with hands-on interactive activities. The young naturalists of EcoTrackers (ages 9-12) are inspired through forest explorations that deepen their natural world knowledge.

In addition, Summer Nature Discovery Camps consist of weeklong sessions offering a closer look at natural science and a variety of ecology topics. More than 300 students, ranging in age from 5-12, participate in the camps annually. The arboretum also serves as an obvious place for local Boy and Girl Scouts to explore nature.

Also, families are invited to the free Urban Nature Series programs, offered two Sundays of each month, and Night Adventures, where you are invited to learn about the nocturnal animals here and experience a short presentation with live owls.

Nature in the schools
The arboretum offers many programs for classrooms, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. The Guided Field Experience allows children from kindergarten through fifth grade to use the nature sanctuary as a sort of hands-on laboratory to learn about science that relates to their school work. The Discovery Room teaches about the three major habitats here through interactive exhibits. Offering a wealth of information about local watersheds, the center allows the students to do water sample testing (under supervision of staff naturalists) and pond life surveys. Designed to improve the environmental awareness of Houston students, Discovery Boxes provide activities that help students understand important ecological concepts.

Conserving our resources
You can help the environment and HANC just by recycling! The arboretum invites you to recycle your paper, including magazines, shopping catalogs, newspapers, office and school papers, and mail, at the Abitibi Paper Retriever in the HANC parking lot. You can drop it off anytime the gates are open. (8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.)

Getting a new inkjet cartridge for your printer? Come by the front desk and get a postage-paid envelope to use to recycle that old cartridge. HANC receives a small monetary donation for the paper and inkjet cartridges recycled, so be a friend of nature – recycle! H

4501 Woodway Drive
(713) 681-8433

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