Monday, July 25, 2011

Urban Nature Preserves

I've been meaning to write on this topic for a few months. Back in March, my wife and I took a road trip to Texas. While there, our host (my sister-in-law) asked us if we wanted to visit the Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas. We said sure. So on a hot day, especially for us Ohioans in March, we visited the center. Upon our arrival, I immediately encountered that deja vu feeling. It wasn't so much that I thought I had been to that specific location before; it was more that the Trinity River center had almost the same look and feel as the Grange Insurance Audobon Center right here in Columbus.

The family resemblance of the two Audobon centers was a prominent reason for this feeling, but it was more than that. Both are located within the city limits of their host cities: the Trinity River Center is in an outlying part of Dallas, whereas the Grange Insurance Center is close to downtown Columbus. Both are located along a major waterway: the Trinity River in Dallas and the Scioto River in Columbus. Both centers are built on reclaimed industrial wasteland. The Trinity River Center was once an illegal dump. The Grange Center is on a former industrial park called the Whittier Peninsula, formed by a U-shaped bend in the Scioto River. More recently it has been the site of the Columbus Police Division's vehicle impound lot, where abandoned and confiscated motor vehicles were kept. Both centers are only a few years old. Both have incorporated extensive wetland areas to attract greater biological diversity. And both have financial support from local government: the City of Dallas partly funds the Trinity River Center, while the Grange Center is incorporated into Scioto Audubon Metro Park and is partly supported by the Columbus Metro Parks system. And of course, both are islands of biodiversity in an urban setting.

Both centers take environmental education seriously, as do all Audubon nature centers. Both have education facilities housed in state-of-the-art, ecologically friendly, low-carbon-footprint buildings. Both nature centers have educational displays, a conference area, classroom space for lectures, hands-on activities for children, and a bookshop.

Here is the education building at the Trinity River Center in Dallas, taken in March 2011.
We first visited the Grange Center in Columbus in January 2010 when the Metro Parks held their annual winter hike there. This is what the education center looked like at that time.


Here is a view along the Trinity River in Dallas, in March 2011.
And a view of a mist-shrouded, partially frozen Scioto River. January 2010.
Both centers, of course, are valuable additions to the biological diversity of the urban areas in which they are located. The Whittier peninsula has been an important central Ohio stopover for migratory birds. Close by, on the opposite side of the Scioto river, is Green Lawn Cemetery, another area of high biodiversity, with its extensive prairie plantings and mature, mostly native, trees.

I might briefly discuss how these islands of biodiversity, while a great thing to have in the urban and suburban environment, are only part of the solution to the problem of urban ecological poverty. Property owners, from businesses to homeowners to religious and government facilities, also need to participate in the "greening" of our cities. Entomologist Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home, discusses the need for urban and suburban landowners to add more native plants to their landscapes, and he then gives a thorough explanation of the reasons why this is important--highly recommended reading. Organizations like the non-profit Wild Ones are dedicated to demonstrating for homeowners how they can grow less lawn, plant more natives, reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous lawn "care" chemicals, and still have an attractively landscaped property. All who own even a small piece of property can help increase the spread of biodiversity throughout our urban and suburban landscapes just by adding a few native plantings to their yards.

Increasing the native plantings in our cities and suburbs can go a long way toward rebuilding our damaged ecosystems. The Audubon Society and its educational programs, along with those resources I mentioned and still others, also dedicated to restoring biological diversity, can help us achieve that goal. If you're ever in Dallas or Columbus, I encourage you to check out these unique Audubon centers and spend some time there.


  1. Hi Don,

    Nice photos. Your message resonates with me, of course. In Chicago we have the North Park Nature Center, but that is run by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

    A blog you might like is Metropolitan Field Guide

    Kelly's main interest is urban wildlife habitats. She also has a good facebook page.