The Fort Worth Nature Center began with the Fort Worth Audubon Society and its decision to seek a sanctuary to assure a reasonable chance of survival for the wildlife of our city and its environs. In January of 1964, the Audubon Society formed a committee to seek such a place in the Fort Worth area. On February 12, 1964, the Fort Worth Park Board designated a 360-acre location on upper Lake Worth as a “wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve”, and the local Audubon Society was given the responsibility for developing it. But was that the beginning?
Years earlier, the Civilian Conservation Corp was active in developing the area comprising the Fort Worth Nature Center. About 200 members and staff personnel of CCC Camp No. 1816 were located south of the Nature Center across the Jacksboro Highway on the shore of Lake Worth near Sunset Park. The original goal of Camp No. 1816 was to create a state park, ST-31-T, or State Park No. 31, Texas. While a state park did not materialize, there is ample evidence today of the CCC work done in the Nature Center. The rock steps of the Caprock and Canyon Ridge trails are still solidly in place. The remnants of the rock shelters they built are still there – Lone Point, Rest Awhile, and Broadview, along with stone and concrete picnic tables and restroom facilities encountered on the Canyon Ridge trail and elsewhere.
Or what about in 1958, when the Fort Worth Rehabilitation Farm was begun with 109 acres leased to Liberty Mission? Several facilities were built to house and feed the inhabitants of the Rehabilitation Farm. The Rehabilitation Farm ceased operations on December 31, 1984. Remodeling of one of the structures into the Fort Worth Nature Center Service Center began in March 1993 and was completed in June 1993. The other structure awaits remodeling and is used at the present time as open storage for various items.
Fast forward back to 1964, when the Audubon Society got busy laying out trails and setting up a shelter house on Greer Island. The first naturalist, William Spalsbury, began work on June 17, 1964. In 1967, the City of Fort Worth took advantage of the expiration of leases in the area and expanded the center to more than 3,000 acres. In February 1970, planning began for an official building on the Center. The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Interior Department, approved a grant of $40,000 matching a like amount from the city. In November of 1970, the name of Robert E. Hardwicke, who had been active in conservation work and in legislation to protect park areas, was proposed for the new Center. On September 17, 1971, the Hardwicke Interpretive Center was dedicated. At the same time, an advisory board was formed to assist with input from various interested groups in planning for future developments.
In January 1971, the first steps toward fencing the refuge to prevent vandalism and dumping were taken. As a result of efforts by the Meadowbrook Garden Club, the Junior League, and a gift by Mrs. Harry Wallengburg, the Boardwalk over the Lotus Marsh was completed in 1974. In 1975, the name Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge was formally established.
In 1977, the first prairie dog town was established. In 1978, the road around Lake Worth was closed at Greer Island to control vandalism and dumping. In 1980, the need for additional space in the Interpretive Center was realized and construction for an auditorium, library, and offices was begun and dedicated in February 1981. In 1985, Women in Construction renovated an old home site, complete with a windmill, as a shelter house for programs and groups, which is known as the Alice Ashley Shelter.
The beginning of the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center was June 1, 1974, at a meeting on Greer Island, where 40 members elected Mrs. Margaret Parker as president of the newly formed nonprofit organization. By September 10, 1974, membership had grown to 112 members. On June 1, 1975, the first annual meeting of the Friends took place with a covered dish supper at the Refuge. The 40 members present elected Mrs. Foster Clayton as President.
By the January 12, 1976 meeting of the Friends Board, the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center was officially incorporated. Since the beginning of the Friends, they have been instrumental in developing numerous programs at the Nature Center from JoAnn Karges and her butterfly expertise to Marsha McLaughlin and the Canoe Fest, B.J. Collins and the Buffalo Boogie, Jackie DeMarais and the Haunted Trails, Dora Sylvester’s wildflowers and herbarium, guided tours by the Junior League, bluebird houses built by Mabry Wray, purchase of an aquarium, installation of cedar paneling, and numerous other projects.