2024: A Golden Year

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Take a trip down memory lane as the Friends celebrate our 50th anniversary.
Old 1964 group photo of Audubon members on a field trip to Greer Island at the Fort Worth Nature Center
1964 Audubon Field Trip to Greer Island by FWNC&R Archives

The Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge is marking a notable milestone during 2024. This year, we will celebrate our golden 50th anniversary.

The Friends have supported the Nature Center since our founding in 1974. From developing educational programs to caring for the bison herd and other wildlife ambassadors to providing ongoing financial support, the organization has grown to nearly 3,600 members and funded millions of dollars in improvements over its 50-year history.

In celebration of this milestone, let’s look back at how we got here. The Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, through the encouragement of the Fort Worth chapter of the Audubon Society, was formed on February 12, 1964, when the City of Fort Worth Park Board designated a 381-acre location on upper Lake Worth as a “wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve” and gave the Fort Worth Audubon Society the responsibility for developing it.

Old 1964 photo of Margaret Parker drinking coffee at Greer Island at the Fort Worth Nature Center
Margaret Parker participates in the original 1964 field trip to the area that would become the Fort Worth Nature Center. Photo Courtesy of FWNC&R Archives.

After ten years of development, 40 members of that original Audubon group met at Greer Island on June 1, 1974, and decided to form a nonprofit organization, the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, to advocate for the Nature Center’s continued growth and ongoing financial support. Margaret Parker, a member of the original Audubon group and one of the driving forces behind formation of the Nature Center, became the new organization’s first president. By September 10, 1974, membership had grown to 112 members. On June 1, 1975, the group held its first annual meeting at the Nature Center. The 40 members present at that meeting elected Mrs. Foster Clayton as the new president. By the January 12, 1976, meeting of the Friends board, the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge had officially incorporated.

People rowing canoes on the Trinity River at the Fort Worth Nature Center
Canoe Fest is still a popular program at the Nature Center today. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

The Friends were fortunate to have passionate individuals donate their time and treasure from the beginning to support the newly fledged group. JoAnn Karges, with her butterfly expertise, helped develop the first education programs at the Nature Center. Marsha McLaughlin was instrumental in creating Canoe Fest, which continues to this day. B.J. Collins’ vision resulted in Buffalo Boogie, the Friends 5K/10K fun run that was held until 2018. Jackie DeMarais conceived the Haunted Trails. Dora Sylvester’s knowledge of wildflowers helped seed the Nature Center’s herbarium. The Junior League came out in force to conduct guided tours. Mabry Wray built bluebird houses. Numerous other projects, including purchase of an aquarium, installation of cedar paneling, and other critical needs, were spearheaded by the Friends as well.

Portrait of a smiling Marty Leonard with binoculars around her neck
Marty Leonard enjoying one of her favorite pastimes at the Nature Center: bird watching. Photo Courtesy of Marty Leonard.

In 2004, after three decades of operation, the Friends pivoted their focus. Fort Worth conservationist and philanthropist Marty Leonard (and current Friends Board Emeritus member) founded the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge Conservancy to promote capital improvements at the Nature Center. She served as the Conservancy’s president until 2011. At that time, the group merged with the Friends to become the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, Inc. Marty became president-elect of the newly merged organization and served as its president from 2014 to 2016.

Completion of the Bison Viewing Deck is one of the more recent Friends successes. Photo by K.P. Wilska.

Today, the Friends have grown into an award-winning organization whose main purpose is to financially support the Nature Center, providing more than $3 million in funding since 2017 alone. Our successes have been gratifying, but we do not plan to rest on our laurels.

During the next 50 years, our goal is to help make the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge a successful model for other nature centers across the country. Our future trailblazing efforts may include:

  • Raising funds to build a state-of-the-art facility that can meet community needs and provide room for continued growth.
  • Restoring the historic Broadview Park Pavilion built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.

For a more in-depth account of our history and how it intertwines with the Nature Center’s, visit the Our History page on our website.

By Linda Christie, President, Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center Board of Directors

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9,800 Days Ago

We are sad to say goodbye to someone who has left an indelible mark on the Nature Center over the past decade. Please join us in wishing former Nature Center Manager Rob Denkhaus the best as he transitions to an exciting new role with the City of Fort Worth.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

A very special thank you to those who helped the Friends honor Bob O’Kennon and celebrate our 50th anniversary at Fort Worth Wild 2024.