9,800 Days Ago

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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.
Rob Denkhaus in one of his favorite roles at a Park Board meeting. Photo by Chris Smith.

I reported to work for the first time 9,800 days ago (as of this writing) at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge at 8 a.m. on Monday, July 7, 1997. On Monday, May 6, 2024, after 26.85 years, I reported to work at another City of Fort Worth Park and Recreation Department site for the first time. I had always assumed that when I left the Nature Center, it would be under the guise of retirement, but I was presented with an unparalleled opportunity to shepherd yet another Park and Recreation property’s development into a first-class outdoor recreational and natural history education facility.

I departed from the Nature Center with a heart filled with mixed feelings. While I was fortunate to celebrate the reopening of the Marty Leonard Lotus Marsh Boardwalk after more than a year of closure for construction, I won’t get to witness the starry eyes of visitors as they experience what has been created. I also did not get to witness the Nature Center’s one-millionth visitor (since tabulating visitors became possible with the initiation of the gate in April 2006). That lucky visitor probably entered the Refuge sometime in mid to late May 2024.

While I will always lament what I have missed at the Nature Center, I can always reminisce about what I have witnessed. I saw the Refuge honored with the title of “Lone Star Land Steward,” the highest award given by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I’ve also been party to the Refuge’s bestowal of honors such as being named a Lone Star Legacy Park and becoming the first Texas member of the Old-Growth Forest Network.

I’ve also been honored to represent the Nature Center and the City of Fort Worth as Chair of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Advisory Committee and as a member of the Department’s Snake Harvest Working Group. I’ve also represented the Nature Center as a board member for groups as diverse as the Texas Bison Association and the Urban Wildlife Working Group of the National Wildlife Society.

Twenty-six+ years is a long time. I’ve seen many budding young professionals come through the Refuge as volunteers, interns, and part-time naturalists. Now, I follow them with pride on LinkedIn as their posts describe their professional growth in conservation organizations across the country. Truth be told, I take the most pride in helping these young folks grow and flourish as conservation professionals.

Today, I reflect on my time with the Refuge, and I look at what has transpired over the past 1,400 weeks. I see a myriad of projects completed, both large and small. I recall the very first Canoe Fest (Father’s Day 1998), which was conceived to provide a low-cost activity to which a child could “take” their father. I remember the initial meetings of the small group of local biologists that brought the (at the time) budding Texas Master Naturalist program to the Nature Center. I think of the hundreds of friendships that have been forged with volunteers, members, and visitors simply due to a shared love of and appreciation for the natural world.

But most of all, when I think about the past quarter-plus century, I think about those who will take the Nature Center to the next stage in its evolution. I’ve directly hired a number of them and have been in an advisory role for the rest. I look forward to watching from afar as these dedicated, passionate naturalists set new, higher bars of accomplishment for natural history education, natural resource management, and customer service.

I’ll leave you with a paraphrase of Aldo Leopold… “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. [The past 26 years] are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

By Rob Denkhaus, Former Manager, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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