For as much time as they spend outdoors in nature, the Branch family is well-named. Rusty and Debbie Branch have lived in Fort Worth for more than two decades, and memories made at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge have been woven into their family’s history.
“We started going there when our two sons were little,” remembers Rusty. “They kind of grew up out there, and we spent many weekends hiking, fishing, and just enjoying nature. The Nature Center is really a jewel in Fort Worth’s crown. I’ve traveled all over the nation, and there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.”
Rusty’s favorite Christmas gift each year is a family membership supporting the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. The membership includes free entry to the Nature Center for a year, a perk that has been well-used by the Branch family.
Rusty and Debbie’s oldest son Andrew is now 20 and a student at Texas A&M University in College Station. “We’ve been going to the Nature Center for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a refuge for my entire family for pretty much my whole life,” says Andrew. “When I come back home on break, I love to go out there to fish, hike, sometimes just to meditate.”
Andrew’s experience at the Nature Center has also inspired other areas of his life. As a Boy Scout, he trained at the Nature Center for the extensive hikes he would make with his troop in New Mexico. His scouting experience led him all the way to becoming an Eagle Scout, a prestigious honor achieved by only a few.
“When it was time for me to do my Eagle Scout project, it was an immediate and obvious decision,” notes Andrew. “I wanted to give back to the Nature Center, so I reached out to them and said, ‘What can I do to help?’”
More than 385 volunteer hours later, the old green and white park signs that had not been re-touched in decades were restored. Andrew corralled 25 other volunteers to help, and, along with completely restoring the weathered signs, he and his crew also inventoried all 23 road signs, mapping them with GPS coordinates. He learned many life lessons during the course of the project.
“There was plenty of adversity along the way,” recalls Andrew. “We got rained out five times, so that was frustrating. But that taught me that life doesn’t always happen according to your plan. And I learned a lot recruiting volunteers and gathering resources from the community through donations. It’s cool to see the signs every time we visit.”
The Branch family visited the Nature Center as a family over the Christmas holidays, an outing that was treasured because it’s become harder to get everyone together — a feat that will be harder still when younger son Alex, who graduated from Arlington Heights High School in 2021, completes his EMT certification and moves on to a career of his own. During their 2021 holiday visit, they re-created a family photo from years ago, forever capturing yet another precious memory at the Nature Center.
“The moments that we are able to get out there as a family are really special,” says Andrew. “It brings back good memories of when we were little. Nature has always been a source of comfort to our family. And now, as we are getting older, the busier we get, the more we need it.”