Part of my daily routine as Nature Center manager is to conduct what I refer to as a “drive around” through the Refuge each day. Much as a store manager may walk the store checking to see if the shelves are stocked and the aisles are clean, I drive all the paved roads of the Nature Center, a total of 9.9 miles, including the obligatory backtracking.
As I drive, I’m checking to make sure that the roads are clear and that roadside vegetation isn’t impinging on the roadway. I also look for potential hazards such as snags that should be removed before a tree trunk drops across the road.
I drive slowly (the speed limit is only 20 mph), and I am usually the first person in the gate other than the staff member who opened it. Creeping along, oftentimes under 20 mph, I look for feral hog-disturbed soils along the shoulder. I count the deer that I see and observe their overall health. I marvel at the kamikaze ways of our fox squirrels. In the winter, on Shoreline Drive along the river, I monitor the number of waterfowl that I see and strive to maintain the ability to quickly identify the myriad of species. In the summer, along the same stretch of Shoreline Drive, I watch for alligators cruising in the river or basking on the bank.
Because I am moving so slowly, it’s easy to stop and talk with early morning visitors, most of whom have been visiting the Refuge since I started at the Nature Center 25 years ago. I greatly enjoy chatting with them as they have become friends. Most of the early visitors that walk the roads are exercising their dogs, and, as a lifelong dog lover, I enjoy the opportunity to interact with the pups as well as their owners.
As the scenery creeps by, I also typically find myself either reflecting on the past or thinking about the future for the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. Looking back, I celebrate our successes and lament our failures. Looking forward, I imagine all that we can accomplish in the future.
Only one thing really detracts from my enjoyment of my daily drive: speeders. While 20 mph may seem excessively slow, especially since virtually everyone visiting the Refuge drove at least part of their journey at 60 to 70 mph, there is sound reasoning behind the 20-mph speed limit.
First and foremost, there is a safety issue. Many Nature Center trails cross the road. If you are driving too fast or aren’t paying close enough attention, you might find yourself behind the wheel in an accident where a pedestrian is severely injured. That is a position where no one wants to find themselves.
If not a person, the thing you might hit with your car could be a deer or feral pig, causing thousands of dollars of damage. Even if it doesn’t cause monetary damage, running over one of those kamikaze squirrels, an armadillo, or a female opossum carrying young on her back might possibly injure your soul.
A mantra of nature centers across the nation is to “Take Only Memories. Leave Only Footprints.” Please slow down when visiting the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge so that you can reap the wonderful memories that the Refuge offers and avoid leaving skid marks in your wake.