The Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne.
Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne showcases a cross section of true Hill Country. The hills in the heart of Texas are covered by a forest canopy that often obscures the diversity of the environment. Up close, the terrain is a cornucopia of ecosystems.
The 3.5 miles of trails meander over the 80-acre nature preserve like thread binding the pieces of a quilt. The trail goes from a marsh area across a grassy prairie to a riparian forest along the creek and back to the headquarters building in a stand of oak trees. The beauty of the landscapes tends to make the short trail a long hike.
It was the beauty of the land that attracted settlers to the hills in the early 1850s. When the railroad arrived around the turn of the century, San Antonio became only a three-hour trip from Boerne. Today, Interstate 10 reduces the journey to 30 minutes. With proximity to the eighth-largest city in the U.S. has come unprecedented growth to the community of 4,300 residents. The surrounding ranches are becoming neighborhoods and the community is struggling to maintain its small-town feel.
"Boerne really is growing. It's easy to see what we're losing," says Carolyn Chipman-Evans, executive director of the Cibolo Nature Center (CNC). Support for the nature center has grown to become the largest volunteer organization in Kendall County since she first raised the idea 11 years ago.
When Evans took the idea of preserving the parkland on the creek in its natural state she thought she would be laughed out of the city offices. Instead she found a city planner who was just as excited about the project.
Although Evans grew up in San Antonio, her family had strong ties to the historical German community. The city property that includes the nature center was once part of her family's ranch. "As a child I grew up exploring the creek," she says.
After she moved back to Boerne and brought her children to the creek she found something totally different than she remembered. "It was horrible," she exclaims. She found the tall prairie grasses torn up by tire tracks, the marsh was being filled in with debris, and the creek was being used a dumping ground.
Evans, along with her husband Brent Evans, literally wrote the book on How to Create and Nurture a Nature Center in Your Community (UT Press). With the approval of the city and county, volunteers started with cleaning up the marsh, then moved on to the prairie. Weekend workdays brought in help to pick up the trash in the creek and built the trails.
"I am so proud of Boerne to make such an effort," Evans says of her hometown. In less than 11 years the community has rescued 80 acres from ruin and built a world-class education center. Education director Jan Wrede has developed an education curriculum that is used in local schools. Most Boerne students make a class field trip to the nature center at least once during their school careers.
Other programs sponsored by CNC teach landowners land management techniques. At the nature center there are demonstrations of rainwater harvesting systems, composting, solar energy, and other environmentally friendly projects. The entire family is invited to the center for seminars on wildlife, birds, field trips, bats, and stargazing.
The headquarters at the CNC, which serves as offices, gift shop, and classroom, was once the home of a Boerne druggist. The 101-year-old building was donated to the city and moved to the site. Volunteer labor remodeled the structure into a showcase. The center now has three full-time and three part-time employees.
In 1997, a summer storm dropped more than 15 inches of rain over the Boerne area. Cibolo Creek became a raging river. CNC lost several trees to the flood, but gained a new exhibit. The water over the spillway at Boerne Lake uncovered dinosaur tracks in the limestone bedrock. The limestone was too soft to be moved and the dangerous location below the dam ruled out opening the site to the public. An exact replica of the tracks was made and placed next to the gazebo at the nature center before the tracks were buried again.
The size of hubcaps, the three-toed tracks were made by an Iguanodon in the mud 100 to 105 million years ago when Texas was covered by a shallow ocean. Weighing three tons, the lizard-like creature also left tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose. Smaller tracks found at the Cibolo site were left by an unknown beast, but volunteers at the center refer to it as a Cibolosaurus.
Whether you carry a lunch to the creekside picnic area, hike the trails along the cypress-lined creek, or attend one of the classes, Cibolo Nature Center shows what a community can accomplish. The park, about a mile east of downtown Boerne off TX46 next to the Kendall County fairgrounds, is open for day use seven days a week year-round, 9am till dusk. Pets are welcome on a leash. For more information, call 830/249-4616.
Coming up this weekend ...
Kendall County Fair & Rodeo in Boerne fills the county fairgrounds with the sights and sounds of an old-fashioned good time, Sept. 3-5. 830/755-8788.
Cajun Shrimp Boil in Dripping Springs offers all-you-can-eat shrimp cooked by the chamber of commerce, Sept. 4, 11:30am-3pm at the Triangle. 512/858-4740.
Oatmeal Festival in Bertram honors the hamlet of Oatmeal with a day of games, music, and continuous entertainment, Sept. 3-4. 512/355-2197.
Laborfest in Luckenbach attracts a galaxy of characters to a Willie-style picnic on Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 4. 830/997-3224.
Westfest in the town of West just north of Waco celebrates the area's Czech heritage with of weekend of food and fun, Sept. 3-4. 254/826-5442.
Coming up ...
Grapefest in Grapevine showcases Texas vineyards at the largest wine tasting in the state. Be sure to vote for the People's Choice Award, Sept. 9-12. 800/457-6338.
Shrimporee in Port Aransas at Community Park features shrimp cooked in every conceivable way plus lots of fun events, Sept. 10-12. 361/758-2750.