ARLINGTON — Winding trails through the thick trees and brush within Arlington’s newly opened Southwest Nature Preserve lead past ponds brimming with bass and sunfish and up to a high sandstone bluff with cacti and glittering rocks coated with soft green moss.Though long an attraction for fishing and nature enthusiasts, the 58-acre heavily wooded site in southwest Arlington is now open to the public. On Oct. 19, the city will hold a grand opening ceremony for the 58-acre nature preserve off Bowman Springs Road south of Interstate 20 that has been eight years in the making.“This is truly a nature preserve. You will never see a playground. You will never see a ball field,” said Kurt Beilharz, parks project manager. “It’s a gem. You can get back in there and forget you are in a huge metropolitan area with six million people.”The property is a remnant of the Eastern Cross Timbers forest, thick with post oaks and blackjack oaks and home to numerous types of birds, foxes, coyotes and other small creatures. Besides one and a half miles of soft-surface hiking trails, the nature preserve offers four catch-and-release ponds, picnicking areas and a terraced outdoor seating area the city hopes is used by areas schools and groups for educational nature classes.“We have a whole generation of kids who never go outside. Kids sit in front of TVs, in front of a computer, in front of an iPad. They don’t know what a real butterfly is,” said Diane Pierce, an Arlington resident and member of the Friends of the Southwest Nature Preserve, which keeps the park clean. “They need to learn not to be afraid of a possum, not to be afraid of a lizard, not to step on a bug to be mean.”The land, which borders Kennedale, was once slated to become another subdivision with 155 homes. But in the 2005 bond election, Arlington voters approved $2.7 million for the city to acquire the property as a nature preserve. Residents approved another $750,000 in bond funds in 2008 for improvements and to clean up the property, which had been an illegal dump site for years.“I hated to see the prospect of it go to development. It was extremely fortunate the city was able to get the land,” said resident Jan Miller, another member of Friends of the Southwest Nature Preserve. “It’s a really good example of the Eastern Cross Timbers. To get a nice, quality piece like this is really special.”Other park features include a 35-space gated and lighted parking lot, interpretive signs outlining the history of the site and the plant and animal species that can be found there and a concrete walkway that leads to a wheel-chair accessible boardwalk and fishing pier at the lowest pond.The Friends of the Southwest Nature Preserve, a volunteer group, has spent the past three weeks preparing the park for its grand opening. Volunteers clean up litter, remove invasive plants, sow seeds of native plants and help with erosion control along the hiking trails.Camping, bike- and horse-riding along the soft-surface trails, and boating on the ponds are not allowed. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the trails to protect the native plants and the easily damaged moss and lichens that grow on the sandstone outcroppings on the bluff, Beilharz said. “It doesn’t take a lot of foot traffic to have a negative impact,” he said. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock