- Chris Belcher
Walking In Nature At The Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve
On a chilly Saturday morning about a half dozen San Antonians gathered around Texas Master Naturalist Bob Morris at the Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve.
Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve, owned and managed by Green Spaces Alliance, is a 31-acre green space just north of Loop 1604 in San Antonio. It’s a sanctuary for wildlife, native plants, and people in an area of North San Antonio that’s being rapidly developed.
Cedar Waxwings flew from branch to branch in the trees above the gathered crowd as Morris talked to the group about the three ecoregions of Bexar County the Edwards Plateau, the Blackland Prairie, and the South Texas Plains. Bexar County is unique since it’s one of the few counties in Texas where three ecoregions come together.
After his initial discussion Morris led the way down the trail winding through Ashe Juniper, Oaks, and Cedar Elms. We paused along the sun dappled trail while Bob discussed the historical uses of select plants and other items. If you wondered what the white fungus looking stuff found on prickly pear cactus was Bob told us about it. We learned it was cochineal bugs used to produce red dye. The Spanish considered it more valuable than gold at one time and it’s still in use today to produce red dyes.
Morris said that the nature walks he conducts every weekend at different areas are a personal mission for him.
“It's one of my personal missions, because it's a very good way to educate the general public about what they can do to protect the environment, to raise their awareness of why these natural areas are important, and it's a source of pleasure for them as well,” he said.
Morris added, “My primary purpose is education. But I want to make it entertaining and fun to do it as well. It's not like I want them to go to school, you know?”
We transitioned up onto a hillside to continue our education on one of Texas’ most iconic ecoregions, the Edwards Plateau or Texas Hill Country as it’s also known. This area is important to Bexar County because it’s where the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone is. The Edwards Aquifer is the source of a large portion of Bexar Counties drinking water.
Clay Thompson, Green Spaces Alliance Director of Conservation and Stewardship, says it’s important to protect places like Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve because of the part they play in the Edwards Aquifer recharge.
“This is on a 100-acre floodplain, so you couldn’t build on parts of this, but a lot of the water that enters this property goes into the Edward’s recharge zone, and we have sinkholes over the property helping the water enter the recharge. And that water gets cleaned through the soil here through the native grasses that are pulling pollutants out that would be coming off 1604,” Thompson said. “We have the stock pond itself is fed directly by stormwater off of 1604, so there's a huge stormwater drain that you can walk through on the south end of the property. And so you get all the runoff from the surrounding area, comes onto this property through our stock pond, and then our property cleans it, which is why the native prairie was so important to us, those native grasses that will draw out those pollutants so that the water is even cleaner before hits the recharge zone for the Edwards.”
Thompson also touched on the importance of the preserve in educating the public about nature through events like Saturdays nature walk.
“The land program itself doesn't do as much education as our other two programs do. But what we are able to provide through the land program is access to people in the urban environment to see what our region would look like without people. So coming out here, getting the education, understanding how, for example, junipers are a helpful species or the difference in the different kinds of oak species, or learning about some of the grasses that you would see in the woods, that that is just a key importance,” Thompson said.
“We don't teach that in schools. We don't learn that as adults unless you come out and do these experiences. So the master naturalists are hugely helpful with that because they do their citizen science education and then having access to lands like this that are managed for the preservation of biodiversity, for ecosystem services allows people to see what good management looks like,” he added.
Morris ended the days nature walk by stressing the importance of land stewardship. Taking care of even a small piece of land to protect the soil, air, plants, and water is important. Preserving islands of green, natural spaces in our urban environment makes San Antonio a better place for us to live.
Thompson says the Texas Master Naturalists are a key part of preserving Bulverde Oaks.
“We were donated this nature preserve about ten years ago. The landowner that owned this whole area, he carved up some of the area for it to be sold and then donated this to us to preserve in perpetuity. So we have done a pretty good job of that with the help of the Master Naturalists,” he said.
“I can't beat the drum enough about the Master Naturalists because I'm an army of one. But the Master Naturalists really have done the trail maintenance. We have an MOU agreement with them that allows them to come out here and work as well. So you get a lot of people like Bob and Gary Rogers that come out here fairly regularly,” he added.
Thompson discussed some of the challenges Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve faces. The biggest ones being money and time.
“The easiest challenge is that land management is expensive and so we have to get grants, and grants are very competitive for management. We are private landowners is how the government looks at us as a nonprofit owning this parcel. So we have to figure out how to manage it. So the Prairie Restoration Project, for example, I was funded through A&M Forest Services Fire Management Grants,” Thompson said.
“That plus time. I can do a good deal of work as one person but the more volunteers we have out here, the better the work can be done. You know, we have a few regular volunteers so they can use chainsaws out here, but most volunteers, until we watch them, teach them how to use a chainsaw safely, they're not going to be able to use a chainsaw on here. So those repeat volunteers are the really helpful ones. They help preserve the trails and allow people to make the nature hikes, but also that restore the property to a native prairie or, you know, clean up the trees so that we have less fire risk out here to demonstrate to people, but also to create that habitat, because this is a pocket of greenspace in what will eventually be surrounded by urban environments,” said Thompson.
For more information on Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve or Green Spaces Alliance you can find them on Facebook or their website Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas.