Foggy morning and fall colors on one of the many creeks along the Spring Creek Nature Trail in The Woodlands, Texas.

Supporting Land Conservation in the Year of COVID-19 and Beyond

Kahney's Crossing is 1 of over 25 bridges constructed by Bayou Land Conservancy  Trail Crew volunteers along the Spring Creek Nature Trail near The Woodlands, Texas.  At 29 feet long it is one of the largest bridges constructed along the trail.

Kahney's Crossing is 1 of over 25 bridges constructed by Bayou Land Conservancy Trail Crew volunteers along the Spring Creek Nature Trail near The Woodlands, Texas. At 29 feet long it is one of the largest bridges constructed along the trail.

As 2020 comes to a close, there is a global feeling of hope that 2021 will bring a brighter future and an eventual return to normalcy. I for one am looking forward to this proposition. For many, 2020 saw our best laid plans to travel and enjoy what the world had to offer put on hold, initially we thought, but then seemingly without end. The lockdowns that began in the spring then extended into summer. Staying at home, working from home, the days and weeks ran together into what I have herd termed as "Blursday". For me, that's about how it felt, so I'll go with that term. Binge watching even the most obscure entertainment via our streaming services gave way to an eventual need to emerge from our pandemic induced cocoons. But where could one go and feel relatively safe and properly distanced from others outside our household?

Enter our re-discovered local parks and natural areas. In some cases they were always there, passed by in our rush to get to work through traffic and the kids to their next activity. In other instances they may have been near our neighborhoods all along, still in search of patrons to discover their hidden value. As someone that spends a good deal of my spare time outside photographing nature and wildlife, I noticed the uptick in traffic on our local Spring Creek Nature Trail in The Woodlands, Texas in late summer. My anecdotal evidence drew initially from in person observations as I was out photographing along the trail. By early fall, my wildlife game cam began to back up my hunch there were more people using the trail. I had posted the game cam at one particular location, with the intent to capture images of the local beavers that frequent a pond along the trail. One month I seemed to capture more images of hikers, bikers, and joggers than any local beaver pond residents. At first I disregarded the increased traffic as a one-time occurrence, as the beaver pond is a bit off the main trail. But then the images kept coming, along with the need to prematurely replace the batteries in the game cam from all the image and video captures.

The traffic along the trail kept building throughout the fall, and eventually the parking lot at one of the trailhead entrances soon began to overflow by 9am every morning. So much for my assured parking space, but I quickly resolved that this was a good problem. After all, the non-profit I volunteer with and who was responsible for building the nature trail, Bayou Land Conservancy, was hoping for more patrons, and now we were getting them, by the car load. Bayou Land Conservancy even noticed a 700% increase in the number of downloads for their trail guide app. So the best kept secret in our area was out. Bayou Land Conservancy received positive feedback from one local County Commissioner, stating his residents were pleased there was a nature trail like this in their area, and it was just in a knick of time. People needed to get outdoors, do something with the kids, and feel revitalized in a safe environment.

Although the Spring Creek Nature Trail had been open for a couple of years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn't exactly a household name by any measure. Many residents did not know it existed, and when I would tell friends and neighbors about the trail, the typical quizzical response was, "Where's that?". But news of the trail began to filter down through word of mouth, social media, and Bayou Land Conservancy's public communications efforts. By late fall, I seemed to have to explain the "Where?" less than the "Who built it?" and "When was it built?". Urban myths regarding the latter two questions abounded. Suppositions over who and when the trail was built ranged from our national park system and state park agencies, to former land owners long gone. But the reality was, it was built by Bayou Land Conservancy, a non-profit land trust, working in conjunction with local municipalities, public and private land owners, and a team of dedicated volunteers.

Bayou Land Conservancy’s mission…

“To preserve land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife.”

The goal of the nature trail was to provide an immersive experience in nature for all to enjoy, with its tranquil wetlands and abundant wildlife. At the same time, the trail served Bayou Land Conservancy's mission, "To preserve land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife." In the end, this trail has served the mission of the organization as well, and provided an outdoor experience for people in a year we might never have thought we would experience in our lifetimes.

In 2020, conservation organizations around the country kept plugging away at their missions, working with private and public land owners to protect habitats for future generations. There is still much work to protect our natural areas so they may help to mitigate flooding, provide clean water, and protect critical habitats for keystone species. In reality these projects take time, lots of planning, many volunteers, supporters, and funding. As 2020 comes to a close, I think about what the Spring Creek Nature Trail has offered those that needed a place to enjoy after months of quarantining, isolation, and an overall dreary year. I for one always feel revitalized after a trip to the trail. Without efforts by non-profit conservation organizations to plan and develop these natural areas in any year, there would be fewer opportunities for so many. Beyond 2020, these efforts will help us through the return to normalcy and provide much needed places to relax, reflect, recharge, and be thankful for the life we have to look forward to in the years ahead.

To view more images of the Spring Creek Nature Trail and the wildlife found on the trail, visit my Spring Creek Nature Trail project page.

Bayou Land Conservancy is an accredited land trust operating in the Houston, Texas region. To learn more about the lands they protect and what you can do to get involved and support their efforts, visit www.BayouLandConservancy.org.

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