Wilderness in the city

 

When Kate Colin, lecturer in core drawing, needed an interesting place for her field drawing class to visit, she went to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA).

And she got it. Her class saw 100 pelicans flying and swimming around near the dam and immediately got out their sketchbooks.

“It was just majestic,” she says. “Everyone was filled with joy.”

LLELA may be one of UNT’S greatest untapped resources for faculty looking for a unique field experience for students in a variety of disciplines. Now in its 18th year, LLELA, which sits just south of Lewisville Lake on about 2,100 acres, is a living lab perfect for scientific research and environmental education purposes and provides unique opportunities for hands-on training with its vast prairieland, array of animals and diversity of waterways, including the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. LLELA also serves as one of UNT’s research facilities for the Advanced Environmental Research Institute.

But it also offers plenty of educational and environmental resources for students, faculty and staff, as well as recreational activities hosted by the city of Lewisville.

“It’s a 2,100-acre green jewel in the middle of 6 million people,” says Sam Atkinson, Regents Professor of biology and director of AERI. “There’s all kind of ecosystems from native prairies, upland forests, wooded marshes with a river running in the middle of it. If you’re interested in in a glimpse of what Texas was like before there were cars and railroad tracks, LLELA gives you a sense of what that was like.”

Plenty to do

LLELA offers ample ways for the UNT community to take advantage of this natural resource.

Faculty can use it as their classroom – and not just for biology and science classes. Photography students can shoot the gorgeous landscape. Recreation and leisure studies classes can study how LLELA is used to promote its recreational activities, and education students can take their classes on field trips.

The area also offers plenty of environmental and volunteer opportunities. UNT students and employees from companies like REI and Starbucks have worked together to help restore the prairie and wetlands. Learn how you can volunteer for habitat restoration and other activities, such as serving as a nature walk leader and outdoor education assistant.

LLELA also is a great place for children to learn about nature. Atkinson encourages teachers and families to take their children to experience the outdoors there.

“They can start to understand why those who try to protect our land think it’s so important,” he says.

A living lab

LLELA is also a great resource for faculty members to conduct research projects.

James Bednarz, lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, oversees two research projects at LLELA’s birding station.

For one project, researchers and students get up before sunrise to set up 20 mist nets that will capture migratory birds flying north in the spring and south in the fall. When birds are caught, students take them to a central processing station, gather measurements and data, and put a unique aluminum band on the birds so they can keep track of them. Then, the birds are released. 

For another project, officials are trying to restore 500 acres of natural prairie for sparrows. Since the mist nets are too conspicuous out in the prairie, researchers and students line up parallel with a line of mist nets, with bamboo or PVC sticks in their hands, and encourage the sparrows to hurl into the nets. Once caught, the students take them to the central processing station before they are released.

James Kennedy, Regents Professor of biological sciences, uses LLELA for labs for his stream ecology, insect biology and aquatic insects of North America courses. Both Bednarz and Kennedy agreed that LLELA prepares students for their future careers.

“The facility provides an opportunity for students to study a wildlife/natural area in an urban area that allows them to develop field skills they will need in their professions,” Kennedy says.

Great resource

And they may spot a pelican, just like Colin’s art class did. The students also walked along some of the trails at the nature center.

“There was so much to see,” Colin says. “We walked around and enjoyed the experience. If you need a quiet place where everyone can put their phones away and be in the present moment, LLELA provided that for us.”  

If you are interested in taking a class out to LLELA or have questions about LLELA availability, please contact Ken Steigman at 972-822-0320 or Kenneth.Steigman@unt.edu.

-- Jessica DeLeon, URCM