Dallas – November 2019 – Small actions resulted in big change when 15 year-old Spencer Burke of Dallas, Texas spearheaded a community service project to help save the Blackland Prairie, an almost extinct eco-region in the North Texas corridor. Spencer Burke, a Sophomore at St. Mark’s School of Texas and a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 577, led a group of Scouts and community volunteers to remove invasive grasses and plant Texas native grasses and wildflowers at Twelve Hills Nature Center in the North Oak Cliff area of Dallas, not far from the Bishop Arts District.
Twelve Hills Nature Center is a nature conservancy in the heart of Oak Cliff that was created on reclaimed land – apartment buildings once stood where the nature center now sits; it is an urban preserve which serves as an outdoor classroom and recreation area. Twelve Hills seeks to educate both adults and children about environmental stewardship and community-building through the grassroots creation and maintenance of a native Texas Blackland Prairie.
Twelve Hills is dedicated to preserving the unique North Texas eco-region of the Blackland Prairie, which is characterized as a tallgrass prairie with a large diversity of plants and wildlife. Today less than .01% of the original vegetation of the Blackland Prairie remains, and only in scattered parcels across the region. The single greatest threat to the Blackland Prairie is urbanization, as this narrow, elongated strip follows a line of development stretching between Dallas and Forth Worth. According to the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation groups, the Texas Blackland Prairie is considered one of the most critically endangered ecosystems in the world.
This weekend, 10 youth and 5 adults from across the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex spent over 100 hours in preserving the Blackland Prairie. They participated in a project to remove invasive grasses, such as Johnson Grass, Bermuda Grass, Chinese Privet, and other aggressive plants, which were encroaching upon the Blackland Prairie at Twelve Hills Nature Center. Once they had effectively cleared a designated area and hauled away 21 contractor bags of invasive species, the volunteers then began planting native Texas grasses and wildflowers using the Interseeding Method, an innovative planting method used to restore native prairies. The volunteers raked a small 12 x 12 inch plot of cleared prairie, dropped native Texas seeds and wildflowers in the spot, and then stomped on the area to simulate the natural germination process. In addition to planting Little Bluestem, considered the King of the Texas Blackland Prairie, the volunteers also seeded additional native grasses and wildflowers hand-picked from existing Blackland Prairies slated for development around North Texas. Some of the 50 different native plants and wildflowers that the volunteers seeded included indiangrass, prairie dalea, sideoats grama, snow on the prairie, Texas sage, Texas grama, and Texas ironweed. Under Spencer’s leadership, the team of youths planted the seeds in the cleared area near the entrance to Twelve Hills and then carted in water to provide sustenance to the newly planted prairie.
“Our efforts this weekend will have a lasting and sustainable impact on Twelve Hills Nature Center for many years, and it was really exciting to see so many volunteers come together to make a difference in our environment,” said Burke. “This is the first step in actually restoring the Blackland Prairie back to its natural state, and I can’t wait to return in the spring and see the results of our hard work.”
Marcia Haley, President of Twelve Hills Nature Center and Texas Master Naturalist, added “Spencer and Troop 577 created a complete prairie meadow that will not only provide habitat for pollinators, birds and wildlife but will be a demonstration prairie where visitors and school children can observe and learn about the Blackland Prairie Ecosystem and the importance of conservation. Thank-you, Spencer and Troop 577, for your contribution to Twelve Hills and conservation education.”