How often do you feel connected to nature? Do you feel it when you step out your front door? When you walk your dog? On your morning run? Maybe. But for me, it takes more than just being outside to feel connected to nature.
Luckily, I work for an organization that protects land, so I get to be in nature quite a bit. My most recent experience was at the end of March. We hosted a guided hike on one of our protected properties in Pike Creek, Texas. I wasn’t looking forward to the lengthy trip from Austin at 6am, but driving through the beautiful Hill Country to get there with TLC Stewardship Director Stephen Ramirez proved to be a wonderful way to spend my morning.
We arrived a bit early at Bear Springs Blossom, 128 acres of beautiful woodland canyons where TLC holds a conservation easement, and we were just in time to find the landowners Peter and Marianne Bonenberger still in their pajamas. They greeted us like old friends and were glowing with excitement for the morning ahead. They were so thrilled to share their stories, knowledge, and love for the land with our guests.
This was our second time partnering with another group for a guided hike, and we were eager to start this new relationship. Latino Outdoors is a network of leaders who are committed to engaging Latinos in the outdoors and connecting families and youth with nature. We knew it would be the perfect partnership since we have access to some pretty incredible natural areas and love getting people out to experience them.
This hike made me feel connected not only to nature, but also to the people I spent the day with. In a word, I was inspired. We wandered through the trails as Peter and Marianne pointed out all the unique and native plants, and told stories about taking care of the land. Peter’s story about how he almost cut off Marianne’s arm with a chainsaw was very memorable (he didn’t cut it off, just to be clear, but stitches were required). The kids on the hike ran around with their hiking sticks, hugging trees, smelling things our guides pointed out, and searching for fossils. I overheard one boy shout “this is so fun!” to his friend as he hiked up the booty-busting hill to our last scenic view. It felt pretty great to know that we were a part in connecting this young kid to nature, and he was loving it.
Stephen, the dedicated birder that he is, spent the hike trying to make sure we all got to see the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler. At the very end, as we were hiking back down from the scenic overlook, his dedication paid off! The beautiful yellow and black bird flew up to perch on the tallest tree for everyone to admire from our perfect vantage point. It was truly special.
One of the moments that stuck out to me was when Peter talked about the importance of conservation. He emphasized that we don’t just protect nature for nature’s sake; we protect it for people, too. Wildlife and people both depend on our natural resources to survive. Wildlife is quite sensitive to diminishing natural resources, and the devastating consequences have an amplified impact on them compared to humans. But just like the canary in the coal mine, when wildlife starts to disappear, we have to remember that we could be next.
I don’t like doom and gloom stories that make people feel hopeless about our future—and this isn’t one of those stories. This is a story of hope. We have incredible landowners who love the land and care for it every day, people who spend their whole careers working to protect nature, parents who make sure their children have a connection to the natural world, and a future generation that thinks being in nature “…is so fun!”
Being in nature is always enjoyable, but for me, getting to experience it with others is inspiring. We’ve got a lot of work to do here in Texas to make sure our natural places are protected forever; but after seeing how much these wonderful landowners and hikers care about this beautiful landscape, I know we can accomplish just about anything.
First photo on the right by Maren McLaughlin-Klotz
Other photos on the right by Josie Gutierrez
Bottom two photos by Stephen Ramirez
Thank you to our landowners Peter and Marianne for their wonderful enthusiasm, and thank you to Latino Outdoors for sharing this experience with us.