Volunteering to Make a Difference for the Revitalization of Blair Woods
Blair Woods is a ten-acre, wooded wetland in the heart of highly urbanized Austin, Texas. It is located on a tributary of the Fort Branch Creek, which eventually makes its way to the Colorado River, and serves as an important “upstream” biological filtering system. The wetland, however, has suffered many years of neglect and as a result, invasive plants have run wild and proliferated. With a 2009 Innovation Grant, Travis Audubon Society enlisted community members to play a hands-on role in the restoration of the woods.
The team’s conservation and restoration goals included extensive exotic species removal, stabilization of the pond’s outflow, erosion control and seeding along a targeted riparian corridor, and aquatic management within the pond. With the help of volunteers, they removed approximately 80 percent of the four major exotic woody species from the targeted area; seeded a 10,700 square foot riparian area with a diversity of seed.; and stabilized pond outflow using five huge limestone slabs (each approximately 3 feet wide by 5 feet long by 7 inches thick), three pounds of seed, 183 plants, and erosion control matting. This all took part during seven work days during which they had an average of 20-30 high school, college-aged, and adult volunteers. Many of the volunteers were new to Travis Audubon’s work – some came from the fire fighting class at The Liberal Arts and Science Academy, some were from the predominantly African American and Hispanic neighborhood in which Blair Woods is located.
The education goals for the project were to develop curriculum specific to Blair Woods to teach students, teachers, and the neighborhood about the value of wetlands, habitat restoration, and invasive species management to birds, other wildlife and to humans; to organize and guide school and volunteer groups for work days during the habitat restoration process; and to create a curriculum that involves students and volunteer groups in the collection of data (including observations before, during and after project installation.
With their partners, Travis Audubon accomplished all of these goals. Twenty-six fourth and fifth graders from Norman Elementary School enjoyed classroom visits focused on bird identification, reading topographic maps, pressing plants, and exotic species, then went on an educational hike followed by hands-on work sessions at Blair Woods. Work sessions included planting aquatic species at the pond outflow, making and spreading seed balls along the riparian corridor and then installing erosion control matting, pulling weeds out of the trail, and clearing rough-cut mulch away from a portion of the trail. After the field trip, students created a bulletin board display about their experiences to educate fellow students about what they learned. They have now officially “adopted” Norman Elementary and will continue to provide the curriculum in school and at Blair Woods as long as possible. The school indicated that they wanted to take part in subsequent sessions in the fall and spring. In addition, Travis Audubon has been approached by the president of the PTA at another elementary school, who would like Travis Audubon to start a similar program with their students.