Today I want to showcase a wonderful project that I have been involved in, through Texas Master Naturalists.
There are over 150 lakes in Texas, but all of them except one, are manmade lakes. They were formed by damming up rivers in the 1930s and 40s for flood control, and then into the 1950s and 60s as water reservoirs. Being manmade and recent, they face various environmental challenges, such as erosion, silting, and invasive plants.
I didn’t know anything about these lake issues until I heard two speakers, Scott Ball and Scooter Langley, from Friends of Lake Livingston. To combat erosion around Lake Livingston, they had partnered with local high schools to grow native plants needed for the shoreline. However, when schools let out for the summer, there was a problem with keeping the plants alive. So they turned to the horticulture class Scooter teaches at the Ellis Unit of Huntsville State Prison.
Scott went in as a guest speaker, to introduce the project of growing American Water Willows in the greenhouses and yards of the Unit. He happened to be wearing his Texas Master Naturalist shirt, and the students asked him what that was about. He explained that it is a volunteer organization, run by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas A & M AgriLife Extension. Participants take 40 hours of class to learn about nature, and then volunteer 40 hours a year to conserve nature. The students said, “We want to do that.”
After a huge amount of work in getting all the necessary permissions, and organizing speakers for all the sessions, Scott and Scooter made that happen. It was the first time a Master Naturalist course had been taught in a prison (and so far, it is the still the only one). The first year’s class put together this video about the program, and when I saw it, I wanted to help:
Here is where the plants end up to improve the lake ecosytem–
I was able to join in as a guest teacher, and for two years now, I have gone to Ellis Unit to help introduce the Texas Master Naturalist program on the first day of class. I have really enjoyed working with these motivated students!
This year, I got involved a little further, and participated in the actual planting of the water willows at Lake Livingston. I saw firsthand the large number of volunteers and organizations who cooperate to get this done! I was not much help, I could not move fast enough in the mucky river, but at least one kid got to do his good deed for the day by pulling me out when I got stuck. This video shows the day that the high school kids come out to plant.
This next video is really special — one of the students wrote this song on his own. Watch it with Closed Captioning on to fully appreciate the lyrics (although the automatic CC does have a few mistakes, for example it says “we love aphasia,” instead of “we love nature”). Who knew you could rhyme words like “erosion” and “fertilization”?
This last one is not part of the actual project I work with, but it’s great; you can see these guys enjoy their moments of stardom!