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Archive for the ‘McAllen Botanical Garden’ Category

At a workshop Monday, February 11, 2013, McAllen Parks and Recreation Director Sally Gavlik gave a presentation about her proposal to reopen the McAllen Botanical Garden.  Gavlik proposed that the park be renamed the McAllen Nature Park.  Immediate plans would include repairing the restrooms and reopening the park Wednesday through Saturdays.  Long-term plans include a small lake, an office and gift shop, and a 30-site RV park on the savannah area west of the forest.  Gavlik asked for $112,000 for start-up costs.  Although the commissioners do not vote during workshops, they seemed set to approve the proposal.  Mayor Cortez was not in attendance.

For all the details check out Gavlik’s presentation here: Nature Park Plans Presentation

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The McAllen City Commission will decide Monday whether to provide matching funds so the Valley Land Fund can begin restoring the McAllen Botanical Garden and eventually reopen the park and permanently protect the old growth forest within it.  Here’s what you’ve been missing while it’s been closed. 

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In May 2010, McAllen voters decided the fate of the McAllen Botanical Garden.  Asked to choose between a new 40-court tennis complex and preserving the site as a forested nature park, McAllen residents chose to preserve their forest.  Now this act has gone down in history—literally.

The timeline of the exquisite new history book by Eileen Mattei, Leading the Way: McAllen’s First 100 Years (McAllen Chamber of Commerce, 2011) includes the following sentence under the 2010 entry: “Citizens organize to save the McAllen Botanical Garden and the 1960s-era Civic Center.”

In addition, the long history of the park is recaptured in the 1962 timeline entry:  “Valley Botanical Garden, a preserve of palms and native plants providing habitat for horned lizards and indigo snakes, opens.  Norman Heard arranged to train mentally handicapped people here.”

These entries in McAllen’s official history book are an encouraging sign that McAllen citizens are reembracing the Botanical Garden  as a part of their heritage and will renew their more than 50-year-old commitment to this land by restoring and preserving it.  Such a project could have an impact beyond the establishment of a single park.  It could rekindle a passion for urban conservation in McAllen.

An organization of citizen volunteers formed the Valley Botanical Garden Association and on August 1, 1960 signed a lease with the City of McAllen for the property, establishing the Valley Botanical Gardens on the site before the park opened in 1962.

Conservation was a central part of the original 1960 mission of the Botanical Garden.  The founding Valley Botanical Garden Association committed to “conserve the Valley’s native flora for future generations.”   In 2011, we are the future generations they were preserving the Garden for.  Now it is our job to carry on this mission, to emulate the far-sighted citizens who came before us, and to preserve the Botanical Garden and the other remaining forested areas of McAllen for our children and grandchildren.

In her book, Mattei relates McAllen history through a series of turning points: the founding of the town, the early arrival of National Guard troops for training, the construction of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International bridge, and the establishment of the Foreign Trade Zone.

It would be wonderful to read in the history books years from now that 2010 was a turning point as well—one that ushered in a new  era of urban forest and green space conservation in McAllen and in the Valley.  History has shown that a group of determined, passionate citizens working together with their leaders can make this happen.

Copies of Leading the Way are available for purchase at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.  In addition, there are several copies available to check out from the McAllen Public Library.

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As reported in The Monitor, Dr. Andrew McDonald of the University of Texas-Pan American has completed a study of the 82,300 acre-area comprising the city boundaries of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, and Pharr.  He found that only one-hundredth of one percent of this acreage is dedicated to parkland.  He found that only a much smaller portion of the parks we have contains mature trees or native vegetation.  Indeed, of the total metro-area acreage, only 430 acres of urban woodlands remain, most of which is not protected as parkland and therefore threatened by development. 

It is critical that our city leaders act on this information.

McAllen Green Space has obtained permission to post Dr. McDonald’s article. 

Click here to read this important study in its entirety:    Native Vegetation in the Greater McAllen-Edinburg Area

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By Stefanie Herweck

We were greeted by the same family of Harris’ hawks who came out to meet us on our very first visit to the McAllen Botanical Garden.  Three months later, the two juveniles have much more of their adult plumage.  And something else has changed.  At our first meeting the youngsters just hunkered down in the tall Tepehuaje trees near the entrance and watched us warily.  This time they took flight along with their parents, and we were treated to a 4-hawk show of aerial acrobatics.

Juvenile Harris’ hawks born and raised in the McAllen Botanical Garden

Watching them wheeling and diving and passing near one another midair in the cloudless sky, it was easy to imagine the young birds experimenting with new moves on the wind, perfecting their form, and learning new skills.  It was hard not to think that they were experiencing something equivalent to joy in this.

Walking into the forest, we were engulfed by the noise of the cicadas.  The forest nearly vibrated with the buzz, and the usual small, sudden sounds of doves flapping and lizards scurrying were drowned out.  A few Garden residents were not intimidated, however.  The loud, clear, and creative songs of long-billed thrashers were audible over the background roar every so many yards along the trails.  As we walked out of earshot of one bird’s song perch, we would begin to hear his neighbor’s song.

One of the long-billed thrashers that serenaded us in the McAllen Botanical Garden

Before this visit, I had been reading about the history of the McAllen Botanical Garden.  The original idea to preserve a piece of old growth forest in the Rio Grande Valley was ahead of its time when the Botanical Garden was established in 1960, and the 60s and 70s saw the development of a Botanical Garden and conservation area to be proud of.  However, the Garden’s last 30 years have largely been characterized by neglect and deterioration which culminated in  it finally closing to the public several years ago.

It’s a depressing story.  But this hike reminded me that, although the Botanical Garden has been lost to us as a park for humans, its status as a habitat for animals has only been enhanced over the decades.  The forest that was already mature and worth conserving in 1960, is older still and more diverse today.

It is a tragedy that politics, ignorance and apathy have kept a generation of our children from experiencing nature in the McAllen Botanical Garden.  But while it declined as a park, many generations of Harris’ hawks have nevertheless tested their wings in its summer skies, and countless thrashers have sung countless summertime songs from its forest perches.  This is something to take pride in, to be thankful for, and to celebrate.

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