Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area
201 E. Jones St., Lewisville, 972/219-7980; ias.unt.edu/llela
Hours: Friday–Sunday 7am–7pm March–October; Friday–Sunday 7am–5pm November–February
Admission: $5; free for children ages 5 and younger. Cash only. Annual fee is $30 per person or $60 per family.
Somewhere along the hiking trails of the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, you’ll see it: deer tracks. Two almond-shaped impressions in the sand you didn’t notice at first from your own boot print.
LLELA – “lee-luh” as locals pronounce it – is home to roughly 280 species of birds and hundreds more of mammals, reptiles and other wildlife in an area that spans 2,000 acres south of the Lewisville Dam. It’s here that those curious about wildlife and the area’s multiple types of terrain – bottomland forests, prairie grasslands, marshes and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River – can build a bridge with nature and discover North Texas as it was meant to be. “You need to be outside and see that natural environment, whether you realize it or not,” says Education Coordinator Lisa Cole. “People need that natural connection, and it’s hard to find around here.”
A consortium of government agencies, universities and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formed LLELA in the early 1990s. Because of its close proximity to the dam, LLELA closed for a few years following 9/11, but since reopening, it has been working steadily to eradicate invasive plant species, restore the land to its native habitat and reintroduce native animals, most recently a covey of Northern bobwhite quail in the spring.
See the progress for yourself along its four walking trails – each about two miles. The wide-set Cottonwood Trail leads toward Beaver Pond (with actual beavers), and the Bittern Marsh Wetland Boardwalk Trail takes hikers past two wildlife viewing blinds. Step inside the high or low blind for an undisturbed view of the fauna. At the river, cast a fishing line from the concrete structure beside the dam spillway or at any point along the shoreline. In the winter, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department stocks the river with rainbow trout. No fishing license is required for Texas residents under 17.
To see how settlers lived in rural North Texas, pay a visit to the Minor-Porter Log House, a restored homestead circa 1869. When you see how many wood beams it takes to construct even a small house, the kids will be much more content with the pop-up tent. Stay overnight at one of 18 primitive sites at the Redbud Campground. By morning, you’ll wake to the chirping of grasshoppers and may find that nature has left its mark on you.
Since its publication in the September issue of DallasChild, minor corrections have been made to this article concerning the number of species, leadership in ongoing projects and the structure of the fishing pier.