And that would be the 155-acre Houston Arboretum and Nature Center on the western edge of Memorial Park. Its home to more than 100 varieties of trees and shrubs, 31 mammals, a dozen amphibians and two dozen reptiles, and all within four miles of downtown.
“It’s a sanctuary for the animals and plants, but a lot of people find sanctuary here too as well.”
That’s the Arboretum’s Lori Hutson. We had ridden an electric cart out to the pond in the Arboretum’s meadow, and had to stop at one point to make way for a box turtle.
“We’re open every day of the week, 365 days a year, I see another turtle over their on the bank, yeah it’s a turtle day. And there are no animals in cages or anything, actually lots of turtles, so it’s just what ever you get. At different times of the day you see different things. If you come early in the morning you see birds, we do bird walks early in the morning, that’s a good time to see birds. We do night hikes for owls, we do owl prowls to see owls at certain times of the year, usually winter is the best time to see them or hear them in the forest.”
As we stood and listened to the natural sounds around us, including squirrels chattering in nearby trees, a Green Heron landed in a tree not ten feet from us and on that pond, on that sunny day, it was the best show in town.
But the Arboretum and nature Center is more than five miles of trails, the meadow and pond or the many other outside features. Inside the main building is the Discovery Room, where thousands of school children each year learn about that nature in the middle of the city. One interactive display is a large tree full of wildlife. Kids pick up telephone handsets on pedestals and hear about each item and then they find it on the tree. Joshua Dean goes to Aldine ISD’s Anderson Academy and he had just heard about a particular butterfly.
“It’s yellow and black and it is right there. I saw some snakes, three of ’em.”
Lori Hutson says a school trip to the Nature Center is not just a day at the park.
“There actually called ‘guided field experiences’ and that very much describe what we do with students when they come out. The whole idea is that we have 155-acres and this is a living laboratory in a sense for science education.”
Hutson says the Arboretum affords the kind of peace and serenity that more people should experience. All it takes is turning at the sign on Woodway.
“You can come here and see turtles and butterflies and snakes and frogs and bring the kids and be in the middle of town and not have to drive an hour or two to go and enjoy nature-we’re right here.”