North Texas Daily

Denton’s butterfly garden offers educational opportunities for students, residents

Denton’s butterfly garden offers educational opportunities for students, residents

Denton’s butterfly garden offers educational opportunities for students, residents
July 02
22:04 2018

It may come as a surprise to some city-loving Denton residents to discover what lies within the Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center. Located at 3310 Collins Road, the center is tucked on a country road that seems to suddenly transform into a tunnel of bright green trees.

A seemingly hidden secret, the Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center is filled with various programs, resources and hiking trails – even a butterfly garden.

With Denton being a Bee City – a city that commits to bringing awareness to pollinators – it’s no wonder why Clear Creek held a Volunteer Day at the Pollinator Garden last month.

Vickee Beach, a UNT rehabilitation studies graduate and new employee at Clear Creek, attended Volunteer Day.

“I was wanting to work with people with disabilities or disorders, like mental disorders, but I’ve also always loved the outdoors, so I ended up here for now,” Beach said.

Clear Creek propagates plants that are native to Texas in a greenhouse and then plants them out in the gardens. Most of these plants are pollinators.

There are a variety of pollinator gardens, like the Pocket Prairie garden, that combinations of master naturalists, master gardeners and programs — such as the Native Plant Society, Trinity River Group and STEAMgrown Gardens — help look after. There is also a vegetable and flower garden where plants like sunflowers, zinnias, tomatoes and corn can be found. The vegetable garden is used for seed saving and educational purposes, and the excess produce is donated to different nonprofits.

“It’s just like a circle of life happening here and it’s just awesome,” Beach said.

Sarah Luxton, a sustainability coordinator for the City of Denton who often assists in different programs that take place at Clear Creek, said one of the most popular pollinator gardens is the Pocket Prairie garden.

“[The Pocket Prairie garden] is really easy for kids to identify,” Luxton said. “There is also a guide that goes with it, and so that’s really good for educational purposes. It’s got a lot of really cool native plants and flowers that kids can look at and identify.”

Phyllis Minton, who was a flight attendant for 40 years and has been retired for 10 years, also attended Volunteer Day. Being retired has given her time to become both a master gardener and a master naturalist.

Phyllis Minton, a master gardener and master naturalist, at the Denton Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center during Volunteer Day in the Pollinator Garden. Emily Olkkola

Minton is able to name any flower in the pollinator garden, including the fluffy, blue Gregg’s mistflower, which many of the queen butterflies were attracted to. Queen butterflies are in the same family and coloring as monarch butterflies, except monarch butterflies have a little more of a black stained glass window outline and are a little larger.

“Well, it’s that Gregg’s mist, you know, putting on a show right now,” Minton said. “She’s an easy self-seeder. You will always have more of it to give away. It’s wonderful.”

Minton also interacted with some of the estimated 60 kids who were in attendance on Volunteer Day.

“Some of the children here today planted a few new plants, which will be fun to see how they mature and grow up,” Minton said.

Pollinators other than butterflies also took a gander in the pollinator garden.

“[We have] lots of varieties of bees — big and little — here,” Minton said.

Although the pollinator garden does not contain milkweed, one of the monarch butterfly’s favorite plants, the areas around the garden contain a lot of milkweed that is ready to seed.

“We know this is a happy area for monarchs to come and lay their eggs and get the whole thing started,” Minton said. “Anybody can come out here and take a walk and have it be a pleasure.”

More than butterflies

The Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center is leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and protects the watershed between lakes Ray Roberts and Lewisville. Even though Clear Creek is about 2,900 acres, Luxton said people normally only hike around a couple hundred acres of it.

“This is essentially a nature preserve, so we try and do prairie restoration,” Luxton said.

Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center has worked with the Blackland Raptor Rescue. There are also bird walks usually led by master naturalists on the first or last Saturday of each month. People can see anywhere from 20 to 30 different types of birds while on one of the walks.

“We’ve had different bird releases,” Luxton said. “[Blackland Raptor Rescue has] had birds that have been ready to be rehabilitated, so we’ll release them on here. You might see owls out here.”

The Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center also provides educational activities to Denton ISD, where more than 5,000 students have visited this past year. This past semester, Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center teamed up with master naturalists to help compliment in-class lessons and provide more activities for the teachers, students and parents who attended.

Luxton said one of her favorite events Clear Creek has hosted for students was one that involved showing young students different types of animal fur.

“[The kids] could see what the coats looked like, and I know some people are like, ‘Where did these come [from]?’” Luxton said. “Master naturalists are on the trails constantly, so [that’s where] they find stuff like [pelts]. [The kids] were able to see what the animals looked like and feel their coats. They also had a sample of what the animals would eat, so [we answered questions] like, what does a squirrel eat? What does a rabbit eat? What does a coyote eat?”

The master naturalists in that particular event also discussed different types of grasses and owls, and took the children on a hike to a Cottonwood tree.

“The feedback we got was that the teachers were really thankful to have [the master naturalists] because they did this voluntarily,” Luxton said. “They just saw a need. They wanted to help make this a more enjoyable experience for the children, the teachers and the parents that came here by providing more lessons and more activities for the kids and giving them a little bit more to do.”

Featured Image: A Queen Butterfly at the Denton Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center during Volunteer Day in the Pollinator Garden. Emily Olkkola

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Emily Olkkola

Emily Olkkola

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