It was an hour or two past high noon on a mildly warm day and three people were standing near the edge of the creek, diligently recording the shade cover. “This is a densiometer, which we like to call a shadyometer,” said Anne Adams, the team leader for the aquatic survey. She was referring to the little device that measures the canopy closure in the riparian habitat, or in simpler terms, how much of the sky is blocked by the towering Cypress trees along the bank of Cibolo Creek. The team had been busy all morning and had already collected darters to check the quality of oxygen and water in the area (darters die out if the oxygen or water levels are too low) and examined the status of aquatic invertebrates (riffle beetles and caddis fly larvae are indicator species for water quality). The scientific method for collecting these invertebrates? The group kicked rocks in the creek, dislodging whatever invertebrates were clinging there, and then let the flowing water wash the invertebrates into a dip net. The contents were then dumped into a big pan and preserved in alcohol for later inspection by a biologist. For the team, this was just another typical data-gathering session, which occurs two times a year, in May and October.
You see, out in the Hill Country, there is an abundance of beautiful natural habitat that is going into decline. Certain plants and animals are slowly petering out as the human population growth rate increases. The folks at Boerne’s Cibolo Nature Center—the one-hundred-acre spread that is the only natural area open to the public in all of Kendall County—are devoted to preventing these plants and animals from becoming endangered species. Founded in 1988 by Carolyn Chipman Evans, the Cibolo Nature Center has flourished over the past seventeen years. Evans (now the center’s executive director) was raised in San Antonio, but she often ventured to the family ranch in Boerne, which had been around for seven generations. When Evans took her children to the creek she used to play in as a child, she found old tires, diapers, and beer bottles littered along the bank. “The thought that my children and other children would not be able to experience the majestic nature of the Cibolo drove me to action,” Evans said.
So she started the Friends of the Cibolo Wilderness, a nonprofit organization designed to restore and preserve the land where the Cibolo Nature Center now resides. At first, Evans ran the organization out of the back of her truck, sharing ideas with friends and doing workdays at the park to clean up the creek and restore the marsh, which had been filled in. Partnering with the city, the Friends of the Cibolo Wilderness was able to lift all the rubble out of the creek and dig a pond. Once the rains came, the restoration was complete: The whole bank was lined with white egrets.
For two years Evans and her devotees cleaned up the area and built trails, and on Earth Day 1990, the Cibolo Nature Center opened to the public. Since then, the center has promoted educational programs, including outdoor classes on land stewardship, biodiversity, water conservation, and dinosaurs; day camps during the summer that get kids between the ages of five and sixteen to think critically about ecology through hands-on activities; a Trail Blazer club to get teenagers involved in community service projects; and land stewardship seminars for local landowners on water issues and how to care for their land. There are also ample opportunities for research; one of the most popular involves capturing snakes to determine what kinds of snakes live on the nature preserve. Dave Barker, a published herpetologist, brings his children with him on these data-gathering expeditions. In fact, more than half of the snake data gatherers at Cibolo are under the age of twelve.
The center boasts more than just education and research activities. From April through September, a series of concerts featuring stories and songs by local artists is held at the nature center. The existing century-old, 900-square-foot building, which was formerly the back section of a drugstore that was moved from downtown Boerne in 1992, wasn’t big enough to house it all, so the 11,000-square-foot Lende Learning Center, which includes an auditorium, a reference library, and a research lab, was built (with the help of private donors and a matching grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife) and opened in May 2005. Naturally, recycled materials were used to construct the learning center, which is also equipped to catch rainwater.
But at the Cibolo Nature Center, preservation is always on the brain. The nature center hopes to raise money and acquire the land across the creek to protect the property from adverse development. Of course, the folks at the center continue to do what they can to increase awareness of the natural habitat of the area and to maintain the environment. And they keep getting out the densiometer to measure the canopy closure near the creek.