By Amy Martin – Aug. 27, 2019
Disneyland for nature nerds is coming to North Texas.
The 20th annual Texas Master Naturalist conference convenes at the Hilton Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront Hotel on Lake Ray Hubbard.
The conference runs from Oct. 18-20 with indoor presentations and outdoor field sessions. Over 600 naturalists are expected to attend, and those not in the Texas Master Naturalist program are welcome.
The conference features 14 tracks of naturalist classes and lectures, a myriad of educational displays, works by photography and art finalists and a silent auction. Outdoor field sessions, which allow attendees to get first-hand knowledge with experts, are also held on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 16-17. Keynote speaker for the Saturday night dinner is Trammell Crow, founder of EarthX.
“I have been to them every year since I became a master naturalist,” said Whitney Wolf, 2019 communication director for the North Texas Master Naturalist Chapter. “The only bad thing about it is that I can never attend all of the sessions I want to.”
It takes a naturalist village to pull off this eco-extravaganza. Texas Parks and Wildlife, which oversees the Texas Master Naturalist program, coordinates. North Texas Master Naturalist (Dallas, Kaufman and Rockwall County) is the host chapter, joined by Blackland Prairie (Collin and Hunt County), Cross Timbers (Tarrant and Parker County), Elm Fork (Denton and Cooke County), Indian Trail (Ellis and Navarro County), and other North Texas chapters.
For more on the Texas Master Naturalist 2019 conference, visit the webpage. For in-depth on the outdoor field sections, check out the Get Outside Guide. A description of presentations and outdoor sessions is here.
NERDY NATURALIST NETWORKING NIRVANA
Along with avian calls in her backyard, Wolf monitors the sounds of frogs and toads. A few nights she wondered: Was that a Rio Grande Chirping Frog she heard? Sure seemed far out of its territory.
At the 2017 Texas Master Naturalist conference in Corpus Christi, the amphibian made a noisy appearance at Sam Kieschnick’s nocturnal wildlife watching session. Wolf delightedly took a picture and learned the tiny frog had expanded its range into North Texas, probably by hitching a ride on Valley produce.
At the conference, attendees can geek out on amphibians, as well as birds, habitat rehabilitation, entomology, geology, wildlife, eco-education and more. Immerse yourself in everything you ever wanted to know about native plants, even mushrooms, mosses and algae. Another approach is to do a sampler of naturalist topics.
“I’m hopeful that North Texans will take the opportunity to attend the conference because it is being held in our backyard, so travel and lodging won’t be a barrier,” said Wolf
ADVENTURES IN NORTH TEXAS NATURE
For most of the Texas Master Naturalist conference’s 20-year history, annual gatherings convened in Hill Country and Central Texas. In recent years, they expanded to the Gulf Coast. This is the first time for the event to venture north.
The North Texas Master Naturalist chapter was ready, even maniacal, about showing off the area’s natural attractions. Through their efforts, the number of field sessions tops the amount of Hill Country outings offered last year.
“Visitors to the area will be fascinated by the personal stories and ecological transformations of many of the locations,” said Bruce Stewart, 2019 president of North Texas Master Naturalist Chapter.
“Like the Trinity River Audubon Center, where land was recovered from a dump, and Twelve Hills, a small nature preserve that arose on the site of an abandoned apartment complex. As like so many of these sites, master naturalists are involved.”
The phenomenally popular field sessions often take participants into areas they don’t usually get to view. Go behind the scenes at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas herbarium and Biodiversity Learning Center in Coppell. Take a day-long trip to the privately-owned Daphne Prairie and Ebels Grassland Ranch. They can also see familiar sites from a new perspective. A full-day bus tour looks at the North Texas landscape through a geologist’s eyes.
“The field session Fire Ecology of the Blackland Prairie takes participants to the Nature Conservancy’s Clymer Meadow and Collin County’s Parkhill Prairie. They get a close-up view on how prescribed fire is used to rejuvenate prairies,” said Stewart of the rare opportunity.
Mary Pearl Meuth, Texas Master Naturalist Program assistant state coordinator, extolled the event.
“It’s an opportunity for our extended Texas Master Naturalist family to gather and celebrate our accomplishments from the previous year,” said Meuth. “Attendees get a terrific recharge. There is nothing more fulfilling than interacting with people who are passionate about what they do.”
Gary Barton, who manages educational resources for NTMN, agrees.
“The conference is so much more than educational sessions, field trips, and awards dinners. It’s the sharing of ideas, everything from developing community projects to wildlife conservation,” said Barton. “I walk away with from each year’s conference knowing we are planting seeds for positive change in our communities and that our effort truly does make a difference.”
2019 Texas Master Naturalist Conference
About: 20th annual gathering of Texas Master Naturalists from around the state to learn, share ideas and be inspired. The event, hosted by Texas Parks and Wildlife with support from North Texas Master Naturalist Chapters, features seminars, workshops and daytrips to local naturals spaces. 166 sessions with over 30 outdoor field sessions. See Agenda.
When: Oct. 18-20, with pre-event field sessions Oct. 16-17.
Where: Hilton Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront Hotel
Cost: $245 for full conference. $180/1 day pass, $220/2-day pass.