Walking Plano Parks

After our winter weather, do you have cabin fever? Time to get outdoors. Here are three Plano Parks with paved walking paths. So get on those sneakers and go exploring.

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve 

Designated as a National Wildlife Federation habitat, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve features North Texas Ramblings -- Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano Texas200 acres of forest and Blackland Prairie. With over 2.3 miles of paved trail, Arbor Hills is ideal for strollers. The trail winds through forest, up a hill to a scenic overlook, and continues through prairie. At the trailhead, signs advise park users to watch for wildlife. The park supports a wide range of animals, from common grey squirrel to armadillo. The animals are shy and you are more likely to hear the scuttling critters in the ground cover, than actually see them. A well-designed park, the paved trail guides walkers and skillfully shields them from the development along the park’s perimeter. Covered picnic tables are available at the overlook and near the parking lot.

Located in west Plano, Arbor Hills is a popular spot on weekends for families and mountain bikers with the parking lot often filling beyond capacity.  To avoid the crowds, visit Arbor Hills on a weekday. Arbor Hills Nature Preserve is at 6701 W Parker.

Oak Point Park 

Another Plano Park nature preserve, Oak Point Park has an extensive concrete path system. The 3.5 miles of paved walkway winds through prairie, grasslands, and circles a pond. The pond provides prime duck and turtle viewing. The level pathway makes it an easy walk, though the green space is less scenic than at Arbor Hills.

The largest Plano Park with over 800 acres, Oak Point Park also has a series of natural surface paths that follow Rowlett Creek. An underutilized green space, Oak Point Park is quiet, even on the weekends. Located at 5901 Lois Rios Boulevard. The park has a covered picnic area.

Chisholm Trail

If you want a longer walk – say eight miles – check out the Chisholm Trail.  This green strip follows Spring Creek from Legacy south to Harrington Park. You can start the trail at Schimelpfenig Library (5024 Custer Road). Situated at the halfway point, the library provides adequate parking and easy trail access. From the library, head southeast. There is a paved pathway along both banks of Spring Creek with bridges periodically crossing the stream to connect the trails. The long linear parkway is bounded on one side by quiet residential streets and on the other by the creek. If you walk at dusk, the big rodents you see are not rats – they are shy nutria living in burrows along the stream’s banks. Intermittently along the pathway are small neighborhood parks with playground equipment. Chisholm Trail is a popular bike pathway and congested on weekends.

All three paved trails are open to bikers. To ensure a safe walk, remember to stay to the right of the trail and allow bikes room to pass. You can also bring your dog, if on a leash. Operated by the City of Plano, Arbor Hills, Oak Point, and Chisholm Trail are open from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.


White Rock Lake Pelicans

White Rock Lake, in Dallas, is a bird watcher’s oasis in the heart of the city. North Texas Ramblings Pelicans at Sunset Bay in DallasAmerican white pelicans are the lake’s wintering divas. Traveling from places as far north as Canada’s Northwest Territories, the pelicans begin arriving in November. The Sunset Bay pelicans roam the lake in groups of five or six. They feed together, herding fish to their compatriots. Big-billed wonders, the pelicans are a delight to watch and often come close enough for amateurs to photograph.

Other migratory water birds include cormorants and even the occasional roseate spoonbill. Great blue heron and egrets are year round residents, along with a few hundred American coot and a dozen “wild” domestic geese. Beware the coots and geese. Both goose and coot will mob the unsuspecting birder in hopes of a handout.  Rock pigeon and grackles round out Sunset Bay’s winged inhabitants, filling trees shoreline with noisy flocks.

Sunset Bay is located at 810 E Lawther Drive, Dallas. Shoreline parking is available and there is a small boardwalk for a closer look at the water birds.


Dinosaurs Live at Heard Natural Science Museum

Dinosaurs Live! A thunderous roar shatters the forest stillness. Beware; beasts not seen for millions of years stalk the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in North Texas Ramblings - Dinosaurs Live Heard Natural Science MuseumMcKinney. Young paleontologists recently discovered Dilophosaurus, Apatosaurus, and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex roaming the trails at the wildlife sanctuary. Sighted along a half-mile trail through forest and meadow, nine different dinosaurs roam. These life-sized dinosaur replicas roar and move delighting young dinosaur enthusiasts. View the creatures first hand now until February 15, 2015, as the Heard hosts Dinosaurs Live.

Billings Production in McKinney makes the animatronic creatures. The Heard dinosaurs are part of over 200 Billings’ dinosaurs found at zoos and museums throughout North American. The robotic dinosaurs are uniquely adapted to operating outdoors. A hinged steel structure within the fabricated body allows dinosaur heads and limbs to move. A computer program further enhances dinosaur movements making these monstrous creatures look and act almost real — Jurassic Park Texas style.

While the dinosaurs draw the crowds, there is much more to the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary. Once you’ve explored the dinosaur trek, take a stroll through The World Conservation exhibit to see modern day animals. Some animals are native to North America and others like the lemur are from exotic locales. Many exhibit animals imprinted with humans and cannot be released into the wild. Seized from an illegal animal breeder, some animals found new homes at the wildlife sanctuary. There are mongoose and capybara, the world’s largest rodents. An albino raccoon calls the Heard home,too.

Be sure to visit the Heard Natural Science museum basement. You’ll find small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The Heard museum exhibits change periodically. Its permanent collection includes Texas snakes, geology and habitat dioramas. The museum is ideal for families with small children.

The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 until 5 p.m. Pets are not allowed in the sanctuary and there is an admission fee. The trails around Dinosaurs Live are accessible with a stroller, however all trails within the sanctuary are on natural, unpaved surfaces — challenging for wheel chairs and strollers. Picnic areas are available. The Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is at 1 Nature Place in McKinney. Contact them at 972-562-5566 or through their website at heardmuseum.org.


Whooping Cranes in Rockport

Rockport is a picturesque seaside town with quaint downtown shops and a working port filled with fishing boats. But the area’s biggest attraction is not a place – it’s a past time – birding.

Rockport provides seasonal respite to migratory birds including the regal whooping crane.  The largest North American bird, the whooping crane stands nearly five-foot, mates for life, and has fought its way back from the brink of extinction.

The Whooping Crane – Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Numbering just 16 wild whooping cranes in 1941, the bird faced extinction.  Extensive species management including captive breeding programs brought the bird back from the brink, though its numbers are still limited (about 250 wild and an equal number in managed breeding programs).  The only natural wild flock of whooping crane winter in and around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

North Texas Ramblings Whooping CraneThe best way to view the birds is by boat. Tours operate from Fulton Harbor, taking bird enthusiasts through bays, along the refuge’s shoreline and to Matagorda Island.   In addition to whooping crane, you’ll see osprey, heron, pelican, ibis, cormorant and shore birds. For an exceptional birding experience, try an outing on the Skimmer skippered by Tommy Moore. Moore knows his birds and their favorite places to ‘hang-out.’

Rockport – Shopping, Aquarium, and Science on a Sphere

Downtown Rockport sports a surprising number of art galleries, antique shops and boutiques. If you are looking for a unique wedding ring or anniversary gift, check out Sazon Studio and Galleries where artist Ruben Villareal-Aiken handcrafts jewelry inspired by his muse, the whooping crane. The gift shop 4 the Birds is your go-to spot to get the latest information on area bird watching, and the store houses nature photographer Diane Loyd’s Salt Flats Gallery.

The Aquarium at Rockport Harbor has a collection of native fish. This small aquarium is fun for all ages. Be sure to take time to chat with the aquarium volunteers, and say hello to the star attraction Marley, a leopard eel.  The aquarium is open Thursday – Monday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Also at Rockport Harbor, you’ll find the Bay Education Center. In addition to its estuary exhibit, the Bay Education Center houses a Science on a Sphere theater. This unique system, developed and fielded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, projects films about earth science onto a suspended sphere instead of movie screen. Bay Education Center is one of just 50 U.S. facilities to host Science on a Sphere. Films are Tuesday – Saturday at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Admission to the Aquarium at Rockport Harbor and Bay Education Center is free.

Lodging and Dining in Rockport

Miss Kitty’s Fishing Getaways and Vacation Rental by Owner are two online sites for a list of vacation property rentals available in the Rockport area. For a more traditional hotel experience, highly recommend the Lighthouse Inn at Fulton Harbor. The well-run hotel is affordable and ideally situated with bay view rooms.

Restaurants are peppered throughout the area. For a funky, no-frills seafood boil dinner, try the Boiling Pot; Latitude 28 02 offers fine dining in a beautiful art gallery setting; and Moon Dog has oysters and a view of the bay.


Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Snowbirds are on their way, flocking to Texas to escape northern winters. No, they are not the two-legged variety driving RV’s. These feathered visitors arrive by wing. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, near the Texas and Oklahoma border, hosts up to 30,000 migratory birds October through February. Just west of Sherman, Hagerman North Texas Ramblings Hagerman National Wildlife Refugeprovides wetland habitat for thousands of Canada, snow and Ross geese each winter along with ducks, heron and songbirds.  Cormorant troll the waterways their long necks like submarine periscopes, great blue heron look like prehistoric pterodactyl against the sky, and thousands of snow geese honk a continuous serenade. In total, over 300 bird species call the refuge home. It’s a veritable birder’s paradise.

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge offers a four-mile, self-guided auto tour. Ideal for birders with limited mobility, the driving route gets you up close to thousands of birds without ever leaving the car. The best part, your parked car serves as an effective birding blind!

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge has recreational activities beyond birding. In addition to the driving route, the refuge has miles of hiking trails. You’ll find additional bird species along with many local animals like armadillo, rabbit, fox squirrel and the occasional coyote, bobcat and feral pig. Trails cover a variety of habitat from prairie to marsh to woodland. The Meadow Pond trail is along an unpaved service road that is an easy hike for families with small children. Enjoy a packed lunch at one of the many picnic areas scattered throughout the refuge.

The area’s history is as interesting as the migratory birds wintering at the refuge. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is named for a town now under Lake Texoma. Founded in 1904, Hagerman boasted 250 residents, church, school and cotton gin.  In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers built Denison Dam. The dam submerged the town and created one of the largest man made reservoirs in the United States. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge was established shortly thereafter in 1946 in the area near the former town site.

The refuge is unique in other ways, too. Among flocks of geese, you find oilrigs. The grasshopper-styled rigs date from 1951 when oil was discovered in nearby Big Mineral Creek. While the Army Corps of Engineers bought the land for the Denison Dam project, they failed to purchase the mineral rights. As a result, privately owned and operated oilrigs have removed millions of gallons of oil and natural gas from the refuge.

So pack your lunch and head out for a winter hike to Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Don’t forget your binoculars and bird book!

Details. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman. It is a day use facility open from sunrise to sunset. Visit the Friends of Hagerman website for information on free tours and talks at the refuge.

Update: Unlike past years, only about 3,000 snow geese are at the refuge this winter (2014). The refuge is still a fabulous place for bird watching.