Bright Leaf began as the inspiration of Georgia Lucas. She purchased the land in 34 separate real estate transactions in order to put together the property she named Bright Leaf. At the end of her life, she wanted to preserve the land so others could appreciate it and benefit from its beauty. A place for visitors to take guided hikes to learn about the land and as a place of reflection and meditation. The land was first under Texas Parks and Wildlife management and is now owned by the Austin Community Foundation. This private foundation is committed, like TPWD was, to maintaining the area and upholding the Lucas will. To gather 216 acres of contiguous undeveloped land within the city limits of Austin today would be impossible. This is a treasure we can thank Georgia Lucas for and do our part to hand down to future generations.
Bright Leaf is a powerful teaching tool for the many visitors, young and old, who walk its trails. The geology of Texas and the Hill Country is evident in the numerous fossils and rocks and the quarry area allows us to see how the layers of sediment were deposited at the bottom of the waters that once covered Texas. This is no dry classroom lecture; this is something people can really see and understand.
Botany is another discipline that comes to life at Bright Leaf. There are many endemic plants to Texas and the Edwards Plateau that grow in the park. There are also some very rare plants that are here. Streptanthus bracteatus is one of those and there is a group of agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, City of Austin, Travis County, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Lower Colorado River Authority) working together to find, protect, and possibly reintroduce the Bracted Twistflower to Bright Leaf and other areas.
Plants and animals go together, and at Bright Leaf the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler shows us how plants and animals are interdependent. Visitors learn that the warbler needs a certain habitat and uses bark from particular trees to build its nest. Springtime visitors get to listen for the call of the warbler as they hike the trails. The place of other animals in nature can be eye-opening when we consider other creatures such as coyotes, rattlesnakes, and vultures. These are not 'pests', but part of the ecosystem of Bright Leaf and they have their place. Visitors are welcome to try and see or hear the many species of birds that live year round at Bright Leaf or only pass through on their annual migrations. Some animals such as Great Horned Owls, Blotched Water Snakes, Jackrabbits, and many others who would have a difficult time living in a manicured suburbia, find a home in Bright Leaf.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has recently partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to offer a Best of Texas Backyard Habitats certification program. Wildscaping is an important concept for wildlife, water conservation, and an appreciation of the beauty of the native plants around us. Bright Leaf is a great place to see some of the native plants that can be used in wildscapes and are available at area nurseries.
As visitors enter the park, the first stop on the trail is Dry Creek. Guides often take this opportunity to discuss environmental issues such as the impact of herbicide and pesticide use by homeowners on the water quality of our drinking water source. Austin has impermeable cover limits and this is a place to show how faster runoff can impact local creeks and streams and increase pollution levels. Everyone, no matter their age, can see the plastic cups and aluminum cans that often litter the creek. Trash tossed aside often finds its way downstream into Bright Leaf.
Litter is also visible in other areas of the park. Items left behind by people such as cedar choppers over fifty years ago may be found in the park alongside other items that may be of genuine historic interest. Even children can see that trash they leave behind doesn't just magically disappear. It is important to pick up after yourself.
The visitors to the park run the gamut from preschool children out for a warm afternoon to a Nature Conservancy botanist teaching our docents about the tiniest plants along the trail to guests from Japan that the State Department and the Sierra Club want to show a little bit of Texas. The Sierra Club also has monthly conditioning hikes at Bright Leaf for its members and has also brought out kids with their Inner City Outings program. The Hill Country Outdoors group has members trained as docents who are bringing some of their over 400 members to Bright Leaf for hikes. The Travis Audubon Society has outings to Bright Leaf especially in the spring when it is visited by the Golden Cheeked Warbler. School groups find Bright Leaf very convenient to visit since it is in town, and children from the Austin Independent School District, St. Stephens School, and Kirby Hall School have come to enjoy and learn about the park. Whether written in Spanish or English, the notes from these schoolchildren are full of excitement and joy. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts often come to Bright Leaf to work on patches and badges and there have been several Eagle Scout projects completed here. College students have ‘shadowed’ the park manager to learn more about the job of managing a state park. And it’s not just young people visiting the park, the Sun City Hikers from Georgetown are often seen on the trail. Volunteers, such as the Central Texas Trail Tamers and other groups and individuals, give their time and hard work to improve the park and to help maintain the beauty of Bright Leaf.
The increasing population of the urban areas of Texas needs access to the outdoors and that the state parks can serve as natural classrooms. Bright Leaf is more than just learning though. It is also about more than preserving the land. Roy Bedicheck said "Teach a man to love the land and he knows by instinct every rule there is in the conservation book. And let him know every rule and have not love of the land, it availeth nothing." Bright Leaf, because it is easily accessible to the people of Austin and beyond is an ideal location to foster a love of nature and the outdoors that can last a lifetime. The joy on a child’s face when she sees a deer's hoof print for the first time confirms Bright Leaf truly is an urban treasure, an urban jewel!
Support Bright Leaf by:
* donating to the Friends of Bright Leaf,
* volunteering as a docent,
* scheduling a hike at the preserve.