Finding the Forest in the City

forest trailFirst, you need to leave Southern Methodist University. Drive south on North Central Expressway. Pass downtown Dallas. Merge onto Interstate 45 and soon you’ll see bright green treetops on both sides of the highway. Take Exit 179 to travel east on Loop 12. Take a right at the Trinity River Audubon Center.

This isn’t even a 20 mile trip and you’ve found access to the southern end of the Great Trinity River Forest. It’s 6000 acres of hardwood bottomland- wait, what’s that? Don’t worry, I’m an Environmental Science major and even I had to google it. Pretty much, it’s a forest in a broad floodplain along a river. Further east, these kinds of forests are also swamps, but since we’re dry Dallas, we have a unique forest that is adapted to being dry some of the time but flooded at other times. Our forest is perhaps the largest urban forest in the nation, and there’s growing interest in it from a variety of groups. Including groups at SMU!

The Institute for the Study of Earth and Man (ISEM) at SMU hosts the Gaffney Family Interdisciplinary Initiative that has provided a fantastic opportunity for undergraduates to work on projects related to the Great Trinity Forest. As a freshman, I got involved with the ISEM to create a list of organizations working in the forest and what’s being planned there. That’s how I found out about the Trinity River Audubon Center (TRAC) and what eventually led me to decide to work there for my Engaged Learning project.

Less than two decades ago, TRAC was an illegal dumpsite. Now it’s a 120 acre hotspot for birdwatching, nature walks, and environmental education. It’s an awesome story of reclamation, a dramatic change from humans abusing the forest to humans appreciating it. TRAC opened in 2008 and six years later, its restoration story continues. My part in the restoration story is to characterize TRAC’s ~40 acres of forest. My research will inform conservation management and support educational initiatives.

This spring, I have started ‘trekking through the trees’ to identify and measure their sizes. I used a computer program called ArcGIS to randomly chose 28 forest plots to sample. With GPS coordinates, measuring tape, and granola bars in tow, into the woods I go!

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