New Year's Resolution: Be Black In Nature (A More Affordable Solution)

2021 is here and everyone knows what that means...RESOLUTIONS. 2020 has been a year of heartache, change, unity, and revolution for Black folks in America, and as we continue to demand equity in every aspect of the "American dream", we also begin reshaping, reevaluating, and redefining ourselves. For myself, a big part of redefining my existence was stepping back into nature regularly. I love nature, but for years the concept of "experiencing nature" was more of a luxury that I allowed myself to indulge in, rather than a necessary venture to maintain my health and sanity. I would only allow myself to hike, volunteer, or just be in nature on weekends because I treated normal, every day, outdoor activities like "special occasions".

As a result of this, I began to think about how my family spent time outdoors during my youth. We would often visit parks, take walks, or barbecue, but we would only do these things on holidays, birthdays, or during family reunions. Rarely would we indulge in nature on a random weekday or consistently throughout my youth and, even though my love for nature continued into adulthood, I retained many of these same practices and beliefs. Nature, then, was a luxury that I felt I could not afford to indulge in daily. There are thousands of reports and hundreds of studies that support the notion that nature is an essential part of human health, growth, and development, but rarely are Black folks educated about affordable ways to get into nature. One barrier that my family faced when it came to accessing natural spaces/experiences was affordability. My mother was a single mom with two kids and, often, working two jobs. Things such as camping, kayaking, hiking, and/or visiting state/national parks weren't easily attainable and often costly. Had my mother known about the fee-free policies of the Trinity River Audubon Center or the Oakcliff nature preserve, she might've been more inclined to take my brother and I on regular hikes along the centers' many trails.

So I am hoping to share a bit of what I have learned this year (2020), it hopes that it will encourage more people to return to nature and to incorporate it into their everyday lives, not only for the sake of their physical health but also their mental wellbeing. Some of these places require a bit of driving, but most facilities mentioned below are fee-free.

No matter where you choose to go remember to bring plenty of water, a first aid kit, snacks, and a hat for shade!

1. Texas State Park Annual Pass

2020 was the first year that I purchased a $70 annual Texas State Park pass because I learned, for the first time, that it was cheaper than paying the daily $7 per-person fee to visit a State Park. With the annual pass, the entrance fee was waived for everyone inside the vehicle. So for a family of five, the pass eventually pays for itself in three visits. My family and I have saved over $400 this year alone utilizing the annual park pass. There are around 80 state parks in Texas, many of them located in and around the DFW area. With the park pass, you get discounts in the park stores, discounts on camping, and fee-free entrances into ALL state parks for ALL passengers within the vehicle. Buy an annual pass here!

2. Trinity River Audubon Center in Pleasant Grove, Dallas TX.

I grew up in Pleasant Grove, only minutes

away from the Trinity River Audubon Center, but I was well into adulthood before I learned what the Audubon Center even was. Residents of Pleasant Grove can enjoy the park and most of its many amenities free of charge. Non-residents are required to pay a small fee (Adults: $6, Children: $3, Seniors 60+: $4). The park is composed of hardwood forests, wetlands, and prairie lands. There is an abundance of wildlife within the park. Deer, bobcats and coyotes call this urban park home, and don't worry about being attacked by a wild animal. There have been zero reports of attacks at the Trinity River Audubon Center. The center also has a paved trail for easy accessibility. There is also a DART bus stop for those without a way to travel to this location! Click here to visit the website!

3. Ladonia Fossil Park, Ladonia TX.

Enjoy fossil hunting? The Ladonia fossil park is an hour and a half away from Dallas, but well worth the scenic drive. Once you reach the park, there is plenty of parking and no parking or entrance fee! The fossil park is open to the public, and you are free to keep any fossil you find. To get down to the river, one must first climb down steep stairs. Unfortunately, the river isn't easily accessible, but across the street from the parking lot is a small trail that can also be taken to the river. The trail is muddy and a bit of a hike, but some have said it is easier and safer than the steep stairs. In the summer time, the river bed is usually dry and easy to walk. Towards the winter and fall seasons, as more rain falls, the river becomes muddier BUT there are always fossils waiting to be found. Click here to plan your trip and join the facebook group!

4. Mineral Wells Fossil Park, Mineral Wells TX.

More fossils anyone? The Mineral Wells Fossil Park is located about an hour and forty minutes from Dallas. Once you have arrived, you will notice a large tent, a giant hole (or crater) in the ground and plenty of parking. This fossil park is a lot more accessible than Ladonia. There is plenty of space for fossil hunting and social distancing. We were easily able to find fossils on the surface of the ground without having to dig! Aside from the tent, there isn't much shade here! Click here for more info!

5. Clear Creek, Denton TX.

Clear Creek is located about an hour away from Dallas in Denton Texas. It is a small park with a LOT to offer. It has miles of trails that wind through forests, prairies, and wetlands. Clear Creek has a beautiful pollinator garden at the entrance of the park and most of the trails are easily accessible, though many of them are prone to flooding. However, the Clear Creek Instagram page keeps the public updated regularly about trail accessibility. Click here to visit the website!

6. Spring Creek Preserve, Garland TX.

I recently got to enjoy the beauty of this park. It is quaint and pristine, located in Garland Texas within the DFW area. This park is also fee-free. While we didn't get to walk the entire length of the park's many trails, we did get to spend several hours exploring the creek banks water, and edges. We found a large piece of calcite and lots of fossilized wood. The website offers more about this park, it's trails AND fossils!

7. Crawford Memorial Park, Dallas TX.

This park is located in Pleasant Grove. It is a fun family park with picnic tables, grills, basketball hoops, a play area for children, and a 1.7 mile walking/running trail. Though the park is located in a bustling neighborhood, it is packed with wildlife, insects, and forested areas. There is no entrance fee and plenty of parking space. Click here for more info about parks in Dallas.

8. OakCliff Nature Preserve, Dallas TX.

The Oakcliff Nature Preserve is located in Dallas Texas. It is tucked away, but easy to find with Google Maps (Apple Maps will lead you elsewhere so use GOOGLE). The park is small and the trails are well maintained. The park is a popular spot for bikers. Parking here is a little tight, but you can always park on the street or just outside the entrance. This park is fee-free and has some picnic tables and trails that are easy to navigate for people of all ages.

9. Piedmont Ridge Trail, Dallas TX.

This trail is small and kid-friendly. Even though the trail is located in proximity to a neighborhood, it is still surrounded by nature. It is less than 2 miles long and the trails are maintained very well. This is a great place to visit for daily walking/running and family time.

10. Post Oak Creek, Sherman TX.

Post Oak Creek is located about an hour outside of Dallas and aside from the beautiful creek scenery, this location is known for SHARK TEETH FOSSILS! We found roughly 10 different sizes of shark teeth at this location in less than an hour. You have to pay attention to water levels at this location, but other than that the visit was amazing. We didn't get to do much hiking the creek due to high water levels, but we were able to trek through the low flowing parts of the creek to a small island. We were able to sit on the island and shift through the sand for all kinds of cool fossils! This location is not easy to access.

11. The Great Trinity Forest Gateway and Horse Trail, Dallas TX.

Located in Dallas Texas, tucked away at the end of a Pleasant Grove neighborhood, is this amazing slice of paradise. It has a small man-made lake and a dirt trail that goes in a complete circle (0.6 miles). There is a trail that leads away from the lake and park and is several miles longer. There are picnic tables, wildlife and barbecue grills. This is the perfect place to escape to daily. Fishing is allowed here with a permit, but other than that the park is fee-free. There is also a trail for horses (if you just so happen to own any). The park and trails are easy to access. There is plenty of parking!

These are just a few recommendations of the places I have personally experienced during 2020. Let's be honest the Zoos, arboretums and museums are great but extremely costly. One visit to the Dallas Zoo for a family of four, cost more than an annual state pass to visit any State Park in Texas for an entire year. With the pandemic numbers rising and more people searching for inexpensive ways to enjoy life, consider visiting any of the places mentioned while wearing a mask and social distancing. So, how about making a resolution that will not only benefit you, but encourage your friends, family and social network to make a lasting change? Be Black in nature, because nature belongs to everyone and you belong in it.

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