Arbor Hills Nature Preserve is located in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas. It is a 200-acre park featuring three distinct natural landscapes: stretches of Blackland Prairie, which once spread over the lands before cities and farmlands took over; riparian forest, which is wooded river-lands along the creeks; and upland forests, which provide shade and relief from the Texas summer heat. If you are looking for a fun afternoon away from traffic and crowds, then head on down to this beautiful nature preserve and enjoy the open spaces and the company of songbirds and butterflies.
Paved and Natural Trails
Arbor Hills Nature Preserve has an extensive network of trails for walking, jogging, hiking, biking, and enjoying nature. You’ll find 3 miles of paved trails winding through the preserve; the trails are open to pedestrians, bikers, strollers, and non-motorized vehicles. Natural unpaved trails for hiking are for pedestrians only, and they total nearly 5 miles, leading to a multitude of fun spots to explore. The designated off-road bicycle trail is 2.8 miles long and is located at the southern end of the park, not too far from the playground, shade shelter, and parking lot.
There is an old farming pond near the center of the park, accessible by the unpaved Pond Trail, which crosses between two portions of the paved trail. One end can be found near the pedestrian bridge. An observation tower with views of the park and the surrounding town can be reached by taking the paved Tower Trail. This is a great place to stop for a rest and take in the views before heading on. The unpaved Outer Loop Trail takes you around much of the perimeter of the preserve, which is a great choice if you want a longer walk.
Wildlife You Might See
As you explore the trails of the park, keep an eye out for wildlife and see how many kinds of animals you can spot. Birds to look out for include egrets, herons, and ducks in the streams and pond; owls and woodpeckers in the forests; killdeer and flycatchers in the meadows; and turkey vultures soaring overhead. Look for snakes sunning themselves near rocky outcrops, turtles near the pond, and fish swimming in the water. The preserve is home to coyotes, bobcats, deer, rabbits, and many other animals, so visitors are asked to stay on trails and keep pets leashed.
The woods along the creeks are known as “riparian forest,” from the Latin word for river. These forests contain trees like cedar elm, hackberry, bur oak, red oak, willow, pecan, walnut, and cottonwood. You’ll find this habitat stretching along the branches of Indian Creek, where it provides habitat for many woodland and water-dwelling creatures. Look for minnows in the water as you go by. Watch out for poison ivy, which grows on the mature trees and along the ground at their bases. Mesquite trees grow at the forest’s edge where the prairie begins.
The Blackland Prairie gets its name from its black clay soil. The dominant variety of grass in this grassland is called little bluestem because of its blueish tint, but in the spring, the prairie is covered in blooming flowers. If you’re here during the flower season, look for bluebonnets, which are the state flower of Texas. You might also see wildflowers like the brightly colored orange-and-yellow Indian blanket, beautiful magenta or purple winecups, delicate pinkish horsemint, and several species of yellow daisies. Keep an eye out for butterflies feeding on the wildflower nectar.
The upland forest is located on higher ground, away from the damp creeks, which is unusual as most forests in the area are found near waterways. This is one of the things that makes Arbor Hills Nature Preserve a special place that needs to be preserved. Shade trees common to the forest include the cedar elm, which is the most common elm in Texas and grows across much of south-central North America. Smaller trees that can be found growing under its canopy include the redbud, with its beautiful magenta flowers, and the fragrant pink-flowered Eve’s Necklace, both of which bloom in the spring.
Activities in the Nature Preserve
There are a lot of different things you can do in the park besides hiking. The preserve features several reservable pavilions that can accommodate your next outdoor gathering. There’s a playground for your youngsters, along with picnic shelters and grills where you can enjoy family meals. You can search for the information panels around the park and learn more about the specific areas. And, don’t forget the designated off-road bike area. Some things that are prohibited in the preserve are skateboards, longboards, and all motorized vehicles. Amenities include restrooms and drinking fountains, information kiosks, and two parking areas.
At Arbor Hills Nature Preserve you can enjoy the quiet of the natural world, take in its beauty, and be grateful such places are still here for us and our children to marvel at. Take some time to read the information plaques and get to know about the natural world that sits so close to the city where you live. Fostering love and respect for nature is one of the key goals of the preserve. Near the parking lot, you can see the bio-filtration system that cleans runoff from the road and parking lot and returns it safely to the groundwater table.
So, the next time you have a free day, why don’t you brush off the city’s dust, hop in your car, and head to Arbor Hills Nature Preserve to enjoy some nature therapy and physical activity. Spend some quality time outdoors with friends or family. Have you been to Arbor Hills yet? It’s a place that many locals love to visit! What’s your favorite part of the preserve? At Huffines CJDR Plano, we’d love to hear what you think about your local park. Have you spotted any bobcats or coyotes yet? Drop us a line and tell us your most exciting animal encounter in the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve.
Image via Flickr by gurdonark