Category Archive: TxN General

  1. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Neema Mugofwa

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    By Neema Mugofwa, Texan by Nature Intern

     

     

     

     

     

    For me, Texas has always been home. No matter where I go, Texas is the place I’m most excited to get back to. I grew up in Cedar Park, going to feed the ducks at the Arboretum, begging for endless rides on the Zilker Zephyr, and stomping out new trails on the preserved land behind our house. Texas is the first place I learned to miss, and every time I’m away the Texas-sized well in my heart slowly empties until I return and can refill it with hours in the Texas sun.

    I went to boarding school for high school in Carpinteria, CA; a small, slow beach town that’s 15 minutes from Santa Barbara and home to the California Avocado Festival. The school was a tight-knit community on top of a hill, with mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. It was there that I went on my first backpacking trip, tended to the garden on campus, and ate honey from the hive run by the beekeeping club. Moving away from home at 14 is a pretty big step, but if Texas has taught me anything it’s that bigger is better.

    After fourteen years in the suburbs and four by the beach, my next stop had to be a city. I chose to go to school in the heart of Washington D.C.; a city so different from what I knew, but still allows me access to the dirt and fresh air I so need. I’m majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Science and minoring in Data Science with the hope that I can transfer the knowledge I gain in the classroom to give back and protect the nature that recharges me.

    We all know that everything is bigger in Texas, and I think that’s part of why I don’t shy away from big changes. Embracing the “big” is the Texas way. This doesn’t mean that we should disregard the small things. Instead, they become that much more important. Just like in nature, the big picture cannot be complete without each of its parts working together. From the bees to the trees to the humans that occupy any natural space, we all have to do our part to ensure the health and longevity of our planet. 

    Texan by Nature does just that. We embrace the big challenge of merging conservation and business by lifting up smaller initiatives that work towards a shared goal. Our mission is to make Texas more invested in conservation and sustainable development through innovation and entrepreneurship. Tackling the big by appreciating the small.

    The relationship I have with Texas is symbiotic. It has given me a home that I know well but about which I will always have more to learn, and in return, I will work to maintain the natural qualities that I, and many others, take pride in. That’s what makes me Texan by Nature.

  2. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Kayla Gillen

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    By Kayla Gillen, Texan by Nature Intern

    Playing in the bluebonnets.

    It seems I have always reflected upon the impact that “place” has on formulating personhood and personality. I was born in Austin to parents who had moved down from the plainlands of Kansas in search of a warm and inviting place to start a family and make some memories. The earliest moments in my first home were not too out of the ordinary: running through the fountains made by sprinklers in the prime of summer, flying endlessly and weightlessly on the swingsets at the park, and the smell of sunscreen slathered on at the pool. Most of these moments were tied together by a backdrop that characterizes Texas nature: the blue skies without a single cloud, the beating sun on the asphalt, and the relief of a shady oak tree or cold spring water.

    Later on, we moved just north of Austin to the Hill Country, where houses swam in a sea of green trees and the drives were fun. Each summer, I went to camp, and despite my protests to be indoors (there always seemed to be a heat warning), I made close friends and learned about the joys of telling stories on a hike in the woods or playing on the slides in the lake. One night in Girl Scouts, we got to spend the night at a zoo, seeing nocturnal animals awake and lively. I held snakes and saw an armadillo scurry around the room. I absolutely fell in love with the wildlife of my state.

    My love for adventure both locally and globally grew as I got older. As we traveled, my parents began to take my family snorkeling, changing my life and fostering the confidence I needed to become my own explorer. I fell in love with marine life and the feeling of being underwater. I knew then that all these experiences with the environment in the background would play a large part in finding my future direction.

    Leaving Austin proved to be extremely difficult for me, as I packed my bags to move up north to Boston (and to the cold!) for college. At Northeastern University, I am studying Environmental Engineering, and hoping to minor in ecology with a focus on Marine Biology. I am interested in using technology to enhance conservation and optimize the positive effects that humans have on their surrounding world. Even in my new environment, I think about how grateful I am to have been shaped by Texas from the start. It is hard not to miss the beautiful starry night and day trips across the state that filled me with wonder and curiosity.

    This deep wonder, curiosity, and long-lasting connection to the place that I call home, is what makes me Texan by Nature.

  3. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Nicole Roy

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    By Nicole Roy, Texan by Nature Conservation Programs Intern

    Wildlife and nature are central to the unique culture and history of Louisiana and Texas. It is a large part of who I am, and that’s what makes me Texan by Nature. When I was a little girl, I lived on this short, dead-end street. The end of the street opens up into Bayou Teche, a murky brown waterway whose slow-moving current matches the easy-going lifestyle of the Cajun and Creole people who live there. My Mommom (my grandmother) and my Mommy lived next door to each other on that dead-end street, and my GrandMarie (my great-grandmother), with her vegetable garden, lived one street over – three generations of strong, intelligent Creole women within walking distance located in the small town of New Iberia, Louisiana.

    When I slept at my grandmother’s house, I would wake up and peek through the blinds of my mom’s old bedroom, hoping to spot an alligator sunbathing on the banks of Bayou Teche about a mile away. Sometimes I was able to catch a glimpse of an alligator’s big, green tail slipping back into the water! I loved living in Louisiana!

    After I graduated from high school, I moved to Texas to attend The University of Texas at Austin. I was excited to embark on this new chapter and engage with another place’s culture, but a part of me was reluctant to leave my home state. Southern Louisiana celebrates their natural environment, such as seafood, sugarcane, and alligators with festivals, parades, and balls all year long. There is no place like it! 

    However, my fascination and love for Austin and Texas have grown exponentially during my five years here. Austin is my new home! Its entrepreneurial spirit is carefully balanced with a beautiful and diverse natural landscape, like the canyon waterfall at Westcave. I love finding new nature spots nestled within the bustling metropolitan area. Last summer, my mom, younger sister, and I rented a one night stay at a tiny, eco-friendly treehouse in Spicewood, Texas, just outside of Austin.

    Living at or below sea level for most of my life, I was not used to the slight rise in elevation when we drove to the treehouse. My ears were hurting the whole way! As we walked across the drawbridge up to our treehouse, it was so humid from the frequent rain showers. (Now, humidity…that’s something I am very familiar with!) The light rain misted over the thick canopy of trees and our treehouse, creating a tranquil and private space for us to eat cold pizza, sit outside, and simply be. I am at peace when I’m in nature, and I want to make it my life’s work to preserve these beautiful spaces. That’s what makes me Texan by Nature.

    While studying at UT, I combined my Chemistry and Plan II Honors (a rigorous interdisciplinary program) degrees to explore the field of conservation. My honors thesis Gator Neighbor analyzed the social history of alligators in southern Louisiana, and it discussed the environmental laws, science research, and conservation projects that saved the species from the brink of extinction. In my thesis, I also emphasized the importance of including diverse groups of people, like me, in America’s conservation story because they, too, have an established relationship with nature and wildlife. As a recent graduate, I am eager to transfer my knowledge and skills from school and continue working in the field of conservation at Texan by Nature. In the future, I plan to return to UT’s campus and attend their law school so that I can expand my professional capabilities even further to protect our natural environment for future generations as an environmental lawyer. 

  4. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Anna-Kay Reeves

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    By Anna-Kay Reeves, Texan by Nature Programs Intern

    The grassy expanse of the Llano Estacado region stretches around my hometown of Amarillo, Texas. My family jokes that it takes a special type to make it on the dry and windy plains. That is true enough for the region’s native flora and fauna, which develop strong root systems and can survive with relatively little water. Growing up, there was no better place to see the natural beauty of the region than the Palo Duro Canyon, a 25 minute drive from town. Though I have visited the Palo Duro Canyon many times, each time I make the journey, there is a sense of awe in the moment when the seemingly endless plains disappear into the country’s second largest canyon.

    When I moved to Austin to attend The University of Texas, it became apparent that the drought-tolerant mesquite trees and prairie grasses that made up my image of the natural Texas landscape were a world apart from the lush and humid Hill Country. A flowing creek or small pond is still a joyous sight to me, because years in a semiarid climate prone to drought gave me a lasting appreciation for water. Clean water in the right places shared sustainably amongst the plants, animals, and people that need it, that is.

    However, I didn’t always have such a clear understanding of the types of water that are worth being excited about. As an International Relations, Spanish, and English triple major, conservation was an interest I held apart from my career at first. As I learned more about how people around the world relate to each other through trade and technology, the devastating impacts of not making conservation and the environment a priority became clear.

    In the history and literature I studied, I learned not only the ways human cultures connect to nature and natural resources, but also how failure to conserve natural resources and failure to consider sustainability in business models threatens the environment, human rights, and the economy. It was evident that exploitation and mismanagement of resources were at the core of many regional and global crises, from military conflicts to water shortages. These realizations expanded my view of conservation and the impacts it can have, and I wanted in on this world-saving work.

    Texan by Nature is at the vanguard of the future of economic and environmental cooperation, and I am happy to join them in doing the work it takes to keep economies functional without making our world uninhabitable. Cooperation between business and conservation is awe-inspiring, because it’s what protects the natural world and the other moments of awe that come with exploring it. Putting in the work to take care of our state is what makes me Texan by Nature.

     

  5. What Makes Me Texan by Nature- Elena Gehle

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    By Elena Gehle, Texan by Nature Programs Intern

    What makes me Texan by Nature? The short answer is that I was born here and love this great state. The long answer is, well…

    22 years ago, I was truly blessed to be born a Texan. I don’t come from a long bloodline of Texans- my mom was born and raised in Tlaxcala, Mexico, and my dad was born in New York, but spent much of his childhood growing up in various Latin American countries. Nevertheless, Texas became our home, and what a beautiful home it’s been. I was raised in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Luckily for me, I grew up right before the iPhone era, so most of my childhood was spent outdoors looking for creatures or playing with friends. My parents frequently took my brother and I fishing and hiking, and they always encouraged us to enjoy and respect nature.  I was (and still am) one of those kids that had an obsession with animals. My poor mom had to endure me bringing a plethora of animals home- whether it be a toad, snake, or spider, I was fascinated with creatures of all shapes and sizes. Heck, I even kept mosquito larvae as pets (I know, weird). I wanted to learn as much as I could about nature, and spent lots of time reading books about animals, and drawing and writing about nature. Every time I wanted a new pet, I would make a PowerPoint presentation explaining the care of the animal and why it was so cool to try and convince my parents to let me get it. I must have been a pretty convincing little kid, because I was fortunate to grow up with and love many animals throughout my childhood. Our beagles Buddy and Molly were the best friends a kid could hope for, and they were always by our side, ready to play, explore, and eat every piece of food we dropped.

    When I was 8 years old, my parents bought 5 acres of land a few miles away from Brazos Bend State Park. The land was quite rugged and untouched with thick vegetation and an overgrown lake, and the only buildings were a little shack, an outhouse, and a big metal roof. I remember walking around it for the first time in awe of all of the life I saw around me. It was home for a myriad of animals- white-tailed deer, barred owls, praying mantises, amphiumas, and big fat largemouth bass, just to name a few. There were also many potentially dangerous species, such as cottonmouths, coral snakes, bobcats, coyotes, alligator snapping turtles, and the occasional alligator too. My dad taught me that even though they were “scary” and could be harmful, we should respect them because this was their home too, and they all had a role in the ecosystem. Rather than clear the land and kill the dangerous species, my dad decided to let a lot of the land be, so that the habitat for all these amazing animals could be preserved. We learned to be aware and observant of our surroundings so we could coexist with the natural world around us and stay safe, and I have carried this lesson with me throughout my life. However, I was also a kid, and kids will be kids. My brother and I would canoe and swim in the murky little lake, despite knowing good and well that there were snakes and big ol’ snapping turtles and other creepy critters. I would climb up trees and swing off of them using vines, which often snapped, thus launching me straight to the ground. However to this day, I somehow avoided getting bit, stung, or seriously injured *knock on wood*. 

    About a year after buying the land, I got to live out every little girl’s dream- we got two horses, Bijoux and Tiffany. I felt like a real Texan cowgirl learning to ride them and care for them, which involved shoveling so much poop. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed going to work on and take care of the land, and it never felt like a chore. Over the years, we have had so many great experiences there, and have gotten to show many friends and family the joys of the outdoors. That land was, and still is, heaven to me. Every time I go it feels like an adventure, and I will always cherish the memories I have there. I hope that despite encroaching development of the area, that I will be able to protect the land and all of the life it sustains for years to come.

    In high school, I was part of a foreign exchange program with a high school in Foshan, China. During my freshman, junior, and senior years my family hosted students from Foshan, and during my sophomore year, I got to travel to Foshan, China. The students that came had preconceived ideas about what Texas and Texans were like, many of which were surprisingly positive. They thought Texas was a place of great opportunity, and many of the students were already big fans of U.S. sports teams, especially the Houston Rockets. And of course they thought many Americans would be plus-sized (so what? The food is amazing in Texas). It was so fun to get to show them around our school and take them to Rockets games, many restaurants, George Ranch, Brazos Bend State Park, and Galveston, among other places. One thing that really stood out to them was how diverse Texans truly are, and how friendly everyone is. It made me proud to live in a state where no matter who you are or where you are from, you are welcome. I made many lifelong friends, and lots of the students I met through the program ended up coming to Texas universities for college. Texas is truly a land of opportunity, and it is important to ensure that Texans of all backgrounds are able to enjoy these opportunities and bring innovation to our great state.

     

    I am currently entering my final year at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em!), and am majoring in Economics and minoring in Business and Chinese. If I am not studying, I am out exploring Austin or visiting my family and the land. My yellow lab Piper is the light of my life, and I hope to take her to explore all of Texas’ great state parks. I am truly at my happiest when I am outdoors, and still love going fishing, hiking, and riding. I’m very excited to get to travel more once it is safe to, especially to China so that I can truly test out my Chinese!

     

    Although our state is great, there are still many issues facing Texas wildlife and Texans themselves. Extreme weather and hurricanes have destroyed homes and habitats and taken lives. Habitats are diminishing as development increases and pollution and waste continue. Economic swings have caused many Texans to lose their jobs and struggle to provide for their families. Political and racial tensions continue to divide Texans. Coronavirus has deeply impacted people and businesses across the world. The list goes on and on. But we Texans are tough, hard working people. We are resilient, and will continue to come up with innovative solutions to make our state even better. It is so important to remember and believe that we as individuals can make a real difference. Making small changes in our own lives, whether it be deciding to volunteer in your community, learning more about sustainability, or simply deciding to be more open and let yourself learn from others different from you, can make a huge impact in your community. I am so grateful to be a part of the team at Texan by Nature and work to make a positive impact in Texas communities and our natural world. 

     

  6. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Caitlin Tran

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    By Caitlin Tran, Texan by Nature Conservation Marketing Intern

    Roughly 50 years ago, both of my parents and their families boarded fishing boats in Vietnam in search of safety and a new home. In international waters, US ships allowed them to board and took them to the West Coast of the United States. From there they received sponsorships that brought them to East Texas, where they were able to continue their lives, earn an education, and build a family. It was an amazing journey to Texas that has given me the life I have today.

    I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb 30 minutes southwest of Houston, five minutes from the Brazos River, and a short trip from the coast. Some of my favorite childhood memories include biking along the river, watching alligators, camping near lakes, and body surfing on the beach. I hadn’t realized how lucky I was until I grew older, when my town became increasingly urbanized. What seemed like an endless forest had turned into concrete strip malls and neighborhoods.

    I remember learning about the importance of permeable surfaces to streamflow recharge and floodplain management in environmental science, right before Hurricane Harvey hit. I could only imagine how the results of the storm could’ve been different. Maybe if rapid urbanization accounted for long term environmental effects, farms downstream wouldn’t have flooded. Maybe if more people understood the importance of water management and climate change, less lives would’ve been lost. The devastation and flooding that ensued was life changing for me and many others. After witnessing the power of such a large storm and the flooding of my hometown, I knew I wanted to study Geosystems Engineering and Hydrogeology at The University of Texas at Austin. My studies taught me the complexities of the hydrologic cycle, natural disasters, and the importance of conserving our natural resources.

    My time at UT afforded me so many opportunities to see Texas in a totally different light. In my geology courses, we frequently took field trips across central Texas, and I became enamored by the diversity of geology and landscapes within our state. I was able to do some fun research projects that measured water availability between the soil, plants, and atmosphere in response to different climatic environments, as well as map large geologic formations. I learned about changes experienced by the earth in the depths of geologic time and realized humans are only one tiny blip in that timeline. Still, our actions today will directly impact our future and the future of our Earth.

    After college, I knew that I wanted to be a part of an organization that would facilitate my desire to promote conservation and a sustainable future. Texan by Nature works to create this future, forging relationships between businesses and conservation so that generations of Texans may enjoy the land as we have. Texas gave my parents a place to call home and I will forever be grateful for the life it has afforded me. No matter where I go or what I do, I will always be Texan by Nature.

     

     

  7. First End to End Ride of the Paso del Norte Trail

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    By Jenny Burden, Program Manager at Texan by Nature

    My day job is Program Director at Texan by Nature, but most weekends you will find me riding my mountain bike all over the state. Riding a bike in Texas means you have thousands of miles of geographically, ecologically, and topographically diverse trails and roads ready to explore. From the dense Piney Woods to the rolling Hill Country, to vast beautiful deserts, Texas truly has it all for riders seeking adventure: year-round good weather, and amazing food choices for post-ride recovery.

    Jenny Burden
    Jenny Burden

    As a cyclist who calls this amazing state home, I am here to tell you that if El Paso is not on your bucket list, you are missing out. Located at the very western tip of Texas, bordering Mexico and New Mexico, El Paso is probably not what you think it is. There is the desert and the occasional tumbleweed, but there are also beautiful mountains, a mighty river, miles of uncongested gravel and paved roads, and some seriously premium mountain biking trails. There are also friendly locals, affordable places to stay, and some of the best Mexican food in Texas. 

    Texan by Nature partners with conservation projects and programs across the state to offer consultative services, free of charge, helping them increase their impact via marketing, coalition building, increased investment from partners, and more. In 2020, we chose El Paso’s Paso del Norte Trail for one of our programs. After about 10 months of working to help them expand their audience, highlighting the incredible potential impact a 68-mile trail network could have on the region, it was time for a COVID-safe site visit to film a video highlighting the project, meet the incredible leaders making it happen, and, of course, a bike ride!

    What started as a quick conversation with a corporate partner based in the region that I knew shared my passion for bikes, turned into the brilliant and fun idea to put together a group for the first-ever end-to-end ride of the proposed route. Soon after, I found myself on a plane with my bike packed away in my Airport Ninja bag, headed to El Paso to explore the trail myself.

    Background: The Paso del Norte Trail

    Serving a population of 2.7 million in the region between El Paso and their sister city of Juarez, Mexico, the Paso del Norte (PDN) Trail has a vision to improve environmental, economic, and public health conditions for Texans, and their neighbors, from all walks of life. This project is a community-driven, collaborative effort to develop a county-wide trail system in El Paso County.

    The roughly 68–mile span of the PDN Trail is divided into five distinct districts, each broadly defined by their unique geographical, historical, and cultural context, as well as various amenities and attractions. The PDN Trail provides essential connections for community members to businesses, attractions, parks, and downtown areas, including the University of Texas at El Paso, Ascarate Park, the University Medical Center, and the El Paso Zoo. Connector trails and loops provide additional access to natural areas and outdoor spaces such as Franklin Mountains State Park and the Rio Grande River. The PDN Trail provides breathtaking views of the Franklin Mountains and showcases a variety of natural landscapes and terrain, including floodplains, deserts, rivers, mountains, and wetlands. To enhance the native landscape surrounding the trail and create oasis for urban wildlife species, project leaders have also installed habitat enhancements such as Burrowing Owl tunnels, bat boxes, bioswales for stormwater management, edible plants, and more. 


    Paso del Norte Trail Bike Route Map

    The goal of Paso del Norte Trail is to create a regionally significant landmark that promotes active transportation, preserves the history and culture of the region, highlights the Rio Grande river, supports economic development and ecotourism, provides educational and volunteer opportunities, and makes healthy living the easy choice for this unique, binational community.

    If you live in a community that contains extensive trail networks, make sure to thank the leaders who made it happen. Trail construction is complex, requiring cooperation and funding from many stakeholders, enthusiasm from the community, and buy-in from decision-makers. The process is long, but the investment is always worth it for the added quality of life value brought by trails.

    The Inaugural PDN Ride

    When you go from Central to Mountain time, it makes a 4:45am wake-up easier, but only slightly so. Our plucky band of riders met at a University of Texas El Paso parking lot to load our bikes and bodies into a van (thank you, Sun Cycles EP for transporting the bikes safely!) to make the trek to the eastern border of the county in Tornillo. Although many of us already had our vaccines, we still were sure to wear masks and stay distant when possible. Of course, I was  sporting a Texan by Nature mask with my Texan by Nature kit! As the sun rose on the horizon, I could only think to myself that it was dumb to assume it’d be moderately warm in the high desert in March. The 41 degree temperature meant my fingers were already frozen at mile 0.

    Before the start of our ride, I shared my love of Tailwind Nutrition with the group, handing out sick packs of Green Tea and Lemon Endurance Fuel. Prizes of water bottles and buffs went to those who were willing to answer my Texas trivia questions. (Do YOU know what year Spindletop blew? The state flying Mammal? How many ecoregions exist across the state? Some people probably did, but not before sunrise!) When everyone grew tired of my nature-nerd inquiries at the early hour, I just passed them out to the rest of the group.

    Since the trail is not complete, our route encompassed both paved trail where it exists and roads or levees where it has yet to be constructed. Tornillo is a quiet agricultural area that made for a nice calm start to our journey, and the flat landscape provided plenty of time to warm up. Well, warm up the legs, because my fingers froze in my Handup gloves until the sun finally thawed me out around mile 10.

    As we pedaled closer to El Paso, traffic picked up and we began reflecting on just how life-changing trails for that side of the county could be. Current walkability is disjointed and road-dominant, making it difficult to connect neighborhoods and business districts safely. While many of us were experienced riders comfortable with the road, when we reached the first portion of the completed trail, with its wide paved surface, signage, and amenities, the stark contrast and lack of traffic noise created a peaceful silence that was almost deafening.

    The safest, most enjoyable parts of the day were without a doubt the ones spent on the trail. We refilled bottles, chatted with new friends, spotted wildlife, and enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine as we progressed, mile after mile, ever westward. We made stops at the Playa Drain Trail, Ascarate Park for an interview discussing the trail with the local news station, and the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to grab a bit of drone footage and a nice rest stop, courtesy of the Health Sciences School President and Medical School Dean who joined us for the ride.

    Welcome PDN Trail Riders Sign

    This trail is not epic in the traditional cycling sense, with massive climbs or technical features. It is easy and accessible by design, ensuring all skill levels and abilities can enjoy recreation and transportation along the route. What it lacks in challenge it makes up for in scenery. The Franklin Mountains that dominate the city landscape (a mountain range INSIDE city limits!) draw you in and watch over you on every mile. The Rio Grande river dances around riders, first one side, then the other, blurring the lines between Texas, New Mexico, and blending into Mexico, which glides by in brilliant color as you leave town and follow the segment of Texas Department of Transportation paved path along the highway, linking with the levee system on the state line. When we ran out of pavement, we took our bikes along these levees that still irrigate agricultural lands throughout the county when the river flows from Elephant Butte, putting a little gravel in our travel.

    After the levees, we hopped on the final segment of the trail, 12 miles of paved path winding along arroyos and through parkland, wrapping up what ended up being a 7 hour day of cycling. While certainly not fast, it was absolutely fun. By the end of the ride, we were toasting with cervezas and planning the next adventure, hoping to bring even more people along to explore the route with us next time. Although the ride was an absolute blast, I was definitely stoked to see our Podium FInish sag truck waiting at the trail end for a final check-in as we waited for the van to pick us up and take us back to our vehicles. The post-ride ceviche and tacos hit the spot. A day well spent, indeed.

    Suncycle group photo
    Group photo by Suncycle El Paso

    The Importance of Trails

    Trails improve the quality of life for the communities they connect. Of the myriad of benefits, PDN’s planned route highlights the ability of trails to:

    • Connect people to nature: Accessible trails connect people to nature, which positively affects their health and promotes a conservation mindset. The collaborative team working on the trail strives to ensure the PDN Trail is a trail for everyone, meaning it is safe and accessible to community members of all ages and abilities. Upon completion, the trail will provide greater opportunities for walking, hiking, and biking for users of all abilities to connect in the ecologically and culturally diverse border region of Texas. 
      • The landscaping along the trail will employ only native, desert-adaptive plants with the effect of conserving natural resources, like water, and will support the biodiversity and wildlife populations in the region. 
      • A safe, secure, and scenic trail will provide scenic views of the wetlands and connect trail users to multiple species of cranes, ducks, and other birds that pass through the region during migrations.
    • Transportation Alternatives: Upon completion, the PDN Trail will provide safe alternative transportation opportunities and recreational access to open space, rivers, mountains, and parks to over 2.1 million people in El Paso County and Ciudad Juarez. Trail users and community members will have safe connections to schools, parks, businesses, and downtown. 
    • Economic Value: Trail systems also bring economic value to their communities through increased property value, economic opportunities for local businesses engaging with the trail, improved public health, and overall greater “livability” for residents.
      • The PDN Trail provides indirect economic value through educational and recreational activities, such as the regular weekly rides hosted by Podium Finish, a local bike shop and café.
      • The trail provides direct economic value through increased property values and increased property tax revenue for municipalities. Trail development directly creates jobs associated with the planning, engineering, construction, and maintenance of the trail. 
      • Eco-tourism and bicycle tourism has the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year via spending at hotels, restaurants, retail, and cultural attractions. 
      • Additional economic value includes increased marketing opportunities and business for local businesses. 
      • Trail users and community members, in general, see indirect economic value through improved public health benefits associated with active lifestyles and reduced automotive dependency. 
      • Over time, municipal entities will realize reduced street maintenance costs due to reduced automotive travel and effective, on-site handling of stormwater through expanded green infrastructure. 

    Put simply, an investment in trails is an investment in the community as a whole. Trails create equitable access to nature, increase the quality of life for residents, elevate the attractiveness of an area for corporations and businesses, and improve public health outcomes. They are literal and figurative lifelines with excellent ROI. We at Texan by Nature will be following the progress of this project, and encourage municipalities across the state and country to replicate this idea in their own communities! 

    Thank You

    The ride, and of course the trail itself, would not have been possible without the help of local community advocates, who proudly advocate for this trail each and every day. A huge thank you to the following for hosting, navigating, planning, and of course, fueling a wonderful adventure:

    A version of this article was originally published by Tailwind Nutrition.

  8. 10 Lessons Learned on My Innovation Journey – Joni Carswell

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    By Joni Carswell, Texan by Nature’s CEO & President

    Recently I had the opportunity to speak about how women are innovating and leading at the Women of Innovation event at Dallas Startup Week 2020. Below you’ll find the audio version of my presentation along with the 10 lessons I’ve learned on my innovation journey, which I shared in this session.

    1. Embrace Your Background

    Little did I know that my journey would come full circle when I started my career in consulting and bounced from Georgia to Mexico to Florida to Canada to California and to Illinois before coming back to Texas. I’ve ended up drawing on my roots as a farmer’s daughter, a principal’s daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, an entrepreneur, a workforce grunt, a CEO – each experience has informed my knowledge base and shaped how I see problems, generate solutions, develop teams, and view my role in innovation. Recently, there’s been a movement for people to bring their whole selves to work. I have to agree – embracing all parts of your journey opens doors and ways of thinking that you might not even imagine.

    2. Be Flexible and Adapt (Be Open to What the World Brings)

    I moved around a lot at the beginning of my career. Sometimes I owned that choice. Sometimes I did not. My first day of work out of Texas A&M was an icy January day in Atlanta. The office was closed, but I went in not knowing what else to do. It turns out one of the partners was present. I did my HR paperwork, slid it under the appropriate door, and was on a plane for Central Mexico to help out on a project by 9 PM that evening. I was there for six weeks. It turned out to be an incredible experience, learning about communication systems, sewing floor operations, and enjoying the local culture. I look at that experience and laugh because it was the perfect beginning push to jumping into the unknown. As you iterate or look to improve any process, product, or organization, you’re always taking in new data and information. Be flexible in thinking and adapt to new situations and information. I subscribe to the ‘fail fast and move on’ philosophy – flexibility and adaptation are key in doing this well.

    3. Be Present, Observe, and Think – Ask “What if?”

    I shared my experience in this blog about shamefully failing at answering what I had observed while time cycling for a project. I’ve never forgotten the lesson. No matter how monotonous, no matter how small the task, be present – there are always ways to improve, to innovate. You just have to look for them. Be present. Observe. Think. How can this be better? What if this constraint weren’t in place? What if I brought a different partner to the table? What if these assumptions are wrong? This is something I think is vital in every. single. role. The value and innovation that one thinking team member can bring is immeasurable. It’s exponential if the entire team is present, thinking, and asking what if.

    No matter how monotonous, no matter how small the task, be present – there are always ways to improve, to innovate.

    4. Identify Your Weakness

    Oh, the weaknesses. Sometimes I think age is a blessing because you become so much more comfortable with identifying and sharing your failings. I see many innovators and entrepreneurs feel that they have to be good at everything. I’ve found that a more powerful place for me is to understand my weakness. Identifying my weakness has helped me develop where I can and evolve as a leader. It has helped me build balanced teams. Whether in the case of going to business school to learn marketing and finance or more recently in building the team at Texan by Nature, identifying areas of need and putting a plan together to address these have resulted in efficient, effective leaders for Texan by Nature and for our partners.

    5. Build Your Network – Collaborate

    As an introvert, network building is not easy or first nature for me. It takes time and purpose. However, it’s critically important in expanding perspective and keeping abreast of trends, opportunities, and important information. A mentor of mine recently pointed out that new entrepreneurs claim ‘stealth mode’ while seasoned ones are out talking to as many people as they can so that they can fail fast and adapt (thank you, network!). I approach network building through the lens of collaboration and learning. Studies show that collaborative efforts are more successful and fulfilling. We certainly see that in our work at Texan by Nature daily. I did not do a great job of network building until I went to business school. Even then, it was something that took work for me. Focusing on shared areas of interest like the outdoors, triathlon, travel, entrepreneurship, and leadership helped me start conversations and build deeper relationships that have resulted in collaboration years later. My network is 100% responsible for opening the doors to the CEO roles I’ve held.

    6. Know Your Metrics – Stand By Them

    Knowing my data has helped me at every point in my career. Whether in negotiating salary, creating deal terms for a funding round, developing market outlook, analyzing team workload – knowing the metrics and being comfortable with how they were developed has changed conversations and outcomes. Knowing my metrics, sources, and frameworks have given me something objective to stand in subjective spaces. I’ve been heckled and questioned to the point of discomfort, but being steadfast in the data changed the course of dialogue. Being able to succinctly walk through the business case for a project or organization has made the difference in closing the deal for me. Every single role I’ve held has required me to know the metrics and be confident enough in them to put my reputation and success on them.

    7. Step Up – Ready or Not

    At some point, if not many points on your innovation journey, you’ll be tapped to do something different or bigger than what you may have imagined for yourself. If it pulls at your soul and your passion, say yes. Do not doubt yourself out of the opportunity. You will learn. You will grow. You will identify your weaknesses and rise to the occasion. Some people call this fake it ‘til you make it. I say that if you’ve been tapped to do something, someone sees that you can do it and you can. Don’t think of all the reasons you can’t. Step up and embrace the challenge. Your journey has prepared you in a way that is 100% unique to you. If passion and soul are calling, you’re entering the sweet spot for innovation. Was I ready to run a technology company – maybe. Boy did I learn a lot! Was I ready to run a conservation nonprofit with limited conservation and zero nonprofit experience? Some would say no. Our success over the last three years says yes. Step up!

    I say that if you’ve been tapped to do something, someone sees that you can do it and you can. Don’t think of all the reasons you can’t. Step up and embrace the challenge.

    8. Be Vulnerable and Optimistic

    For me, vulnerability is another one that came with age….and failure. A year into my tech CEO role, I was given six months to raise a round of funding. For the first three months, I kept the situation mainly to myself. I was having dozens of conversations and getting ZERO bites. As a leader who cares deeply for her team, I decided I needed to let the team know the full extent of the situation so that they could line up jobs if we went under. It was a lesson in vulnerability that has shaped me forevermore. As my deadline approached, I kept having potential funder conversations but it became clear that I would not close a deal in time. I worked with my investor and wrote the client letter to shut down the company. It was the single, most humbling experience of my career. When I shared it with the investor, he asked what the current prospects were and said he was comfortable with bridging for one more month. During this time, I kept talking to interested funders and was deeply touched by my team and partners sticking with me. I ended up bringing on the perfect investor for where we were and we never looked back (or sent that letter). During this time, something a sales leader said to me stuck deeply, “the fun doesn’t start until they’ve said no at least three times.” Talk about relentless optimism. Vulnerability and optimism kept the company afloat and team in place during our darkest, most uncertain days.

    9. Self Reflect and Let. It. Go.

    Two points here. Always self reflect. How are things going? What could be better? Are you still the best person for the role? Is the feedback you’ve received accurate? Do you need to change? When I decided to take the Texan by Nature role, my investor and I had a conversation about self-reflection and the need for leaders to self check whether they are still the right leader for the role. Honestly, I was expecting him to be annoyed with my reflection – he’s an incredibly successful serial entrepreneur, always powering forward. Instead, he shared that he had the same thoughts regularly and would be worried if I wasn’t asking myself these questions because it could indicate that I was immature and out of touch in my leadership. Self reflect. Second point – let it go. Once you’ve reflected and made your decision. Once you’ve truly heard feedback. Take what is useful for your journey and organization, make necessary changes, and let the rest go. This is for all leaders, but particularly those who take things personally and vacillate endlessly. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your team. I’ve been told I’m too intense. That I work too hard and have misguided beliefs around that. I have found that softening some of those tendencies helps me succeed, however, these characteristics are also a reason for where I am today. Ten years ago I would have had the feedback stuck on repeat and thought of every reason it was wrong. Today, I self reflect and acknowledge it, change what I can and need, and let the rest go. The time and emotion freed with this action have been game-changing.

    Today, I self reflect and acknowledge it, change what I can and need, and let the rest go. The time and emotion freed with this action have been game-changing.

    10. Own Your Journey, Own Your Voice, Own Your Contribution

    My journey is perhaps interesting in some ways, boring in others. It is, however, mine. I am truly the only person in the world with my accumulation of experiences, good and bad. I find this freeing. When I looked at my path from this perspective and began sharing more of myself and ideas, doors began opening and new opportunities for innovation appeared. You have an equally unique and freeing path. Owning your journey is just the first step. Giving the journey air time and recognizing its contribution to your perspective and creativity is a gift that grows as it is nurtured. Own and enjoy it.

    These are a few of my lessons learned (so far). I encourage each of you to think through your journey and assess what you have learned that can be applied moving forward. Something you may not have shared or embraced. This is your niche. This is where you will see the world differently. This is what will keep you on your own personal path to innovation. So embrace it. Bring your journey. Bring your soul. Bring your passion. Bring your grit. Be your own brand of badass. I can’t wait to see the results for you, for Texas, for the world!

    To learn more about Joni’s journey, read her personal story.

  9. Wrapping Up Our Rescheduled 2020 Summit

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    The topic of our rescheduled 2020 Conservation Summit was “The Future of Conservation,” and in that spirt we hosted a virtual summit via livestream alongside some in-person speakers. For those of you who might have missed the panels, we have included videos of all three sessions below, the closing remarks, and some words of reflection from our CEO, Joni Carswell. Our next Conservation Summit is scheduled for November 3, 2021 at the Bush Center in Dallas.

    Former First Lady and Texan by Nature Founder, Laura W. Bush, speaking at our rescheduled 2020 Conservation Summit - by Grant Miller
    Former First Lady and Texan by Nature Founder, Laura W. Bush, speaking at our rescheduled 2020 Conservation Summit – by Grant Miller

    A Message from Our CEO, Joni Carswell

    The rescheduled 2020 Conservation Summit surpassed our high expectations thanks to our wonderful speakers, committed partners, and engaged attendees. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the future of conservation and what it means to each of us.  As we shared at the summit, we’re lucky to live in a state prosperous in economy, natural resources, and people. We have the opportunity to work together to explore and show how bringing natural resources, people and economics together benefits each in a way that is much more than 1+1+1 = 3.

    To Texan by Nature, the future or conservation is collaboration. It’s innovation. It’s economics. It’s a positive Return on Conservation. It’s private. It’s public. It’s using resources in imaginative ways. It’s new ways of looking at all of these. It’s true, deep partnership and commitment between everyone such that conservation is not a separate project, group, or conversation but part of our DNA. Conservation must be part of who we are — as citizens, family members, leaders, entrepreneurs, humans. It is partnership that yields innovation and returns that positively shape our resources, health, and economy.

    I want to take a moment to extend our deepest appreciation to our speakers and sponsors for the rescheduled 2020 summit. It goes without saying that 2020 was a difficult year. Thank you to each of our partners for helping us continue our work in 2020 to accelerate conservation across the state of Texas. Thank you to our speakers and sponsors for your flexibility in rescheduling the summit. Thank you to each of you for the work you do to advance the future of conservation.

    A special thanks to our sponsors and underwriters – H-E-B, Dell Technologies, Enbridge, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66, EOG Resources, Deedie Rose, Carolyn and David Miller, Cynthia and Don Stevenson, Lyda Hill Philanthropies and our silver and bronze sponsors as well.

    Special thanks also to our speakers in sharing your expertise, vision and passion. You inspired all of us. Thank you to: Melinda Taylor and Louis Harveson from the Respect Big Bend Coalition, Karen Beadle, Vice President of ESG and Stakeholder Engagement from Marathon Petroleum, Sara Coles from Texas Children in Nature, Julia Murphy, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of San Antonio Jana Renner of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, Tres Hess and Dr. Ben Holland from Cactus Feeders, Natalie Wolff from Texas Brigades, Rick Archer, founding partner and CEO of Overland Partners, Garret Boone and Kathryn Trainor from Trinity Park Conservancy, Rick Buckley from Groundwork Dallas, Kim Marotta, Global Senior Director of Sustainability and Enterprise Risk Management for Molson Coors Beverage Company, Frank Weary of Exploration Green Conservancy and Sarah Ziomek from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

    Sincerely,
    Joni Carswell
    CEO, Texan by Nature

    Panel 1: Collaborative Conservation

    Collaboration is widely proven to achieve better results — more innovative solutions, deeply engaged team members, higher loyalty and morale. Research shows that teams working collaboratively stick to the task 64 percent longer than those in solitary endeavors, report higher engagement levels, cite lower fatigue levels, and have a higher success rate. Collaborative conservation spanning business, landowners, communities, and natural resource organizations yield similar positive results. With our diversity of ecosystems, industry, and people, we have an opportunity to model a future that builds on collaborative efforts where we learn from one another, building upon new ideas and utilizing our expertise to the fullest. In this session you’ll hear from Melinda Taylor and Louis Harveson from the Respect Big Bend Coalition, Karen Beadle, Vice President of ESG and Stakeholder Engagement from Marathon Petroleum, Sara Coles from Texas Children in Nature, and Julia Murphy, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of San Antonio.

    Panel 2: Developing Future Returns

    The future of conservation certainly depends on the returns realized as our state grows. Home to seven of the 15 fastest growing cities in the U.S., Texas’ population has increased over 48% in the last decade alone. With this mass urbanization, less than 1% of Texans are landowners and there’s a diminished connection to nature and our natural resources. As Texas develops, it’s critical that conservation and business work together to create innovative spaces, practices, and leaders to care for our natural resources, prosperity, and health for generations to come. In this panel you’ll hear from Jana Renner of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, Tres Hess and Dr. Ben Holland from Cactus Feeders, Natalie Wolff from Texas Brigades, and Rick Archer, founding partner and CEO of Overland Partners.

    Panel 3: Reimagining Resources & Closing Remarks

    Texas is bountiful – enjoying the world’s 10th largest GDP, 29 million citizens, and 10 diverse ecoregions. Reimagining how we bring our plentiful resources together to deliver innovative places, resilient landscapes and natural resources, equitable access, and economic opportunities is a future that will benefit every Texan at work, at play, and at home. The focus of this panel is innovation, ways of collaborating and conserving that are pushing the envelope. You’ll hear from Garret Boone and Kathryn Trainor from Trinity Park Conservancy, Rick Buckley from Groundwork Dallas, Kim Marotta, Global Senior Director of Sustainability and Enterprise Risk Management for Molson Coors Beverage Company, Frank Weary or Exploration Green Conservancy and Sarah Ziomek from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. The day ended with remarks by Neal Wilkins, CEO of the East Foundation and Texan by Nature board member, and a closing message from our founder, former First Lady, Laura Bush.

  10. Dell Technologies – Platinum Supporter of Texan by Nature

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    Dell Technologies is truly a Texan company, through and through. From the time it was founded in the dorm rooms of UT Austin, Dell has always embodied that bold and passionate “Texan” ingenuity. Dell proves their commitment to protecting the environment through various company-wide initiatives, such as the reduction of e-waste, and the creation of critical pollinator habitats; as well as the hands-on and unwavering support of Texan by Nature’s conservation programs.

    Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler is an accelerator program that catalyzes the very best Texan-led conservation projects occurring in the state. During each program cycle, Texan by Nature selects six Conservation Wrangler projects to support program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, and partnership development – whatever is needed to amplify or broaden the impact of the project. The generous support of Dell Technologies allows Texan by Nature to successfully assist these conservation projects, making real progress for the research and conservation of natural resources in Texas. 

    “When Texan by Nature selects a project for our Conservation Wrangler program, we provide them with 18-months of services. Our team works with CWs to assist with strategic planning, marketing, fundraising, outreach and partnership building, or anything else they need and even provides each project with a professionally-produced project video to tell their story. Better still, TxN never assesses any fees from these projects for these services, ensuring the assistance never creates a burden. By partnering with us, Dell ensures we’re able to provide our CW projects with top-notch resources and hours of service, benefitting conservation across the state in bigger, bolder ways.” – Jenny Burden, Program Manager, Texan by Nature. 

    Each year, Texan by Nature hosts a Conservation Wrangler Summit, where over 200 conservation and business leaders gather to share success stories, lessons learned, and best practices from across the state and through a myriad of viewpoints. The Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler Summit highlights the six Conservation Wrangler programs of that year, as well as businesses and organizations that are making BIG, positive impacts for Texas’ communities, the economy, and for our diverse and beautiful natural resources. In 2018, Dell Technologies participated as a keynote speaker at the Conservation Wrangler Summit, educating attendees about how the company has used its culture of innovation, engineering, and supply chain expertise to become one of the biggest recyclers of plastic in the world. 

    In his presentation, Michael K. Murphy, VP of Environmental Affairs explained, “When we stand alongside our customers and suppliers on an issue that matters to them, it’s that trusted partnership that ultimately makes the investment good for Dell and for the planet. That’s why we see this as a business imperative, essential to our success.” 

    Dell is also a part of the Texan by Nature Project Certification program, which provides Texas employers, organizations, and individuals with recognition of meaningful conservation efforts involving and benefiting people, prosperity, and natural resources. Through their TxN Certified Design for Environment program, Dell acknowledges their responsibility as a global leader and environmental steward, reducing e-waste through a comprehensive approach to responsible product design and manufacturing. By taking a critical look at the full life cycle of their products, paired with innovative worldwide recycling initiatives, Dell commits to keeping materials in use for as long as possible, thereby reducing waste, the company’s carbon emissions, and capital costs. 

    “Dell believes we have a responsibility to protect and enrich our planet together with our customers, suppliers, and communities. It is a core part of our business and we embed sustainability and ethical practices into all that we do. Through our partnership with Texan by Nature, we ensure that the natural resources that make Texas a wonderful place to live and work are there for future generations.” – Darrel Ward, Senior Vice President, Dell Technologies

    Dell has also received a TxN Certification for their work with pollinator habitats. The company’s international headquarters in Round Rock occupies approximately 38 acres, situated on the I-35 migration corridor. Monarch butterflies rely on habitat waystations along this central flyway as they make their annual pilgrimage to and from Mexico. Dell employees and partner volunteers collaborated to create monarch habitat in addition to their Workplace Garden, planting milkweeds and other pollinator-friendly native plants, removing invasive species, managing a riparian zone and restored prairie meadow, and enhancing their educational interpretive signage. Dell also seeks to engage their employees in environmental and sustainability efforts happening company-wide through education, volunteerism, and collaboration.

    Dell Technologies has been a major ally to Texan by Nature, leading real and positive progress throughout the field of sustainability and conservation. They continue to serve as an influential role model for tech companies worldwide. We thank them for all that they have done and continue to do to make the great state of Texas even better. Learn more about Dell’s social and environmental impact goal planning here. 

    About Dell Technologies:

    Dell Technologies (NYSE:DELL) helps organizations and individuals build their digital future and transform how they work, live, and play. The company provides customers with the industry’s broadest and most innovative technology and services portfolio for the data era.

    About Texan by Nature:

    Texan by Nature (TxN) unites conservation and business leaders who believe Texas’ prosperity is dependent on the conservation of its natural resources. TxN amplifies projects and activates new investments in conservation which returns real benefits for people, prosperity, and natural resources. Texan by Nature achieves mission goals through the Texan by Nature Certification program, Conservation Wrangler program, Symposia Series, and the Texan by Nature 20. Get involved and learn more at www.texanbynature.org and follow on Facebook @TexanbyNature, Twitter @TexanbyNature, and Instagram @texanbynature.

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