Launched in 2018, the Center for Health & Nature is a partnership between Texan by Nature, Houston Methodist, and Texas A&M Health Science Center. The Health & Nature Symposium convenes friends of the center, researchers, potential funders, and donors to explore ways to advance the science of the interplay between exposure to natural environments, health and healing.
The symposium increases awareness of the Center for Health & Nature research priorities, the current state of research in the field, and funding mechanisms available to collaborative partners of the center. Researchers can develop collaborations for innovative and meaningful research and take steps to secure funding in support of their projects.
Agenda and Speakers
Nature Contact and Health Promotion: From Science to Application
Erin Largo-Wight, PhD
Director, Institute of Environmental Research and Education (IERE)
Professor, Department of Public Health
University of North Florida
The Clean Environment for Healthy Living Initiative: A Case for Environmental Justice
Garret Sansom, DrPH, MPH
Research Assistant Professor, School of Public Health
Texas A&M University
Exposure to nature and children’s health and development: Understandings from life-course research
Dongying Li, MLA, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
Texas A&M University
Exploring the Connection Between Health and Nature: Research Updates from CHN
Omar Elsayed, MBBCh
Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Health & Nature
Houston Methodist Research Institute
Morning Vision Panel
Erin Largo-Wight, PhD, University of North Florida
Garret Sansom, DrPH, MPH, Texas A&M University
Dongying Li, PhD, MLA, Texas A&M University
Omar Elsayed, MBBCh, Houston Methodist Research Institute
Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH
Senior Vice President and Director, Land and People Lab, Trust for Public Land,
Hagler Fellow Professor, Texas A&M University
Beyond the Bayous for a Healthier Harris County
Senior Capital Projects Manager
Houston Parks Board
Waterloo Greenway Overview: A Place for All
Chief Executive Officer
Using Big Data, Machine Learning, and Passive Behavioral Data Collection to Understand the Relationships between Nature and Health
The Paso del Norte Trail (PDN), a trail network spanning across El Paso County promoting an active lifestyle and natural resource conservation, was selected as a Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler in 2020. During each Conservation Wrangler program cycle, Texan by Nature provides up to 6 Texan projects that benefit people prosperity, and natural resources with 12-18 months of tailored support in the form of program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, and partnership development – whatever is needed to accelerate the project. The following blog showcases highlights from the Paso del Norte Trail Case Study, complied by Texan by Nature as part of he Conservation Wrangler program to demonstrate the benefits of the PDN trail as well as outline opportunities for expansion.
Serving a population of 2.7 million in the region between El Paso and their sister city Juarez, Mexico, the Paso del Norte Trail has the vision to improve environmental, economic, and public health conditions for Texans and our neighbors across the border in Mexico.
This project is a community-driven, collaborative effort to develop a county-wide trail in El Paso County. The roughly 68–mile span of the PDN Trail is divided into ﬁve distinct districts, each deﬁned by their unique geographical, historical, and cultural contexts. The PDN Trail provides essential transportation routes for community members to businesses, 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 the Franklin Mountains State Park and the Rio Grande River. The PDN trail network includes designated hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, as well as ADA accessible paved trails in high-traffic and rural areas.
In addition to the economic and social benefits provided by the PDN trail, the trail network benefits wildlife in the area by preserving and restoring habitat, including bat houses that can provide shelter for up to 1,200 bats, and habitats designed for nesting Burrowing Owl mothers and their owlets. In the water-stressed Chihuahuan Desert, the PDN uses water-harvesting practices like bioswales and curb breaks to efficiently use water on-site. Irrigation canals along the PDN, which convey water from the Rio Grande to farmers, and bioswales, which recharge underground water reservoirs, are particularly important as 50% of El Paso’s drinking water comes from the Rio Grande itself, with the other 50% sourced from the Hueco-Mesilla Bolson Aquifer. As populations on both sides of the border grow along with demand on water resources, protection and conservation of water resources are top priorities for the PDN Trail.
“The Paso del Norte Trail is the next step in the evolution of our great city. It will bring connectivity to our entire city, it will foster economic growth, and be an amenity to everyone that comes here, visits here, and lives here.” – Marybeth Stevens, President, Better Business Bureau, El Paso
Project Impact Results
Serves a population of 2.7 million in the region between El Paso and their sister city Juarez, Mexico
Provides the community with connections to businesses, attractions, parks, downtown areas, recreational activities, outdoor spaces, and historic landmarks.
Includes environmentally-friendly amenities such as pollinator-friendly and native plant species, green infrastructure, stormwater drainage systems, and solar-powered energy.
Economically benefits the community through increased profits at local businesses, decreased public health costs, improved transportation options, the interconnectedness between the city and nature, and elevated property values.
Provides access to landmarks such as the Franklin Mountains and the Rio Grande River from the PDN Trail for all ages and abilities.
Installations at the Playa Drain Trailhead and Vocation Pond Park provide habitat for 1,200 bats and burrowing owl habitats for nesting mothers and their owlets.
Accomplishments and Innovations:
Over 20 miles of the planned 60+ miles are complete and open to the public as of 2021
As of 2021, the PdN Trail saw 141 volunteers donate 300 hours of time at over 20 events, including planting 115 trees.
TxDOT and the PdN trail collaborated to install trail counters in 2021, helping gain insight on actual trail usage along the Playa Drain Trail, strengthening the case for the trail to funders and the public.
The PDN trail is a prime example of a communal recreational space that positively contributes to the well-being of the environment, community, and natural resources. Whether the intent is to build a small nature trail around a neighborhood or to construct a binational trail spanning for miles, a strategic, exhaustive, and collaborative plan must be created.