Nature

Visit East Fork Wetland Project: Water, Wildlife, and Family Legacy

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As I approach the East Fork Wetland Project this winter morning, a pink-orange glow from the sky begins to reflect off the water. The full moon still shines on the ice edging the pools. I climb into a Jeep with several avid birders, and we are off on a four-hour tour into the nonpublic areas of the wetland.

“I think I see a cinnamon teal,” exclaims my friend in the back seat, as we stop on one of the levees separating the cells (pools) of water. The driver asks, “Is that a life bird for you?” and the passenger nods, meaning it’s the first time he’s seen that variety of duck. I’m clearly out of my league when it comes to birding, but it doesn’t matter now as we bounce along the rise of the levees, all of us watching diligently for the familiar as well as less common fowl.

Visit East Fork Wetland Project: Water, Wildlife, and Family Legacy
Photo: John Spaulding. Early morning birders aim their lenses to spot rare and familiar birds.

Comprising over 1,800 acres, one of the largest manmade wetlands in the country began from the death of a dream. The John Bunker Sands Wetland Center opened to visitors in 2010, named for the man who, in 1980, originally imagined a manmade wetland near the east fork of the Trinity River. John Bunker Sands, the son of philanthropists Caroline Rose Hunt and Loyd Bowmer Sands, served as Executive Director of Ranch Management of the family-run Rosewood Corporation. He became increasingly dedicated to reestablishing the bottomland environment that had flourished over 200 years ago. To determine the project’s feasibility, he contracted with an environmental design and construction company. The design was completed, but it had to be shelved when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised concerns about breaching the 1940s-era levees. Not only did his wetland idea die, but Sands would not live to see the transformation he had envisioned. He passed away in 2003.

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