For a relaxing break from city hustle, venture down the following urban trails…and learn about nature along the way. Regulations vary, but everywhere, follow the hiker's credo: Take only photographs and leave only footprints. Stay on marked trails to prevent erosion. Wear sturdy walking or hiking shoes. Carry insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water, plus a camera and binoculars.
River Legacy Living Science Center is at 703 NW Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington 76006; 817/860-6752. Web site: www.riverlegacy.com. Take Interstate 30 to Cooper St., and go north to the center's entrance. The center's exhibit hall features a simulated river-raft ride, live animals, interactive displays, and a gift shop. Hours: Tue-Sat 9-5, Sun 1-5. Admission: \$3, \$2 ages 2-18. Wheelchair accessible. A guided hike takes place Sat. at 10 a.m., and an animal presentation at 2 p.m. (both free with exhibit hall admission). Oct-Dec hikes include searches for the rare Devil's Cigar fungus. Family activities such as night hikes, nature programs, kite-making, and magic shows occur one Sat. each month. Educational programs include nature school for preschoolers, school field trips, and teacher workshops.
"Bat World," a presentation on bats by Amanda Lollar, takes place Oct. 3, 1998, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. On Oct. 23-25 (Fri-Sat 6 p.m.- 10 p.m., Sun 6 p.m.-9 p.m.), celebrate After Dark in the Park with night hikes, storytelling, animal presentations, hayrides, and a pumpkin patch. Fee: \$3. The Cardboard Boat Regatta floats on Apr. 17, 1999. Other activities include an Earth Day celebration (Apr. 10, 1999) and summer day-camps for ages 3-12.
River Legacy Parks is next to the Living Science Center, at 701 NW Green Oaks Blvd. Hours: Daily 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible. Write to the Arlington Parks & Recreation Dept., Box 231, Arlington 76004-0231; 817/459-5474 (information) and 817/459-5473 (facility reservations). The park features pavilions, picnic areas, playgrounds, and nature trails. Call 10 days in advance for pavilion reservations.
Forest Ridge Preserve is at 8000 Capitol of Texas Hwy. North (Loop 360 N.) in Austin. Hours: Daily dawn to dusk. Admission: Free. The preserve primarily protects endangered species and, secondarily, offers hiking and mountain biking. Admittance allowed only on the 8 miles of designated trails. Some trails are rated moderate, but most are difficult to very difficult; none are wheelchair accessible. Write to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve System, 200 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin 78704; 512/480-3060.
The Dallas Nature Center is in southwest Dallas County, near Joe Pool Lake, at 7171 Mountain Creek Pkwy., Dallas 75249; 972/296-1955. From I-20, take exit 458 at Mountain Creek Pkwy., and go south about 2.5 miles. Hours: Tue-Sun 7 a.m.-sunset. Suggested donations: \$3 per vehicle, or \$1 per visitor if 10 or more. One walking trail and the butterfly garden trail are graveled and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Other trails are rated easy to difficult. The center's outdoor stage, amphitheater, and pavilion host nature workshops, morning bird hikes, night hikes, hayrides, campouts, flower identification outings, weekend kids' programs, and orienteering. Call for fall schedule. Customized group tours for 10 or more cost \$2-\$4 per person. Summer Adventure Program for ages 6-11. Center also has a native plant nursery and facilities for private functions (including air-conditioned meeting room and swimming pool).
McKelligon Canyon Park is on the east side of the Franklin Mountains, at #1 McKelligon Canyon Rd. From I-10, take US 54 (Patriot Fwy.) north to Fred Wilson Rd., turn left, proceed to McKelligon Canyon Rd., then turn right, and go to the park entrance. Hours: 8:30-5:30 Oct-Apr, 8:30-8:30 May-Sep. Admission: Free. McKelligon Canyon Rd. ends in a loop fronted by parking lots and covered picnic areas. Unmarked trails lead from the picnic areas. (Once you leave the picnic areas, you enter Franklin Mountains State Park.) Trails are rated difficult; none are wheelchair accessible. The area is primitive, so hike in pairs or more; cell phones are advisable.
McKelligon offers volleyball courts, private rental of a 450-seat rock pavilion, and the popular McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater, home to concerts, the summer pageant Viva El Paso!, and the Shakespeare on the Rocks Festival. Write to McKelligon Canyon Park, Box 31340, El Paso 79931-0340; 915/565-6900 or 800/ 915-8482. For state park information, write to Franklin Mountains State Park, Box 200, Canutillo 79835; 915/566-6441.
Rock climbers enjoy the established climbing routes along unmarked trails in a box canyon behind the amphitheater. Contact the state park to register and get a required backcountry permit. Fee: \$2 per person per day. For climbing maps or a copy of the useful guidebook The Franklins by Lowell Stevenson (\$5.95), write to W.A.R.T.S. Army Surplus and Climbing, 4019 Van Buren Ave., El Paso 79930; 915/562-7515.
The Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge is at 9601 Fossil Ridge Rd., Fort Worth 76135; 817/237-1111. Take Loop 820 to Texas 199 (Jacksboro Hwy.), go west 4 miles, and look for signs. Refuge and trail hours: Daily 9-5. The Hardwicke Interpretive Center offers trail maps, a gift shop, nature library, herbarium, and exhibits. Center hours: Tue-Sat 9-5, Sun noon-5. Admission: Free. Dogs on leashes only; no bikes or jogging on trails. The interpretive center, an adjacent short trail, a boardwalk to the marsh, and one picnic area are wheelchair accessible. Call for details on a variety of nature tours and programs.
Nature Center Field Day, Oct. 17, 1998, includes nature programs, guided hikes, canoe tours (\$2 per person), food, and live animal programs from 10-4. April brings the annual Buffalo Boogie 10-K run and 2-mile walk.
Armand Bayou Nature Center is at 8500 Bay Area Blvd. (Box 58828), Houston 77258; 281/474-2551. Have big fun on the bayou, 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston. Take I-45 south to the Bay Area Blvd. exit, and go 6 miles northeast on Bay Area Blvd. Web site: http://www.ghgcorp.com/abnc/ . Hours: Wed-Sat 9-5, Sun noon-dusk. Admission: \$2.50, \$1 age 60 and older and ages 5-17, free age 4 and younger and Armand Bayou members. The center includes a gift shop and an interpretive building that features exhibits, a bird blind, and a pond. Wheelchair accessible (as is a new viewing platform overlooking a prairie environment). Some paths are primitive, though rated as "easy walking" (not wheelchair accessible). No bikes or dogs allowed on trails. Maps and binoculars available. Call for information regarding guided hikes and pontoon boat tours.
At the center's Jimmy Martyn Farm, a replicated turn-of-the-century farm, buildings open Sat 1-4 and Sun 1-4, with guided tours and farm-life demonstrations.
Oct. 23-24, 1998, enjoy the annual Creepy Crawlers Halloween, including night walks in the woods. Fees: \$8-\$10; reservations required. Nov. 14-15 brings the Martyn Farm Fall Festival, with music, crafts, demonstrations, wagon rides, and food. Dec. 5 offers the Yuletide Gathering & Market, a family event with crafts, hayrides, music, and a gift market. Admission: \$3-\$5.
Friedrich Wilderness Park is at 21395 Milsa, San Antonio 78256; 210/698-1057. Take I-10 west past Loop 1604, exit on Camp Bullis Rd., and watch for signs. Hours: Tue-Sun 8-5 Oct-Mar, 8-8 Apr-Sep. Arrive at least an hour before closing. Admission: Free. Forest Range Trail is wheelchair accessible; other trails rated easy to very difficult. No pets allowed. School and other group tours available with 60-day notice (\$15 donation per group of 30). Guided hikes offered the first Sat. of each month (no fee), and public education programs take place the second Sat. of each month (\$2 donation). Master Naturalist classes meet once a week for 10 weeks (next session begins in Mar.). Plan for A Night in the Park, Oct. 24, 1998, with programs on snakes, owls, and bats, plus star-gazing and a night hike (\$2 donation). Call for details on spring events and a week-long summer youth camp. Reservations required for all programs.