Upper Highland Lakes Nature Center spreads Mother Nature’s message


BURNET — Life erupts in the waters of the vernal pool. The recent rains reinvigorated the pool, and hence, the life.

Billy Hutson kneels down and studies the pool. He leans in a bit as movement below the surface catches his eyes. Small beetles dance across the shallow pool. A little creature that kind of looks like a very tiny shrimp — it’s hard to tell because of its minute size — slips along the rocky bottom.

Hutson smiles.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Some of these (creatures) can go dormant for up to 20 years. And then, when conditions are right, well, they come out.”

The vernal pool at Reveille Peak Ranch, 105 CR 114 outside of Burnet, offers Hutson and other volunteers with the Upper Highland Lakes Nature Center a great teaching tool. The center, which sits on five acres of the large ranch, provides the volunteers a place to share their knowledge and that of other experts with people — especially youth.

In the past year, groups from school districts, Girl Scouts, wounded veterans and several colleges have made the trip to the center to learn about the area’s unique flora, fauna and geology. Hutson laughed at one college geology professor’s reaction after seeing an area of rock that’s considered more than a billion years old.

“I think he teared up,” Hutson said.

And that’s just part of the amazing features found, not only at the center and Reveille Peak Ranch, but throughout the upper Highland Lakes. The center’s mission is to share that knowledge with people to help them foster an understanding, appreciation and conservation of the outdoors and natural resources.

The center offers scheduled group tours and programs to accomplish this mission. During those tours, members of the Friends of the Upper Highland Lakes Nature Center and other experts lead lessons and discussions on the natural world. A trail system winds its way through the five-acre center. Along the way, volunteers man up to 20 stops, with each covering a specific topic.

The center is fairly new. Hutson, a retired engineer who admits he probably should have majored in biology or some other natural science, began studying the idea of creating a nature center in 2010. As a member of the local chapter of the Master Naturalists, he was interested in building a place where people could learn about the natural world.

He began looking for a place, including local municipal parks and the like, but could never really make in-roads with those entities. Vol Montgomery, the owner of Reveille Peak Ranch, caught wind of Hutson’s dream and offered a part of his ranch for the center.

“Vol has been great,” Hutson said. “Anytime I’ve gone to Vol with an idea, he either says, ‘Go ahead and do it’ or ‘I’ll do it for you.'”

Montgomery is even going to build a classroom/exhibit building at the nature center. This will allow the center to offer adult programs, extend programs into the hot summer and offer exhibits.

The five-acre center sits on Nature Hill, just a short walk from Reveille Peak Ranch’s main office and other facilities. And only a stone’s throw from the ranch’s large pond, which serves as a main attractor for many migrating birds. Two Canada geese liked the area so much, they’ve taken up residence on the pond’s small island.

“Even though the center is five acres, Vol’s opened the entire ranch to us,” Hutson said. “All 40 miles of trails and the pond. There’s a lot we can do here.”

While many nature centers are on public property, building this one on private land allows the organizers to control access to the center and protect it. And, thanks to a lease, it likely will remain on Reveille Peak Ranch for perpetuity.

As Hutson walks along the trail, some yellow prickly pear cactus flowers catch his attention. Several bees are working the flowers. A few are definitely honey bees, but several others are much smaller.

“That’s a native bee,” Hutson says, pointing at the smaller one. The native one and a honeybee work the same flower, almost rolling around in the pollen before jetting off to the next bloom.

Then, Hutson goes on to explain the unique electric charge some flowers emit. As a bee approaches with the opposite charge, the pollen almost leaps off the flower to the bee, he says.

That’s Hutson though. Every chance he gets he shares some interesting knowledge or facts about nature.

And he’s only one of more than 100 members of the center’s Friends group and other experts who are ready and willing to share their love, knowledge and appreciation for the natural world through the center.

Go to www.uhlnc.org or email info@uhlnc.org for more information. You can also become a member of the Friends group or support the center through the website.