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JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF

MARBLE FALLS — Charles Watkins has a passion for plants similar to Lady Bird Johnson’s love of wildflowers.

So it makes sense that the former first lady is an inspiration to him. 

Watkins recently presented a project overview for a Hill Country Native Plant Conservancy to the Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Commission, of which he is a part.

Now, he’s looking for funding, advice and something more valuable.

“I need people to get on board to make this happen,” he told his fellow commissioners during its regular meeting June 2.

Watkins plans on asking Master Gardeners, nature lovers and service groups for volunteer labor and other help on the project.

The facility will include:

  • a botanical garden with a range of plant species native to the area
  • an ornamental garden to show the beauty of native plant landscaping in a formal setting
  • a wildflower patch that blooms with seasonal species, which will offer photo opportunities and supply seed stock
  • a butterfly garden with a bog and a sunning area that will include milkweed to serve as a way station, native trees and scrubs of various sizes, perennials, vines and ground covers needed to support a diverse population of butterflies
  • scent garden
  • a nature walk along a creek
  • an information center with interpretive displays and a reception desk.
  • green restrooms that use rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and a urine collector
  • a plant store
  • an outdoor classroom with a large pavilion, a storage shed and rainwater harvesting

Watkins recommended three sites for the center.

Westside Park, 1610 Second St., is an option because it already has enough land, a parking lot and a creek area. It also has part of the city’s hike-and-bike trail, picnic area, unused land and public restrooms.

One of the drawbacks to using Westside, however, is that the city plans to expand the park’s disc golf course to 18 holes when funding becomes available. The concern is there might not be enough space for an extra nine holes and the conservancy.

Another possibility is dividing the conservancy throughout the city in different buildings near Creekwalk, which is near downtown Marble Falls, the current City Hall building and the storage unit of the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce on Yett Street. Other parts would be located near The Greens soccer fields on Avenue K. Besides saving money on using city-owned buildings, it also keeps visitors close to Main Street and there’s effluent water located near those areas that can be used for irrigation.

The final proposed site is a large tract of land owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority off Colt Circle. Part of the tract already receives effluent water, which is one of the reasons Watkins identified this as a potential site.

“They all have great advantages,” he said.

He recommended a one-time capital injection of $200,000, which would help him write a request for matching grants. Some of the $200,000 could come from labor contributions, he said.

“We stand a good chance of getting a matching grant,” he said. “I believe the project can be funded one time from (Capital Improvement Project) and (Hotel Occupancy Tax) money.”

The commissioner said he would be happy to volunteer to serve as the director of the conservancy for two years. By the end of that time, he said, he hopes someone else would take over.

One of the reasons Watkins wants to do this for the city is because he believes in the economic value.

Marble Falls’ tourism season is during the spring and summer, when families come here to enjoy Lake Marble Falls and warm-weather festivals and events.

“We could really make this fun,” he said. “It may be the only way to make our city beautiful.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com