De-Stress in Your Own Backyard
While adults are home teleworking, and kids are at home participating in online educational instruction (we hope), it’s even more important during these challenging times to take a moment to get out into the family yard. The TurfMutt Foundation reminds families that nature starts right outside your back door. Let the proven benefits green space give us all a break from being cooped up inside.
Listen to the birds. Watch the trees. Curl your toes in the grass. Play with your dog in the backyard. Work outside planting and preparing for the budding spring, or even mow the lawn.
“Numerous studies have found that people who spend more time outside with their families and pets exposed to living landscapes are happier, healthier and smarter. It’s great to know being outside is good for you,” says Kris Kiser, President and CEO of the TurfMutt Foundation.
Researchers have studied the impact of nature on human well-being for years, but recent studies have found a more direct correlation between human health, particularly related to stress, and the importance of people’s access to nature and managed landscapes.
Getting dirty is actually good for you. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. Mycobacterium vaccae in soil mirrors the effect on neurons that Prozac provides. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work, and have direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.
Living near living landscapes can improve your mental health. Researchers in England found that people moving to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least three years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more developed area suffered a drop in mental health. Greening of vacant urban areas in Philadelphia reduced feelings of depression by 41.5% and reduced poor mental health by 62.8% for those living near the vacant lots, according to a study by a research team.
Green spaces can make you healthier too. People who live within a half mile of green space were found to have a lower incidence of fifteen diseases by Dutch researchers — including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines. A 2015 study found that people living on streets with more trees had a boost in heart and metabolic health. Studies show that tasks conducted under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Spending time in gardens, for instance, can improve memory performance and attention span by 20 percent.
Living landscapes make you smarter. Children gain attention and working memory benefits when they are exposed to greenery, says a study led by Payam Dadvand of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona. In addition, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in children.
This applies to adults as well. Research has also shown that being around plants helps you concentrate better at home and at work. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture believes that spending time in gardens can improve attention span and memory performance by as much as 20 percent.
A National Institutes of Health study found that adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after going on a nature walk. In addition, a Stanford University study found that walking in nature, rather than a concrete-oriented, urban environment, resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance.
Living landscapes help you heal faster. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically-pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.
Physicians are now prescribing time outdoors for some patients, according to recent reports. Park Rx America is a nonprofit with a mission to encourage physicians to prescribe doses of nature.
All of these benefits reinforce the importance of maintaining our green spaces. Trees, shrubs, grass, and flowering plants are integral to human health. Not only do they provide a place for kids and pets to play, they directly contribute to our mental and physical well-being.
More information can be found by visiting www.turfmutt.com
WILLIAMSON COUNTY — More than 50 years ago, Michael Collins and his father bought land north of Liberty Hill, drawn to the river that cut through the property and the old log home that stood there.
They evicted the goats bedding down in the house and renovated it, and the Collins family spent the next five decades building memories at a place they called the Farm at Loafer’s Glory, named for a church where an eclectic group of locals once worshiped. For a time, Michael’s parents lived at the farm; later, it became a place where relatives and friends gathered for holidays and summer vacations.
Now the Collinses — Michael, an architect and chairman of the Gault School of Archaeological Research; his wife, Karen; their children, Charles Collins and Melinda Collins Knowles; and grandchildren, Kaya and Mario De La Isla, Anne O’Brien and Elizabeth Collins, and Eileen Collins — have donated a conservation easement on the 531-acre property to the Texas Nature Conservancy.
Under the agreement, the land, described by the conservancy as one of the largest remaining undeveloped tracts in Williamson County, cannot be subdivided or developed. The family still owns the farm and can continue to use it, build a few small homes on a designated section of it, or even sell the entire parcel, but subdivisions, stores and gas stations will never spring up on its cactus and tree-dotted expanses.
“That’s one of reasons we feel really good under the conservation easement,” Karen Collins said. “It will always be our family place, as long as the family wants to congregate there.”
The family’s decision represents a choice landowners here are more frequently facing: In a region as fast-growing as Central Texas, do you sell your property to the highest bidder for development, or do you protect the landscapes, cultural history and natural resources that make our state iconic?
“Dr. Collins and his partners have chosen the latter, to be generous with their family land,” says Laura Huffman, former regional director of the Texas Nature Conservancy. Huffman was with the conservancy when the Collinses’ gift was going through, but has since left for a job with the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Closing costs were paid by a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, and the Collins family provided a $65,000 endowment to help maintain the property.
Nature Conservancy officials hope their story will encourage other landowners across the state to do the same.
“The memories are many,” Michael Collins said of the farm, where visitors sleep beneath mosquito nets in cots lined up on the front porch of the two-bedroom, non-air conditioned log house.
Michael and Karen brought their children to the farm when Michael’s parents were restoring the cabin. Lessons learned there came in handy years later, when the couple, now both 78, restored their own old log house in Central Austin.
Through research, Karen Collins learned that a man named Uncle Billy Williams built the log home in 1851, then later sold it to Abner Buck, who raised his family there. Buck raised and sold Missouri mules from the property, and reportedly accepted only gold as payment for them. Today the cabin is registered as a Texas historic landmark, and a small cemetery on the property dates to the 1850s.
The donation is significant because about 95% of Texas land is privately held. Conservationists have used easements like this one as a way to preserve nearly 1 million acres of that private land. The Nature Conservancy has helped protect 400,000 of those acres. Such easements, officials say, allow landowners to keep their land, while safeguarding natural resources for the future.
“We can protect almost three times more land with conservation easements than through direct land purchases, all while preserving water supply and supporting farming and ranching — integral components of our state’s heritage, economy and culture,” Huffman said.
Private lands in Texas are fragmenting at a faster clip than that of any other state, and paired with rising land prices, uses outside of development have become less competitive, Huffman says.
“What this means for conservationists is a lot of collaboration and creativity — private landowners are our most critical ally if we aim to achieve our mission at scale. And we do,” Huffman said.
Endangered golden cheek warblers, as well as an assortment of other native and migrating bird species, bobcats, fox and jackrabbits live on the property. After oak wilt killed some of the trees there, the Collinses planted about 100 pecans, cedar elms and burr oaks.
Maintaining that habitat is important, especially as nearby Liberty Hill rapidly develops.
“I want a place where the critters can continue to live,” Karen Collins said. “I’m anxious to keep a green spot for the wildlife.”
It’s not the first time Collins family members have dug deep into their own pockets to contribute to a cause they believed in. Michael Collins has long led research at the Gault archaeological site near Florence, where some of the oldest human artifacts in the Americas — dating back 16,000 to 20,000 years — have been uncovered. When the University of Texas’ lease on the 33-acre site ran out, he bought it and donated it to the nonprofit, New Mexico-based Archaeological Conservancy, which preserves it and regulates research there.
The easement at the Farm at Loafer’s Glory means that Michael and Karen Collins’ great-grandchildren may one day play in the 800-foot, spring-fed pool where their own children grew up splashing, or ride bikes on the miles of trail that Karen hand cut using loppers. It also means that the encroaching development of Liberty Hill will never reach the old cabin, or the mile of land fronting the North Fork of the San Gabriel River.
“What we’ve always said is, ’That’s our farmhouse, but it’s everybody’s history and we want to share that history,” Michael Collins said. “We’re both kind of antiquarians by heart, and we’re just proud to be part of saving that place. To us, it’s a treasure.”
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Even before the 86th Texas Legislature began, it was clear the session would feature a deluge of activity focused on addressing Texans’ experience with flooding. Much attention has been paid to Senate Bill 7 and Senate Bill 8, which create major new statewide programs. Significant questions surrounded the implementation of these bills, but answers have begun to flow recently. In his recent article in the Texas Water Journal, "State Legislature, Voters Move to Eighty-Six Texas’s Flooding Challenges", Matthew Berg, Ph.D. wades into these uncertainties and the larger trends behind the legislative session. Read Berg's article here and join him for the webinar.
Runoff Inflow Volumes to the Highland Lakes in Central Texas: Temporal Trends in Volumes and Relations between Volumes and Selected Climatic Indices
April 3, 2020
Article, Article Vol 11, Vol 11 (2020), Vol 11 (2020)
Inflow to the Highland Lakes has substantially decreased from 1942–2013, likely due to increased evapotranspiration from the proliferation of 19 major upstream reservoirs and about 69,500 minor reservoirs and water bodies. Increased evapotranspiration from land surfaces and stream channels also probably represent major causes for inflow reduction. Eight climatic indices were evaluated with respect to correlations with inflow volumes to the lakes. A combination of the indices for the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and Oceanic Niño Index (Niño 3.4 region) was found to be, up to three months in advance, a fair indicator for the wettest three-month inflow periods, and a good indicator, up to nine months in advance, of the driest three-month inflow periods. The single best index indicator of dry periods is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—a good indicator of the driest three-month periods up to a year in advance.
© 2020 Raymond M. Slade, Jr.