We discovered Wild Basin last Sunday almost by accident. We had taken Mark Colyvan to the Wildflower Center when he expressed a liking for limestone. So it became incumbent upon us to show him some of the karst of our own Hill Country. One thing led to another, and we drove down to Wild Basin. It is a gem, yet another of Austin’s well-kept secrets with deserted forest trails, some of them quite steep while others are even wheel-chair accessible. Barely six miles west from the center of Austin, and just off the alarmingly busy Capital of Texas Highway, Wild Basin straddles two sides of pleasant Bee Creek. An impressive waterfall forms shallow pools filled with large water beetles and other insects. Sunfish were obviously around but, though it was the evening, the day was too hot to see much other wildlife. We got our fill of Hill Country limestone, at least to the extent it is possible without leaving Austin entirely.
Originally envisioned as a preserve by seven visionary women from “Now or Never” in the 1970s, the preserve finally came into being in the 1980s with largely private money raised and donated to Travis county for this purpose. What’s remarkable about this preserve is the amount of plant diversity in its very modest 227 acres. The landscape has finally turned green as our long drought seems to have finally broken. There was plenty of native Texan grass, including one of my favorites, the Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)—one of the precious remaining signs that all this used to be Blackland Prairie. Cat’s Claw Mimosa (Mimosa binucifera) were in flower—the first time that I’ve seen these fluffy pink flowers this year. Escarpment Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) were also in flower though to a lesser extent that I would have expected at the beginning of May.
What’s perhaps most impressive about Wild Basin is that the control of invasive species has been quite successful through intrusive management including occasional use of herbicides. Even Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei), the bane of the surrounding landscape, has a rather modest presence here. (It just goes to show what the City of Austin Preserves could be if adequate resources were put into their management.) Meanwhile the juniper provides nesting material for our endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) which we think we heard but cound not spot.
A non-profit group maintains Wild Basin for Travis County. Though there are frequent walks organized by the managers, but leaflets and other information are scanty. (The map they provide is topologically accurate but otherwise only occasionally intersects with features on the ground, in particular, the numbered trail markers.) The trivial $ 2 entrance fee is more than worth its value. Wild Basin is a place to linger, not merely walk through. But, if you have some taxonomic skills, volunteering at Wild Basin would be even more useful—there are no comprehensive plant or animal lists, all of which could be compiled with minimal effort. Any list of this sort would not only add to the educational outreach of the preserve but also contribute to our ongoing project to document the biodiversity of the Austin region.