This April, the Fort Worth Report is spotlighting individuals and institutions across Tarrant County who are working to create a more sustainable community. This is the fourth story in our 2023 Earth Month series. Read previous stories here

Wildflowers swaying in the cool breeze are visible to anyone who drives past Tandy Hills Natural Area on a sunny spring morning. What’s less obvious – even to the two dozen people sporting baseball caps and tennis shoes near the park’s trailhead – is the work that went into preserving the east Fort Worth prairie. 

That’s where the Native Prairies Association of Texas comes in. Volunteers for the Fort Worth chapter bring conservation experts and community members together for field trips, prairie tours and educational events about native prairies in North Texas. 

On April 16, the group stayed close to home with a stroll through Tandy Hills and nearby Broadcast Hill, a 50-plus acre property acquired by the city of Fort Worth’s Open Space Conservation Program in 2020.

Upcoming field trips and tours

View the Fort Worth chapter’s full calendar of events here
– Chalk Mountain Ranch Prairie Tour, 8:30 a.m. April 29, in Somervell County. Register here.
– LBJ National Grasslands Tour, 8:30 a.m. May 6, in Wise County. Register here.
– Flower Mound Prairie Tour, 10 a.m. May 20, in Flower Mound. Register here.
– BioBlitz iNaturalist survey of old Camp Leroy Shuman, 9 a.m. May 27, in Fort Worth. Register here.

“One of our biggest battles from the beginning has been making sure the city understands, and the park department understands, that Tandy Hills is not like a regular park,” Don Young, leader of the Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, told the group. “We have almost 2,000 species here, and it needs to be protected.” 

Conservation is at the core of why the Fort Worth chapter formed nearly 10 years ago, said Michelle Villafranca, a parks operations and natural resource planner for the city of Fort Worth who serves as the organization’s secretary. After the Native Prairies Association of Texas hosted its 2014 conference in Fort Worth, locals were inspired to create their own organization. 

Their sense of urgency was driven by the amount of native prairie turned into developments each year, Villafranca said. Data compiled by the city of Fort Worth in 2019 found that developers turned 2,800 acres of prairie into new subdivisions and businesses each year. 

If people understood the diverse ecology of native prairies, they would realize how impressive it is and why it’s worth protecting, Villafranca said. Tallgrass prairie – home to hundreds of plant species and rich habitats for birds, pollinators and burrowing animals – is the most endangered ecosystem in North America, according to the Native Prairies Association of Texas. 

“It’s amazing, but we don’t have the mountains or the ocean or the giant redwoods that make people go: ‘Ah, North Texas. We need to protect that,’” Villafranca said. “People can go to California and Yosemite and think: ‘Oh my gosh, this needs to be protected.’ But North Texas doesn’t have something that just slaps you in the face like that.”

Kate Morgan, president of the Fort Worth chapter of the Native Prairies Association of Texas, carries invasive species removed from Broadcast Hill in east Fort Worth on April 16, 2023. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Obstacles to conservation: land costs, aging landowners

Villafranca has noticed a slowdown in development since the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to combat inflation last year. 

However, that reality hasn’t led to significant reductions in land prices that would allow land trusts and governments to acquire more properties, she said. In north Fort Worth, where the city is trying to acquire parkland, some developers are asking for more than $200,000 per acre, Villafranca said. 

“Development is noticeably slowing down a little bit temporarily, but that doesn’t mean any conservation organization has the money to buy that land before someone else does,” she said. 

Prairie advocates say they face other obstacles to preserving open spaces, including generational turnover of large properties and the use of rural land for large solar installations. As farmers and landowners grow older and die, their children are more likely to sell the properties to developers, Villafranca said. 

Over the past two years, the association has added resources to manage the properties it owns and work with landowners who want conservation easements on their land. The easements permanently ban land from being sold for housing or commercial development and stipulate what kind of business can be conducted on the property, such as agriculture. 

With the addition of a fundraising director and North Texas outreach and stewardship director, the association’s Fort Worth chapter has gone “gangbusters,” said Jo Ann Collins, the chapter’s outreach and communications co-chair. Recent events, including the chapter’s People for Prairies fundraiser, attracted people working across business, ranching and other sectors, she said. 

“We’re getting the word out more, and I’m hopeful that we can make a difference and make more inroads,” Collins said. “We need to figure out how to cohesively put prairie and development together and not have to make every dime out of every piece of land, because that’s what we do here — put houses five feet apart.”

A tour group visits the Tandy Hills Natural Area on April 16, 2023. The group was brought together by the Fort Worth chapter of the Native Prairies Association of Texas. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

Building community on the prairie

On the Tandy Hills tour, hikers peppered Villafranca with questions about the city’s open space conservation program and a recent $150,000 North Texas Community Foundation grant that will add two miles of trail and three education interns at the site. 

Other visitors snapped photos of plants through the iNaturalist app, which helps users identify and map plant life. Rayy Ball drove two hours from Temple with their boyfriend to visit Tandy Hills. Though Ball no longer lives in the Fort Worth area, they have continued to connect with members of the Fort Worth chapter through educational Zoom meetings and field trips. 

“It can be a struggle to find new parks and new natural areas and places to learn about the native biodiversity,” Ball said. “These groups really can help you find and discover new places, and help you identify the remaining native plants in the area.” 

Villafranca hopes to engage the next generation through bringing more people to the prairies of North Texas. Future field trips – all open to the public – include tours of the LBJ National Grasslands in Wise County and Chalk Mountain Ranch in Somervell County. 

“You can have a Zoom or in-person meeting, but that’s just not going to be as effective in getting people engaged and excited about something if what you’re talking about is nature,” Villafranca said. “You have to be out there to experience it.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at

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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...