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Little-known nature trail offers lesson in native trees, plants

When the Laura Bush library was established in 2009 atop the picturesque slopes of a canyon at the intersection of Bee Caves Road and Cuernavaca, its neighbor, TRI, donated a tract of land that was transformed by volunteers into the Madrone Canyon Nature Preserve.

The preserve includes a bucolic nature trail developed by the Buena Vista Foundation, Friends of the Westbank Libraries and the Goodell family. Situated on a five-acre tract, the preserve features a panoramic view of the Texas Hill Country and also offers a look at the unique habitat for a native and endangered tree called the Texas madrone, or arbutus xalapensis.

Capital area master naturalist Jean Love El Harim leads nature lovers though the Madrone Preserve on the first Saturday in the month for the library, and shares her knowledge about this native plant habitat she calls the “best kept secret in Westlake.”

El Harim took an interest after visiting it with fellow master naturalist Rikki McGee, who held the position before her and serves on the Friends of the Westbank Library Board of Directors. Another master naturalist, Carl Fabre, initiated the trail in 2010, to protect and preserve the canyon and educate the public about this wilderness. Master naturalists are volunteers who undergo at least 40 hours of field and classroom instruction learning about plant and animal species, and donate many hours of volunteer service to nature organizations.

Trail guests begin the journey at eye-level with neighboring hills. In the broad horizon, red rooftops of Lakeway homes and those atop FM 2222 are visible in the distance. The tour starts with a walk through colorful Texas wildflowers, winding down rock pathways surrounded by cedar, oak and mountain laurel trees. It can take up to an hour. The path requires some navigation, and good hiking shoes are a must for climbing uneven terrain.

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