Beyond the Sidewalk: Finding Nature in Your City

You probably know that I live in a suburb of Houston. Houston is not exactly known for being a hot spot for nature enthusiasts. You picture a concrete jungle, not a wooded swamp full of wild animals. When my son was born, I figured he would get nature exposure in the summer at my parent's farm and that would be enough. Slowly I have uncovered gem after gem in my city, and I've realized that you just have to look for them.
Finding tax-funded parks is the easiest. National, state, county, and city run parks can easily be looked up. The National Park Service has a search-by-state database. Both Texas and South Carolina have searchable state park websites, so I'm guessing every other state does as well. City parks are a little tougher to locate for me. City of Houston's website has a list, but each of the precincts also has their own list and I only know that because I randomly linked up to one. Who would have thought to search by precinct? I think of police stations when I hear that, not greenspaces. You can also search by counties and cities. There are an unbelievable amount of tax-funded parks. (Not a nature experience, but searching city parks when Everett was an infant led me to TWO lovely neighborhood splash pads that are city-owned and open to the public.)
Seabourne Creek Nature Park
Rosenberg, TX
Search your city and "botanical garden" or "arboretum." I found a ton around Houston! We have an incredible arboretum, and there is a huge botanical garden project underway. There is a Nature Discovery Center downtown that has a nature park with multiple habitat zones. I was surprised by how many public nature spaces popped up from this search. A lot of these places also host plant sales and classes!
Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
Houston, TX
Check your local museums and zoos. These obviously won't get you lost in nature, but they are great for nature study. Our zoo has a really cool bug house where you can observe insects up close, and a swap shop where you can trade things like gemstones and animal skulls. Your city probably has a museum of natural science. We have a big one downtown, a second location (near me!), and an incredible observatory (also near me!) where you can use telescopes to observe the night sky. The main location houses a butterfly center that is a three story living rainforest butterfly habitat!
If you'd like to read more about nature play, just click this image.
Look for local community gardens. Check the American Community Gardening Association map. Each garden has its own rules. In The Woodlands, a suburb of North Houston, there are several community gardens. One is a community grown garden that donates the crop, and one is divided rentable space where you can grow and harvest in a rented garden. A new community in Fort Bend has a community garden owned by the neighborhood's homeowners association. A third party runs the garden, but residents can rent garden spaces. The public can take tours and classes, volunteer, join the CSA, and shop at the farmers market.

Contact local environmental groups. The Houston Audubon has a great list of nature sanctuaries. Hike it Baby has chapters all over the country that is dedicated to connecting families to nature with birth to school aged children.
Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary
Houston, TX
Don't underestimate small community spaces. There may be cars driving by, but my toddler doesn't notice when he's watching the ducks and swans in our neighborhood retention pond. 
Find nature in your own yard! This is the best one because you don't even have to get out of your jammies. Our yard was not what I think of as "nature" when we moved in. There was a single, small oak tree freshly planted in our front yard, and a few small bushes under our front window. We put out a bird feeder and suddenly we were bird watching. A few potted milkweed plants gave us butterflies. If we go out at night we can find frogs in the grass. Anole lizards are usually hiding on our fence and the sides of our house. We noticed a tiny tunnel dug under our fence, and we eventually spotted wild bunnies running through our yard. A garden brought a LOT of insects and wildlife to our yard, but a few potted plants on your patio is a wonderful place to start.
Search #thesugargarden on IG to see more of our garden.
You can also check out my monthly garden updates.
How do you find nature in your city?

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Be kind. I'm just a mom behind a computer wearing yoga pants with unwashed hair. -k