It sits like an island in a sea of exploding growth, surrounded by the booming communities of North Texas. The Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area, better known as LLELA, is a throwback to the region’s prairie days.
Encompassing 2,600 acres in the shadow of the Lake Lewisville dam, LLELA features hiking trails, canoe/kayak trails, fishing spots and birding areas. Equally important to the recreation opportunities are the educational, research and restoration projects.
LLELA serves as a natural outdoor classroom for students, from middle school to college. Several hundred University of North Texas students volunteer in the fall and spring semesters, helping in projects such as prairie grass restoration. Younger students from area schools participate in bird counts and environmental classes.
The Director of LLELA is Ken Steigman of the University of North Texas (UNT), pictured above. “Sometimes it’s like spinning plates,” he laughs. No sooner is one project going, and another comes along that needs attention. He says the prairie grass restoration work had a particularly difficult beginning. Originally they planted 70 acres in 2005, and then lost nearly all of it in the drought. But today, through wet and dry spells, they have had better results in restoring grasses that can grow as high as a horse’s shoulders once mature.
Steigman says things are looking up. “We had some bad luck in planting before a drought started and were disappointed at the loss but certainly learned from it and developed new strategies that have been extremely successful, regardless of the weather. Our prairie restoration efforts have achieved dramatic success over the last 13 years that we are very proud of.”
Education Coordinator Lisa Cole of the City of Lewisville notes that LLELA is a joint effort by the city, UNT, the Lewisville Independent School District, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land around the Lewisville dam.
She also helps coordinate the efforts of volunteers for things like bird banding, tours of the 1860’s restored log house settlement, and outdoor classrooms for students.
“We want to restore the bond between nature and people,” Lisa says.
There are organized activities for children and adults. There is a Nature Walk on the first Saturday of each month. The second Saturday is a Bird Walk for children ten and up. There are tours of the historic Log House property on the third Saturday.
Hiking and birding are by far the most popular activities at LLELA. There are five hiking trails, and several blinds and observation platforms.
Paddling is also popular. There are two paddle sport areas…the Beaver Pond trail, which is a short one-mile paddle through swampy waters; and an access point to the Elm Fork branch of the Trinity River. The Elm Fork can take you 22 miles downstream. There are outfitters that provide boat rentals and shuttle services.
There are nine primitive campsites at LLELA, plus a group campground for scout troops and large community groups. Camping is allowed only on Friday and Saturday nights. There is fresh water at the campsites, and portable toilets, but no other facilities.
Hardwood forests are scattered around in the LLELA boundaries. A number of species of Oak share the forests with Elm, Pecan and Hackberry. The forested areas provide homes for wildlife such as white tail deer, bobcats, wild turkeys and coyotes.
LLELA is open to the public daily throughout the year, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Admission is $5 per vehicles. The gates open at 7 a.m.
Visit the LLELA website for more details, including contact information for paddle trail outfitters.