A Match Made in Nature

August 25, 2022

Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and Candlelight Ranch

Just under five miles east from Candlelight Ranch, lies a very special and tucked away gem, Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Located 45 minutes from downtown Austin, this sprawling 27,000-acre Hill Country wonderland is somewhat unknown by many Austinites. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, often confused for Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, includes four public access areas, a ranger station, and more than 10 miles of unique trails to discover, spread throughout the ever-growing areas of Lago Vista, Liberty Hill, and Bertram. The Refuge is home to 245 bird species including the endangered and federally protected, golden cheek warbler, and black capped vireo, which was removed from the list of federally protected species in 2018.

As our once quaint Central Texas towns grow into cities and commuter communities it becomes ever more important to protect our natural spaces. As a National Wildlife Refuge, conservation, education, and environmental stewardship are cornerstones of its mission. Many National Wildlife Refuges have associative non-profit partner organizations called “Friends Groups”. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge (otherwise known as BCNWR) benefits from the “Friends of Balcones”, which works in tandem with BCNWR to host events and community outreach efforts to further its mission of environmental stewardship, conservation, and education. The Friends of Balcones (FOB) is an incredible volunteer driven non-profit organization that hosts a slew of local nature-loving family fun including “Sparrow Fest”, “Songbird Festival”, “Refuge Roundup” and many guided educational hikes throughout the year. They are also responsible for educational outreach efforts to local non-profits and schools, such as Candlelight Ranch!

We are very grateful to have a long-standing partnership with Friends of Balcones, that has grown an exchange of educational resources, engaging nature-based programming, volunteers, and interns that have brought our local communities and the children and families of CLR closer to the Central Texas ecosystem. Each year the Friends of Balcones sponsored a summer intern that works in tandem with CLR and the BCNWR. This intern leads fun and engaging programs teaching Candlelight Ranch campers during Camp Glimmer about native birds and insects. This program includes a twice a week fieldtrip to the National Wildlife Refuge to hike its trails and participate in an experiential outdoor lesson covering topics such as bird & insect habitats, how to identify native birds, and use binoculars.  Children also learn about bird migration, pollinating insects, and invertebrates. This curriculum is essential to our summer programming and reaches approximately 500 campers and their families per summer. Throughout the year BCNWR also sends their Mobile Ranger Station, manned by specially trained Refuge Volunteers to teach Central Texas focused environmental curriculum at our Family Days and Military Family Day events.

Our greatest hope is that through our partnership, we educate our local community about the unique diversity of our immediate ecosystems and inspire present and future generations to protect it. Together, we aim to create stewards and protectors of wild spaces, awed by the wonder and healing benefits nature possesses. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Friends of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and all that we can accomplish together.