By Guest Author Robby Jonathon Stengel
Located on the southern edge of Lewisville Lake, where the Elm Fork of the Trinity River continues, the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) is a haven for exploring the natural beauty of North Texas. The 2,600-acre preserve features a six-mile network of hiking trails, as well as a paddling trail, for you to discover native wildlife in its natural habitats; and, through the City of Lewisville and the University of North Texas, you can join a variety of recreational and educational activities led by local experts. Best of all, LLELA is just a 1.5-mile bike or car ride from the A-train’s stop at Old Town Station.
LLELA demonstrates how the greater Blackland Prairie, originally 12 million acres, looked hundreds of years ago before the area was farmed and later developed. When the Lewisville Lake Dam was created in the 1950s, thousands of these acres were reserved for flood control; and, decades later, this untouched area was seen as an opportunity for reserving ecosystems, as well as providing an environment where people could respectfully interact with nature. Today, three local agencies – the University of North Texas, the City of Lewisville and Lewisville ISD – work in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out the LLELA mission: To preserve and restore native Texas ecosystems and biodiversity while providing opportunities for environmental education, research and recreation.
Although LLELA’s trail network only spans across an area of about two miles, each trail takes you through a world unlike the next. As LLELA’s website describes it, “The land that we now call LLELA is positioned where the Blackland Prairie mingles with the dry upland forests of the Eastern Cross Timbers. The Elm Fork of the Trinity River, with its surrounding bottomland forests, winds through the middle of these two ecosystems. This lucky collision makes LLELA a perfect place to find a diversity of wildlife and plants.”
To help you plan your next hike, each trail is described below; but, before making your journey, be sure to download the trail map and always remember to first check with LLELA for current trail conditions and closures.
- The Cottonwood Trail is a 1.3-mile loop that takes you through prairies and by several ponds, including Beaver Pond, as well as to the historic Minor-Porter Log House. Built in 1869, the cabin still stands as an example of 19th century life in North Texas and is completely furnished with artifacts from the time, including the tools that would been used to build the cabin. The Minor-Porter Log House is typically open to the public on the third Saturday of each month, as well as during special events such as Christmas at the Cabin.
- The Cicada Trail runs between the Cottonwood Trail and the historic channel of the Elm Fork. The 0.3-mile trail guides you through the Bottomland Hardwood Forests before connecting you to the Cottonwood Trail.
- The Redbud Trail, which spans across the largest area, takes you through prairies and along the Elm Fork. You can choose to hike the 1.4-mile exterior trail, which will take you from the Cottonwood and Cicada trail entry points to the Bittern Marsh Trail entry point; or you can loop back through the interior campground trails.
- The Bittern Marsh Trail, a 2.1-mile loop, guides you through the Bottomland Hardwood Forests, along the Elm Fork, to the Bittern Marsh, where you can get the best views of wetland wildlife.
- The Blackjack Trail is the only trail that takes you through part of the 120-acre Eastern Cross Timbers woods, which is characterized by Post Oak and Blackjack Oak trees; and sections of the trail will take you through prairies. The 1.5-mile exterior trail will guide you from the western-most part of LLELA to the Green Dragon Trail entry point, or you can choose to return to the trail’s beginning by taking a loop spur.
- The Green Dragon Trail is a short quarter-mile entry passage to the Cottonwood Trail and the Minor-Porter Log House. The trail is named after a rare North Texas plant that blooms for a short time in April.
Kayakers and canoeists can also take the one-mile Beaver Pond Paddling Trail, which includes 12 stops for viewing wildlife. If you don’t own a kayak or canoe, the Lewisville Parks & Recreation Department offers guided kayaking events, through which all equipment and instruction is provided. LLELA’s calendar of programs and events also includes guided activities such as night hikes, birding and fishing instruction.
LLELA is also a mecca for volunteer opportunities. Every Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon, as well as on the occasional Saturday, volunteers gather to restore habitats by working in the native plant nursery, assisting in planting, processing seeds, controlling invasive plant species, maintaining trails and caring for the river. Volunteer specialists even help with special events and tours, lead birding and nature hikes, and assist in bird research and care. LLELA’s geocache program was even designed by a local Eagle Scout.
Entry to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area is located at 201 E. Jones St. in Lewisville, TX. After taking the A-train, you can bike or use a ride-hailing service. From Old Town Station, travel west on East College Street and then north up North Kealy Avenue until you reach East Jones Street. The entry point, which is located at the intersection, is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Note: LLELA closes at 5 p.m. from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28 and is closed on the days of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.) Entry is free if you bike or walk in but costs $5 for vehicles.
Which hiking trail or guided activity do you plan to try? Let us know in the comments section below!