INTERVIEWEE: Ellen Temple (ET)
INTERVIEWER: David Todd (DT)
DATE: March 3, 2008
LOCATION: Lufkin, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Cruz Andreas and Robin Johnson
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the reel. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd, I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas, and we’re in Lufkin, Texas. And we’re lucky to be visiting with Ellen Temple, who is a general civic volunteer, also a retired book publisher. But she’s been active with a number of groups, from the Nature Conservancy of Texas, to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, to Texas Pineywoods Experience Advisory Committee. And—and a number of other efforts to—to try to preserve parts of our—our natural environment. And I wanted to take this chance to thank you for spending time with us.
00:02:05 – 2435
ET: You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure.
DT: Thank you. I thought we might start by talking about your upbringing. I understand that your father was a PhD paper chemist, and came to this part of this country as—to help operate a—a paper mill. But I was curious if you could talk about your upbringing and maybe what sort of influences you could point to from your father, your mother, family members, early friends, that might have influenced your interest in the outdoors. Any ideas there?
00:02:43 – 2435
ET: Yes. My parents, you know, grew up in Northern Minnesota when it was still—it had been cut over a good bit, but it was still wilderness area. My dad grew up trapping, and—and fly fishing, and picking berries in the woods. And my mom too. And when I came along, you know, I was born in Arkansas—when I came along, from the earliest time I can remember, you know, like three or four years old, we were outdoors taking walks, looking for wildflowers, looking for the first violets, you know, in the spring, picking berries, just enjoying a creek. You know, I—those were my—some of my earliest memories. And my parents were—there were four of us, four kids, and my parents had us outdoors all the time. And he was in the
00:03:36 – 2435
paper business, as you said. And we moved to Alabama, and I’ll never forget the trip that we took, camping from Alabama all the way to Washington state, and stopping and staying in parks. You know, putting up a tent, sleeping in the back of the station wagon, and enjoying—enjoying the outdoors. And that was way back, before there were a lot of motels. That was back in the early 50’s. So that’s one of those experiences I’ll never forget. And then when we moved to East Texas, you know, we—at Christmas time we used to go out in the woods and co—and collect the yaupon, fruits, berries—you know, those red berries, we’d collect holly, we’d collect pine. My mother never had anything artificial in the house. We ne—you know, I’ve never had an artificial tree, I mean, we always enjoyed bringing the outdoors in.
00:04:34 – 2435
And, she loved wildflowers. My dad knew every tree in the forest, you know, being a paper maker. And they both loved and respected the outdoors. And so, they were scout leaders, both of them, and all of u—all of us kids were in the scouts, and went to summer camp—scouting camp. So, yeah, I—at an early age, I—I was lucky enough to be outside learning and experiencing the beauty of outdoors.
DT: When you mention that—that you had close family members, your mother, your father that were interested in the outdoors. Maybe we can talk a little bit about your schooling? Was there anybody, a teacher or a fellow student that—that might have instigated this same kind of interest in the outdoors? Anybody you can think of?
00:05:25 – 2435
ET: (?) off the top of my head, Coach Clark was my biology teacher here in Lufkin High School, and as part of our biology class, he’d get us all together and we’d go walking in the woods behind Lufkin High School, which is now the middle school. And he’d point out the grapevine, you know, hanging from the trees. And we’d look at bugs and identify different trees. And as I look back, he was a big influence on me, mm hmm, and all my love of the outdoors.
DT: When we were off tape earlier, you were talking about one of the first organized efforts that—that you might pin as being sort of an en—environmental or—or conservation effort, and that was in Diboll. Can you recall that?
00:06:18 – 2435
ET: Well, I wo—I’d be happy to. When Buddy and I married in 1972, we—we moved, I moved from Lufkin to Diboll, which is ten miles south of Lufkin. And small town, you know, I think there were only like 3,000 residents then. And the Donovan’s were our neighbors, in Diboll. We were on a cul-de-sac and our kids played outdoors all the time. But anyway, in 1976, which was our country’s bicentennial, I was a member of the Angelina County Historical Commission. And I think it was Marge Shepherd who said, you know, we need to come up with a project, how about we plant trees to celebrate. And I volunteered to head up that effort. So we—the first thing I did was call A&M University and ask for somebody in their landscape department. Got a professor who volunteered to bring his class over
00:07:14 – 2435
and do a semester-long study about creating a treescape in Diboll. You know, a way to define the streets, entrances to the park. Just—a treescape, you know, as an urban planning tool for our little bitty town. So they came over, we came up with this treescape, involved the whole community, we raised the money, and we purchased 200 oak trees. And we planted them in strategic places all over the community. And they’re protected by city ordinance, and also they know that if anybody touched those trees, I’d be after them too. But, that was one of my first organized efforts, and I had the best time. I can’t think of anything more I like to do than to plant trees. I just love, you know, I love that.
DT: Mrs. Temple, I—I think that we—we’ve just visited a little bit about your landscaping efforts as part of the bicentennial program in Diboll, and I thought it might be good to—to move on to talk a little bit about your work with the Texas Department of Transportation, where a lot of the district engineers would present their portfolios to you, of landscaping plans. I was curious how that—that whole experience came about.
00:08:35 – 2435
ET: Well, Ladybird Johnson, you know, when she returned to Texas after being in the white house, she initiated this wonderful program, which gave highway district engineers incentives to really go, you know, plant wildflowers along their stretches of highway. And take pictures of it and then submit a portfolio that a committee that she got together, would judge. And so she asked me to join the group, and so for several years Diana Hobbie and I, Patsie Steves, and some others, would get together for a couple days every year. We’d go into the L.B.J. Library, up in Mrs. Johnson’s suite, and we’d spread out all these portfolios and the most beautiful wildflowers along Texas highways, and then we would pick different prize winners for several different categories. And then we’d have a big celebration in the spring at
00:09:29 – 2435
the L.B.J. Ranch, and—and Mrs. Johnson would actually give those district en—winning district engineers a check for like a thousand dollars. You know, just to give them an incentive, she always believed in the carrot rather, you know—stick—rather than the stick approach. And it seemed to work, and she did that for twenty years and then turned the program over to TxDot. But all along, she was working with TxDot on this effort.
DT: Maybe you can talk about this same program by helping us understand why Ladybird, and—and her coterie of—of friends, including yourself, felt that it was important to have these wildflowers along the highways. What—what sort of value did you see in that?
00:10:19 – 2435
ET: Well, there were a number of reasons to do it. First of all, it was beautiful. You know, it just was Texas at its best when all the wildflowers were blooming along the highway. But secondly, it drew—the wildflowers were a way to draw people’s attention to all of nature and its value, to be frank. I mean they just weren’t an end in themselves. They were a symbol to draw people’s interest in. It’s kind of like stargazing does for children, you know, it gives—brings them into astronomy and science. Well, the wildflower programs that Mrs. Johnson started were a way to bring people into what didn’t even have a—a word t—t—then. You know as ecosystems, the value of our ecosystem. And so it, you know, it was an important
00:11:16 – 2435
project, it doesn’t—you know, we used to get teased a little bit about it, a—about being just focused on wildflowers. But know that Mrs. Johnson and all of us had really had a larger view.
DT: And how did you sell it to the Texas Department of Transportation? (inaudible)…
00:11:34 – 2435
ET: Mrs. Johnson asked them to do it (laughs). And, you know, w—when she—they knew her dedication to nature. She focused on it, on th—those environmental projects when she was in the white house. And so they wanted to cooperate with her.
DT: And did they see a savings in not having to mow as often? Is that correct?
00:11:55 – 2435
ET: Yes. They saw savings in—in not having to mow. They—the tourism departments, you know, saw the advantage of having beautiful roadsides. And the—you know, all those pictures were usually featured in the Texas Highway Department magazine. It’s a way to draw visitors to Texas.
DT: Okay. Well, I guess through—through political connections and—and associations, and also through—through this experience on the TxDot landscaping program, you—you got to know Mrs. Johnson pretty well, and…
00:12:33 – 2435
ET: Yes I did.
DT: And then later got involved in—in a key project that she was involved in for many years, called the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. I—I was hoping you could tell about your first acquaintance with the center, and—and how it grew over the years that—that you were involved with it.
00:12:52 – 2435
ET: Well, I joined the board of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center; I think it was in 1989. So I was a member of the board for ten years then became an honorary board member. But, I’ve—I, you know, Mrs. Johnson asked me to join. You know, when I was active on her portfolio judging committee for the highway district engineers’ entries, she knew of my interest and so she said, “Why don’t you join the wildflower center board?” And they, you know, as a board, invited me to come along, and I did. And there were a lot of us on the board, there were like eighty-five members (laughs). It was a huge board. But Mrs. Johnson drew people from all over the country. She didn’t just see it as a Texas project. You know, she saw it as a national project. And we set up shop there on the river close to Austin,
00:13:52 – 2435
on a piece of land that Mrs. Johnson owned. And it was just, you know, like a double-wide trailer. And lots of volunteers, I think David Northington was the first director. Lot—and, it just—they just got to work. But the problem with the site was that there wasn’t any water there. You know, they had to import water to water the seed beds and so on. And so, Mrs. Johnson then donated another piece of land in Austin. And then we went through the effort to build the new facility. And I became president of the board in ‘97, which was the year after the—the facility had opened. And then I was president for three years. And, you know, it’s just very exciting to work with Mrs. Johnson on that project, we were all so proud of it. And it’s going strong. I was pleased to have a role in—in merging the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center with the University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Science, and also the
00:15:03 – 2435
architecture school. There the—dean of the school of architecture at U.T. is Fritz Steiner, and he’s a landscape architect. And so he played a role in that. And Mary, I can’t think of her name—Mary Ann, the dean of the college of natural science, played a role. And Larry Faulkner, Lo—Lowell Lieberman, Tom Johnson out of L.A., he’s a good friend of the Johnson’s, and Lucy Johnson. I mean, we all sat down with Susan Rieff and—and made this happen. And it’s been a wonderful asset for the university, and it’s been a good connection for the wildflower center.
DT: Wh—what was the idea behind the merger of the wildflower center and the University of Texas?
00:15:53 – 2435
ET: The wildflower center had a strong science program by the time Bob Breunig left. He—he had re—reinvigorated the research program; but it needed the connection to a great u—use—research university, like the University of Texas at Austin, to get nationwide credibility for its programs. And I think the University of Texas at Austin needed something like the wildflower center, where they could do practical experiments on environmental issues and on restoration in particular. And so it was—it’s been a good—it’s been of value, the merger’s been of value to both institutions.
DT: You talk about landscape restoration. I was hoping you could help us understand, the wildflower center is not just about wildflowers, per se, that it’s also about a more holistic attitude about trying to restore entire landscapes. H—how does it go about that? Why was it important to the board and to the staff that it do that?
00:17:06 – 2435
ET: Well, the—you know, you just can’t think of wildflowers, although there are, you know, hundreds and hundreds of species. You can’t think of them as separate from the larger environment. And you can’t—and I learned this as a member of the Nature Conservancy Board too because for a long time people thought that you could preserve units, you know, they did that with the Big Thicket. They thought that you could preserve things kind of in is—isolation. Well you can’t preserve a spe—you know, a kind of plant, a wildflower, just in isolation. You know, you have to look at the whole ecosystem, and everything that works together. You know, the soil, the water, it all—all the plants work together and the animals. And what’s going on
00:17:55 – 2435
under the soil is just as important as what’s going on above the soil. It’s all connected. And so, when you see the d—damage that the environment has felt for the last couple hundred years, you know, during the industrial revolution and on up to present day; and you see a need to work to bring it back to life, to restore it so that the wildflower species can survive, the animal species can survive. You know, it—it—you can’t just be a passive conservationist. You have to get involved, and that’s what restoration is. And so I think everybody at the wildflower center, especially Bob Breunig, who was the director at the time, recognized this. And Steve Windhager was—he put on a program for—that—what was the name of that organization? That ecological restoration, international or something…
DT: Society for Ecological Restoration?
00:18:53 – 2435
ET: Yeah, Society for Eco (laughs) International. And he was just a young kid at the time. And so Bob Breunig took me to a meeting at the L.B.J. School, they were having their world-wide meeting, and Steve Windhager was in charge. And to see all those young people so excited about working, you know, personally working on the land and restoring it was just a revelation. And so Bob and I, you know, visited with Steve, and we took that excitement back to the board, and they agreed to start a restoration program. And then we hired Steve Windhager to run it, which was a good move.
DT: Something else that the wildflower center has been known for is—is not just the grounds and the research that’s done there, but the—the very buildings that are there. I think it’s known as a really fine and early example of a green building. And I was wondering if you could tell us about the construction design while you were on the board.
00:19:55 – 2435
ET: Well, the—that was a consideration from the beginning. You know, that it would be the kind of buildings that would leave a light footprint on the land, to use—to quote Mrs. Johnson. And so they are, you know, designed to use minimal amount of energy. The—all the runoff from the buildings and the—is collected in underground storage units, and that’s used to landscape the grounds. It’s just, you know, from the beginning was designed to be environmentally friendly. There’s a lot of breakthroughs now, and that kind of technology that wasn’t available back then when we were building the wildflower center. But it—I think we did the best we could with what was available then. We didn’t have these voltaic solar cells and all that. But it is—you know, it has left a—a light footprint on the land.
DT: How did you find and select the—the firm Overland Partners? They were a very young firm at the time, with not, probably a long track record. H—how did you find that they would be the right group to design…
00:21:15 – 2435
ET: You know, I wasn’t in—I wasn’t directly involved in that selection process. So, I don’t know exactly why they chose Overland Partners, but it was certainly a good—good decision.
DT: Well, while we’ve been talking about the—the wildflower center, you’ve given the example of—of w—what you learned at—working with the Nature Conservancy, where you were also on the board about how, as I think you put it, wildflowers can’t be looked at in isolation, that they’re—nor can individual tracks be looked at in—in isolation. And I think the conservancy has been a real pioneer in—in talking about preservation of whole landscapes. And—and I was hoping that you could talk about, what does that mean to preserve a landscape? And maybe give some examples of some of the projects you were proud of that happened under your watch at—at the conservancy here in Texas.
00:22:27 – 2435
ET: Okay. The—to preserve a landscape means that you need to really focus on what keeps the—the—the system alive. You know, the rivers and the creeks—protect them primarily. And protect enough ground cover, you know, to—for the watershed for those creeks and rivers. And you need, not only to just have like a—a preserve, you know, i—in a defined space but to develop the corridors. And usually they are creek and river corridors between landscapes, so species can move back and forth and keep the—the diversity, not only of DNA, but of, you know, plant life t—and—and animal life moving back and forth. So th—that was a major breakthrough. I think the Nature Conservancy, the people who founded the Big
00:23:14 – 2435
Thicket; they thought that you could, you know, preserve the last great places. But now the knowledge is—is there, that you have to preserve the links, or they can’t be healthy communities. And so, I think one of the best examples of that is—is the Devils River in—out in West Texas, because they have—they have—the Nature Conservancy, has gradually just put under conservation (inaudible) or actually bought tracks of land that protect that whole watershed for that Devils River. And another example is what’s going on around the Big Thicket right now. The—the Nature Conservancy, and primarily the Conservation Fund, with help from the TLO Temple Foundation; and the—and the, United States government is buying up the
00:24:08 – 2435
land along the corridors to try to link all those separate, pearls they call them, that make up the Big Thicket. So those two examples—and the Nature Conservancy has worked with the Conservation Fund, with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, with the Big Thicket Athoci—Association, and the park to try to make those links. For example, they’ve bought the land along Village Creek, which links two different units in the Big Thicket.
DT: We—you—you mentioned the Big Thicket. Do you have any familiarity with the effort to protect the Big Thicket National Preserve? Any of those units down there between, I guess, Beaumont and s—Silsbee and so on?
00:24:53 – 2435
ET: I just—I have knowledge of it because, you know, so many of the people I know and love were involved in saving it. You know, my father in law, Arthur Temple, was a—you know—he was th—th—the ti—the leader in the timber industry who said, let’s save, you know, some of this land. Charlie Wilson, our congressman, he played a lead role. Maxine Johnson has become a good friend. And I serve on a committee now that’s doing a survey of all the living species of the Big Thicket, and I work with Maxine on that. And, you know, Geraldine Watson, all these people I know, played—they were the—they were the ones who made that Big Thicket happen. It was pretty amazing prod—project, you know, that they could get that done, very exciting.
DT: Can you tell us about any of the high points in the effort to preserve those tracts along the Big Thicket?
00:25:49 – 2435
ET: You mean the ones that have just happened lately?
DT: Well, or back in the 70’s. I know you guys say it’s a whole course of it that’s gotten, sort of, even more installed just—just recently, but yeah, if there are any of those tracts that you could speak about, that would be great.
00:26:07 – 2435
ET: Well, you know, I really can’t tell you details about any certain one. I know that the Roy Larsen Sandy Lands, that’s not—that’s in the Big Thicket area. That was the first piece of land that was given to the Nature Conservancy. And it was given by, Temple-Inland, back then. And then they were merged with Time, and that was a major breakthrough, I think, in Texas, because that was the Nature Conservancy’s first piece of land. But so far as the acquisition of different tracts, you know, I really wasn’t involved in that. I was very excited about it, but I wasn’t directly involved.
DT: I think that you mentioned that—that the Big Thicket was thought of as a corridor, as a string of pearls. And I—I believe that a similar kind of effort is underway now, further upstream the Neches Basin, to try to create a wildlife refuge and to block a—a—a dam that might inundate some of this land. Can you talk about that effort?
00:27:14 – 2435
ET: Well, you know, that, to me, is a very exciting effort. And it all really started with Dick Donovan and hi—his trip down the Neches River. And he called me and said, come on Ellen, you know, let’s go, you know, let’s paddle the Neches and I did. And—and his—his paddling the Neches, and writing about it, and going on TV to talk about it, you know, doing interviews in the newspapers, that brought an awareness to all of us about a—a river that is so valuable to East Texas too. I—It’s the heard of East Texas, ecologically, historically, culturally and he brought it to our attention. You know, we’d pretty much just taken it for granted. And so the work that—I mean he—he—Gina Donovan, his daughter, was very active in a save the Neches program, and so I worked with her. And I just played a minor role, you know, in the save the
00:28:17 – 2435
Neches and the effort to establish the wildlife refuge. But I wrote a lot of letters, and called a lot of congress people, and generally got on board. And I became very excited about what we could do in East Texas.
DT: You—you—you said that the Neches River is—is kind of the ecological and historic heart of—of East Texas. Could you give us a little more detail about what you—what you mean by that?
00:28:50 – 2435
ET: Well, so much of the—the whole ecosystem in our part of East Texas depends on that river. I mean, the Big Thicket depends on the overflow from the river. All these creeks that we have throughout East Texas, they flow into the river. The species diversity along the river is incredible. I mean, that’s most of our diversity of animal and plant species, is along the river corridor. The rest of East Texas, except for some preserve dairies in the uplands, is—and in the lolly pine forest, is now plantation, pine plantation. So you’re—the diversity—the way East Texas was historically is along the river. And so to—to dam that up would be a loss not only,
00:29:53 – 2435
you know, of our—of all those species, but it would be a real cultural and historical loss, I think, because, you know, a river is a living entity, and that would kill a good bit of it, that dam would. So we’re not going to let that happen (laughs).
DT: Well, when you speak about hi—clearly very detailed about the—the ecological aspect of it. And then historically I imagine that there are small towns, communities, houses, churches, cemeteries, along the Neches. Is that the case?
00:30:31 – 2435
ET: Well, there were. There were, you know, in the past. And then it was used as a—a what—for transport, to transport logs, you know, transport goods into East Texas. The people depended on it for—for fish and for wildlife. The deer population, you know, thrived in the bottoms because of the acorns from the oak trees. And, yeah, tha—I think a lot of communities grew up along the Neches. I know Angelina County, you know, our—about a third of our—maybe more of our county border is the Neches River. In fact, we’re between two rivers, the Neches and the Angelina. So, you know, rivers are a big important part of our culture and our history.
DT: Y—you mentioned your—your opposition to, I guess this is Fastrill reservoir…
00:31:29 – 2435
ET: You’re right, Fastrill res…
DT: And Rockland is that true?
00:31:32 – 2435
ET: Yes, that’s another one. Yeah that’s—I think those are on—in the Water Plan. And we definitely don’t want those to happen.
DT: Well, what is the argument for these reservoirs, and how would you counter—counter those claims?
00:31:49 – 2435
ET: Well, the—the cities don’t con—do a very good job of water conservation. You know, like Dallas, are looking to damming the river as a way to, you know, support their water supply. But I would counter that they can do a better job with conservation, that there really isn’t a need to build new dams. We’ve got several dams already, and—in East Texas. And there’s really—I don’t see a need for anymore. You know, with water conservation, using the water that we have, out of Toledo Bend Reservoir or other, you know, existing sources should be enough for the City of Dallas in the future.
DT: I guess this—one of the difficulties with the reservoir, of course, is that it shares a location with a national wildlife refuge that’s been proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And—and I was hoping that you could talk about that effort to try to create this refuge.
00:32:58 – 2435
ET: Well, that was a—that was an amazing effort. You know, Gina really—Gina Donovan helped organize it, and then Michael Banks out of Jacksonville. And it was just a cu—East Texas wide effort. Dick Donovan, you know, just the whole—all of us, I think, came together and supported U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s designation of that area as U.S. Fish and Wildlife—as a refuge. And I—you know—I—I think our work paid off because the Department of Interior signed off on it, and it—it’s a reality. It’s just that the City of Dallas took it to court and is challenging that designation, because that’s where they want to build the dam. Mm hmm.
DT: I understand there’s also been an effort to designate this stretch of—of the Neches as a wild and scenic river. What does that mean and how—how did that come about?
00:33:59 – 2435
ET: Well, that’s a—that takes I think an act of congress, and the first step is the—the assessment. And then it gets up to the stage where they actually sign off on it as—as a wild and scenic river. And I think it’s going to take like two or three years, Dick can tell you more about it. But, you know, it’s a long term effort. Jim Turner got the ball rolling several years ago, but never actually got that assessment done. And so now the effort has started again to gear up and—and see if we can’t make it happen.
DT: Mr. Turner is your local congressman…
00:34:43 – 2435
ET: He was our congressman. Yeah, he’s a—he’s not in office anymore.
DT: We—we’ve talked so far about the efforts to protect the Neches River. And, of course, part of that reasoning is just to protect it for what it is—for the plants, animals, and water that’s there. But I—I gather it can also be a way of developing a new kind of economy here. And—based more on tourism crowds, people coming here to appreciate what’s—what’s—what the natural assets are for this area of Texas. And—and as part of that, I believe you’ve been active with the Texas Pineywoods Experience Advisory Committee. And I was hoping that you could tell how that got started and what they’ve been doing, what their goals are.
00:35:37 – 2435
ET: The—the Pineywoods Experience—Texas Pineywoods Experience Initiative is just a very exciting project of the Conservation Fund. And we are lucky enough here in this part of East Texas to have the Conservation Fund’s involvement. They have made us, East Texas, one of their top—in their top five projects in the whole United States because they see an ecosystem in the Pineywoods, which is under a lot of challenges right now. All of the timberland that was once protected—you know, since it’s open space—by the timber companies—has all been sold now. All the large timber companies have sold their holdings. And so that—you know—the challenges, you know, how do you preserve an area at the same time that you help people make
00:36:44 – 2435
a living here because they’ve always made a living in East Texas by extracting the natural resources. Well, how can you do it and save the natural resources that we have left? And so the Conservation Fund, to my knowledge, is the only environmental organization that has both a conservation and an economic development mission. And it’s so interesting, I was just reading the other day, and—because the—the Nature Conservancy is looking into this too. Other environmental organizations are realizing that they have to address the human economic development part of the conservation project. You know, you can’t pull things out of, you know, natural resources, out of use and at—and at the same time, take away jobs from people. You have to figure out how to combine the two, so both prosper. And so really the Conservation Fund’s Pineywoods Experience Initiative addresses
00:37:52 – 2435
that issue. And, you know, our goal is not only to preserve the—the beauty and—of our natural assets as a way to bring tourists in, but also to preserve our history and our culture because the—they recognize—the pin—the Conservation Fund and Fermata Inc. that they’d hired to run this Pineywoods Experience Program, recognize that we are a—pretty much an intact culture here in East Texas. You know, we haven’t been fragmented. Our land has not been totally fragmented, like some oth—other areas of Texas. Like the hill country, you know, the area around North Texas, around Dallas, I mean, around Houston, is fragmented. But we have—we have a distinct culture here, we have a distinct history, and we have some—they’re
00:38:45 – 2435
somewhat fragmented, but we still have some natural assets that we need to preserve. And so this Pineywoods Experience Initiative addresses that. And for the past couple years; we’ve had meetings up and down the Neches River corridor, you know, in different towns, to showcase what’s beautiful about our particular part of East Texas. Now we met in Nacadoches initially, then moved on up to Jacksonville and Palestine, down to the Beaumont area, and then Lufkin. And it was really a great opportunity for each little community to showcase what they have, and it brought awareness. And the hope is that in East Texas we can continue to build the kind of economy that places value on pres—preserving these natural assets. You know, the bass fishing business is huge business. Well, you need to preserve some
00:39:50 – 2435
parks and some places along the lakes to encourage that kind of business. And when you encourage that, you know, bass fishing, then all kinds of other businesses open up around it. And for—i—paddling the river, you know, having access to the Neches River. I mean that co—that—other kinds of businesses hopefully will build up around paddling the river, you know, building kayaks (laughs) I don’t know. Guiding—you know—tour guides, I mean there are all kinds of things that couldn’t—can develop once we in East Texas open our eyes to the value of what we have. And that’s what the Pineywoods Experience is all about. It’s good—there’s a website
00:40:38 – 2435
that, you know, lists all of our assets and invites people to visit them. And now we’re moving into a new phase too, which, you know, I’ll—I can talk a little more about and that’s the green infrastructure planning.
DT: Wh—what do you mean by that term, green infrastructure?
00:40:56 – 2435
ET: Green infrastructure, that’s—that’s a way to plan for the future where rather than just looking at what the—we call gray infrastructure, you know, highways, development, and th—every community plans for that, that we also plan in conjunction with that great infant—gray infrastructure planning a plan for green infrastructure. For open space, for preserving river corridors, for highlighting natural assets that have already been developed, like Cassels Boykin Park. You know, highlight that, make it better, make it a real attraction. And then find ways to link these open spaces in—in a county, in a community. And that’s wh—we’re in the process right now of doing this kind of planning. And we’re going to have our initial meeting Wednesday, and then the follow-up—well, it won’t be our initial meeting, it’ll
00:42:00 – 2435
be a meeting where we involve—we call it a leadership forum, where in—we involve the whole community. I think there’ll probably be fifty to seventy-five people there, and they can all give their input about what they think, you know, needs to happen. You know, what do we need to preserve? We’ve got a superintendent coming out of Hudson, which is in Angelina County, and she’ll talk about creating a nature preserve on the Neches, which is close to Hudson. And, you know, we’re just going to bring all these ideas together, the green infrastructure experts from the Conservation Fund will absorb all of this, they’ll show us the initial work that they’ve done, you know, using their maps and so on, about possible linkages that they can see. So we’ll
00:42:43 – 2435
identify the places, and then how do we link them together, through trails, through the river corridors, through creek corridors. You know, we’ve got these natural assets now. They’re still here. There’s a lot of pressure coming on them. And I hope that we, you know, I want us to come up with a plan where we can, you know, just preserve this, not only Angelina County, but all of East Texas. And I hope to get this done statewide someday (laughs). But, you know, I’m just going to take it one step at a time. Angelina County is—doing it right here is our first goal. So the possibilities are endless, you know, I think it’s a great way to look ahead as a way to
00:43:26 – 2435
preserve our natural assets here and at the same time, grow our economy. You know, you can grow at the same time you preserve your natural assets. They don’t have to be exclusive.
DT: Well, you know, you speak about preserving these natural assets, and I—I thought there might be one example of how you—you’ve been involved in that. I believe you’re on the—the advisory board for a group that’s not in East Texas, but it seems to benefit from these same ideas about recognizing what’s vital about the outdoors and trying to preserve it. And that’s this group called South Texas Natives. And perhaps some people who watch this tape won’t be familiar with the group and the effort. Could you try to explain it?
00:44:13 – 2435
ET: Well, that—the South Texas Native Advisory Group is an adjunct, or it’s a part of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&I in Kingsville. And my husband, Buddy, chairs that Caesar Klebug—Kleberg advisory board. And I co—you know, through my association with the board members, I became interested in the possibilities, you know, of preserving some of the seed in South Texas and—and helping the Kleberg Institute grow it and then sell it to ranchers that want to restore their land, because there’s a lot of wonderful biodiversity in South Texas. And there are many, many ranchers ou—we included. We have a ranch down there who want very much to restore the land, but just didn’t have the seed to do it. And so this
00:45:18 – 2435
South Texas Natives program is—they’re producing seed. It takes a long time, you know, to make all this happen. But they’re in the process, and they released seven different varieties now. And so we’re on our way, and it’ll benefit the—some growers down there in South Texas. It’ll benefit the highway department that’s looking for native seed. It’ll benefit ranchers, ben—it’ll benefit the environment.
DT: Well, i—it seems like there are a lot of groups that have found their crossroads in you. I mean, it—from the Nature Conservancy of Texas, to the Conservation Fund, to the Texas Pineywoods Experience Advisory Committee, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, South Texas Natives. I was hoping that—that you could tell us what it is that you—why you feel that you should volunteer your time for all of these groups and all of these efforts. What drives you?
00:46:24 – 2435
ET: What drives me? I love the land. You know, I lo—I—I love being outdoors, and I can’t imagine a world without wildflowers, and flowing rivers and creeks, and pine trees and—and the natural world. And I—I want future generations to be able to enjoy it, just like I have.
DT: Well, that’s a—I guess leads to a second question. You have children and you’ve been involved with education, being on the Board of Regents at University of Texas. How would you explain the need to conserve the outdoors and natural systems to that next generation of—of children, or of students?
00:47:25 – 2435
ET: Well, let’s see, how would I explain it? But you know what I do (laughs) and I’ve done this with my grandkids, take them for a walk. You know, get outside, get on the land, go for a walk, look at bugs. You know, look at wildflowers coming up. Right now I’ve got violets, first little flowers of the East Texas spring coming up in my yard. And just take them for a walk, show them what’s coming up, you know, what’s special about it. Kids love it, you know, all you have to do is lead them to nature and they fall in love. And so, so far as education and—goes, that’s the first step, I think. Get—get—just get them out there.
DT: Maybe more show than tell.
00:48:27 – 2435
ET: Yeah, more show than tell, because, you can tell them till you’re blue in the face, but they really don’t understand till they get out there, they, you know, play in the dirt and they (laughs), you know, look at the bugs, enjoy the birds, splash in the creek. I mean, that’s what connects people to the land. That’s where we belong, I mean, that’s where we are at home. And that’s the best approach. And so we need places where we can take kids and—and do this with them.
DT: Well you speak about places; we often close these interviews with a kind of open ended question.
DT: Mrs. Temple, we—we’ve been talking about how to show a younger generation about why conservation is important, and I think you had a—a smart response, that sometimes you just have to show somebody a place. And I was curious if you could tell us about some of these places that are special to you, and that—that you think speak to some of these conservation ideas that have meant a lot to you.
00:49:46 – 2435
ET: Well the one that comes to mind right off the top of my head is a place called Boggy Slough, and it was—it’s right on the Neches River. It’s a hunting club, and it’s r—right off of highway fif—highway 94. And every Thanksgiving for the past thirty-seven years, you know, the whole time my husband Buddy and I have been married, that’s where we as a family have celebrated Thanksgiving, out in the woods. And so it was special to my husband’s family, I mean they—it was owned by the family, and then the company. And so it’s been a special place for the whole family for a long, long time. But for me and our kids, you know, that’s where I think they’ve connected with East Texas, with this beautiful place.
DT: And I gather it’s bottomland hardwood…
00:50:46 – 2435
ET: Bottomland hardwood.
DT: Describe it.
00:50:48 – 2435
ET: It’s piney woods; it’s a refuge for eagles. We have bald eagles there. It’s, you know, full of deer and bobcats and other kind—turkey, other kinds of wildlife, full of dogwood, and, you know, all the wonderful blooming trees that we have in East Texas. It’s, yeah, just very rich in all kinds of wildlife and plant species, and it’s very peaceful, very beautiful. We love it.
DT: Well, I think that’s all I could possibly pester you about. Are there other things that you’d like to mention before we end?
00:51:34 – 2435
ET: Let’s see, anything else? I—I just—I hope that—I just hope that we can bring more and more people into this circle, es—especially in East Texas. I mean, that’s a goal that I know all of us have, you know, just bring more and more and more people into the idea of—of enjoying the land and passing it along and taking good care of it. So I think that’s really the challenge of these—you know, next fifty, hundred years. And I’m just happy to be a part of it.
DT: Good. Well, thank you so much.
00:52:28 – 2435
ET: Yeah, you’re welcome.
00:52:31 – 2435
ET: You’re welcome.
[End of Reel 2435]
[End of Ellen Temple Interview]