Mike Rogan moved to Austin in 1968 to attend the University of Texas. Like many Austinities, he developed a strong connection to nature early on and ever since, he’s worked to preserve the green spaces in and around the city.
“I think what I probably enjoy most about working to protect or enhance an area’s ecology is the chance to gain an intense familiarity with one specific little piece of land,” said Mike. “Which leads to appreciating how every individual landscape is a little different, how each patch of woodland, or grassland, or creekside corridor has its own unique character and combination of plants and animals.”
As a super volunteer for APF for the past 6 years, we asked Mike a few questions about his involvement, his recent National Trails Day volunteer experience and what he loves most about his favorite parks and trails in Austin.
Q: How did you come to volunteer with APF?
A: I just responded to advertising announcing one of APF’s rehabilitation project workdays. I think the first was removing invasive woody plants along Shoal Creek. Most of my work with APF has been of a similar nature, part of the constant battle with the invasives, particularly ligustrum, that seem bent on devouring so many of our urban natural areas. I’ve also begun trying to do a little trail improvement at the Montopolis Floodplain site owned by the city’s Watershed Protection Department.
Q: What do you enjoy most about volunteering with APF?
A: It’s always nice to know that a wide variety of people in Austin respond to the beauty and mystique of nature and are willing to come out, at least occasionally, and do some physical work to preserve it.
Q: What was your National Trails Day experience like this year?
A: The project for which I volunteered – removing ligustrum at Montopolis Floodplain – was definitely “dampened” by this year’s last-minute re-scheduling, necessitated by heavy rains. Apparently, not many of those who initially signed up were available the following week. Still, I felt fairly satisfied with the visible dent I was able to make by myself in the ligustrum shrubs encroaching on the native woods there. I also had a chance to instruct a couple of people who probably hadn’t spent much time in the woods on how to identify the invasive ligustrum plants. One of these was a four-year-old boy and I assumed that my explanation was mainly for the benefit of his mother. But I was told later that when they started picking out plants to uproot, the boy quickly began correcting his mother about identifications. I thought that seemed somewhat heartening for the future of environmental activism!
Q: What’s your favorite park, trail, or green space in Austin?
A: One place that has always stood out in my mind, ever since my first visit (probably 45 years ago) is the area around the little creek-canyon just west of the Austin Nature & Science Center complex. It has amazingly varied and picturesque scenery for such a small site, along with a striking diversity of plant species. Although it’s a very intimate place, in a way, you also really feel that you’re at a point of vast convergences – where riparian bottomlands meet uplands, where the eastern prairies play out and the Hill Country begins. When I visit, I sometimes amuse myself by speculating that the little clan of canyon wrens that live among the rock strata there may be the very eastern-most representatives of their species.
Q: Do you volunteer with other groups in Austin? What kind of work do you do with them?
A: I’ve worked lately with Travis Audubon, Ecology Action, Zilker Neighborhood Association and Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association (BCNA), mostly at efforts to remove non-native plants from natural areas. With BCNA, I also did most of the work on a very rustic 300-yard loop trail through the natural portion of Nicholas Dawson Park (which covers only about four acres). So far, it’s worked out well, giving people a better look at birds and vegetation in the untamed corners of the park, while discouraging them from creating a destructive network of new ad hoc paths.
As an enthusiastic bird observer, I try to make my recreational birding forays count a little bit for conservation by methodically submitting reports on them to eBird, an on-line, global compilation of citizen-generated bird data, administered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Birds, probably the most readily visible form of wildlife, provide an excellent indicator about the general environmental health of their surroundings. They act as “the canary in the coal mine” for the biosphere as a whole and in this case, the metaphor is pretty much literal.
Q: What advice would you give someone who was looking to get involved environmentally in Austin?
A: If you’re new to Austin, or maybe even if you’re not, get around and see the diversity of nature in our area. Once you get a feel for the overall context of local conservation efforts, you’ll have a better idea as to which of the numerous environmentally oriented volunteer groups might suit you best.