Dallas, TX – In the middle of our bustling metroplex is a paddling trail that's home to impressive birds, interesting wildlife and protection from the North Texas sun. The Beaver Pond Paddling Trail in Lewisville is among 7 North Texas canoe and kayak routes the state unveiled this week.
This morning KERA's Shelley Kofler paddles the route with an expert who has seen all kinds of creatures on the trail.
The view from the launch site is a little other-worldly. Towering black willows rise from shallow water, forming a canopy that filters out the harsh sun. A layer of lime green floats on the water, shimmering in the soft light.
Ken Steigman, my guide, says it's not pond scum it's a floating plant called duckweed.
Steigman: Put your hand in there and pull some of it up and you'll see tiny little roots that are suspended down into the water column from the surface.
Not far from DFW airport, a network of highways and the commercial center or Lewisville, it's pretty quiet as our kayaks slip into the duckweed and along the Beaver Pond Paddling Trail.
Ken is a biologist, ornithologist and director of the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, also known as LLELA. The one-mile paddling trail is part of the 2,000 acre preserve.
Steigman: This area that is known as the beaver pond is a beautiful wetlands system. We've got all kinds of turtles, of course a wide variety of fish, lots of water fowl, alligator and beaver.
Now wait a minute did he just say alligator?
Steigman: Yes. I've seen him a couple of times. He's pretty shy.
Kofler: That's good.
Steigman: Yeah, that's good. I've seen him twice and he's about four and a half or five feet.
Interpretive signs anchored along the watery route describe other critters that might make squeamish paddlers flinch. In addition to the ecosystem's plant life and bugs, signs describe four kinds of snakes.
Steigman: If they see you they will, especially in the water they'll move right on out.
Well, I hope that's true. In any case, with Ken's reassurance we follow the red-tagged branches that mark the route and stop some 20 feet from a little blue heron. He was watching us from a limb above the water.
Look up and you might see a brightly colored, neotropical songbird, the prothonotary warbler; a snowy egret; or a blue winged teal.
Look down beneath the duckweed into the clear water and you'll see another fascinating world unfold.
Steigman: It's like paddling through a big aquarium and looking down into the aquarium. You can see the branches under the water those are willow that had the bark chewed off them. That's active beaver.
The shaded trail eventually leads to open water, and an area where the beaver have built their lodge.
Ken Steigman is excited about sharing all of this with the public, though he admits to wondering what will change when the paddling crowd arrives.
Steigman: What we hope for LLELA to be for the general public is a place where people can come out and experience what it's like to be in the wild.
What Ken hopes is that by educating paddlers about the trail's many natural wonders they like him will grow to love it and want to protect it, even the alligator.
We didn't see that alligator, but just as we were leaving Cari Johnson of Dallas, and her family rushed back to the launch.
Cari Johnson: Luke tell her what we saw.
Luke Johnson: We saw a crocodile.
Kofler: Actually, it was probably an alligator.
Cari Johnson: Yes. We thought it was a beaver so we were really excited so we started chasing it and then realized that in fact it was an alligator. So I immediately put it in reverse.
But as Ken Steigman promised he's a shy alligator who couldn't wait to get away.