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Nature Trail Wins Recognition

Nature Trail Wins Recognition photo 7/29/2016 2:31:20 p.m. - Hobbs, NM.  

[Story from Dorothy Fowler, Hobbs News Sun, July 29, 2016]

Visitors looking at the pond and the nature trail that winds northward away from the entrance to the Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame would probably never guess that the landscape is in its third incarnation. The first two incarnations were less than successful.

David Hooten, supervisor of grounds at New Mexico Junior College, said Tuesday that this third incarnation has earned the National Wildlife Council's designation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Hooten said when he started working on the landscape project about two and a half years ago, the area looked like a wasteland. "A load of dirt that contained scraps of asphalt had been unloaded in the area and it really looked pretty bleak," he said. "But I told Steve (former NMJC President Steve McCleery) that if he would be patient, we could make it into a show place."
The first year required so many hours after work that Hooten's wife, Donna, suggested he "might just pitch a tent and sleep out there."

"Getting the plants started and seeing that they got the right amount of water was important and the maintenance workers are not horticulturists, so I was the one who needed to be there," Hooten said.

Hooten is a horticulturist. He said he worked with master gardeners at the beginning of the project and they were "a tremendous help. This is not a project that just one person could do. It took lots of help." That help was provided by volunteers and by college groundworkers, he said.

But the effort to win designation as a certified wildlife habitat was largely Hooten's own. "It took about two weeks to fill out all the forms and provide the documentation," he said as he displayed the notebook containing the information he submitted to the National Wildlife Council.

To earn wildlife habitat status, an area must meet five conditions.

There must be enough natural food for wildlife to feed on. The only exception is for hummingbirds, who may feed from hummingbird feeders because they are designated at pollinators.

There must be a water source, a requirement met by the addition of a man-made pond just east of the entrance to the Western Heritage Museum. The pond is surrounded by rocks placed so the Koi who live there can hide, and branches of several aquatic plants float serenely on the surface. There must enough cover to shelter small animals, which Hooten says are abundant on the site.
"There are bunnies, rats, pack rats, mice and an occasional skunk," he said. "There may be snakes. After all, the area just west of the museum is open prairie until you get to the (NMJC baseball) stadium, so it's quite possible that snakes might come up. We've got roadrunners, hummers, barn owls, quail and three different kinds of doves and lots of others."

There must be a place where animal parents can raise their young. Rocks strategically placed to form cozy dens serve the same purpose in the museums landscape and eventually birdhouses designed to attract more species of birds will be placed on poles in the habitat. Lastly, habitat managers must demonstrate that it is sustainable and that practices are in place to make it sustainable. That means a variety of things, including a way to collect rain run-off, made possible by the pond and a drainage system, vigilance against non-native plants that might destroy native plants and conservation of water by using appropriate means to water.

Hooten said plants in the habitat are watered by low volume sprinklers instead of a drip system.
All plants are labeled so visitors can know what they are looking at and whether they might want to use that plant in their own yards, Hooten said. Scattered around the habitat are 10 bronze animals that are common to Southeast New Mexico and Lea County.

People interested in buying a bronze animal can make get information about the program by calling 575-392-4510 and asking for Hooten's office.

"We've done a lot, but this is still a work in progress," Hooten said. "We've got plans for the area south of the sidewalk leading up to the entrance of the museum."

[Photo by KIMBERLY RYAN/NEWS-SUN. The nature trail at the Western Heritage Museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame has earned the National Wildlife Council's designation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat]

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