A Wild Basin Pioneer Returns to Teach St. Edward's University New College Students
Judy Walther remembers a time when Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve was very different. As the Basin’s first educational director — serving from 1979 to 1986 — she initially worked out of her car to organize tours and develop programs, back before Loop 360 was built. She was thrilled when a 10’ X 10’ shed was constructed, which became part office and part supply storage space.
“I thought I was at the Ritz,” she recalls.
Her early years as a pioneer at the Basin were special ones. Working with 450 species and 200 pristine acres, Walther created an educational program that won an award from the Governor of Texas Environmental Excellence Award Program. “It was exciting to bring the world of science together with lay people,” she says.
With no educational program to work with and a sporadic tour system in place, Walther had her work cut out for her. She asked for volunteers through radio and newspapers and partnered with the University of Texas at Austin to allow students to receive credit for leading tours. The program grew to 3,000 students and 200 volunteers each year.
After an extensive training, university students and other adult volunteers led tours for children and adults alike. Grade- school students came out for field trips where they were broken into groups and took on the roles of botanists, geologists and zoologists.
“Everyone loved it,” she says. “The tour guides and the kids.”
Walther, who has a Masters in Science Education with a botany specialty and is trained in wetland delineation, also created an easy-to-use identification key of woody plants that’s still used today. It was written for non-scientists and is easy enough for third grade students, although many adults have also enjoyed learning from it.
After seven years at Wild Basin, Judy left to start Environmental Survey Consulting with David Mahler, the Basin’s first Executive Director. Their firm — which offers a variety of consulting services for projects in habitat restoration and native landscaping — works with individual landowners, governmental agencies, public organizations, neighborhood groups and private developers. Walther designs gardens and conducts workshops, seminars and speeches on butterfly gardening, native plants and invasive species, as well as writes articles on a variety of restoration topics.
Walther will return to the Basin this fall to teach a Natural History class for St. Edward’s University New College. The course, Advanced Topics in Biology, will fulfill the science requirement for non-science majors, and will take place every other Saturday at the Basin. Walther will lead students through hikes at the Basin.
“An important part of science is wondering, to be observant and look around,” she says. “I’m bringing it back home. Wild Basin is near and dear to my heart.”
Though she no longer works there, Walther’s pride in the Basin is evident.
“It was a wonderful teacher. I didn’t realize what a gem it was until after I left.”
Wild Basin’s gate is open every day from light to dark. Trail maps are available in the map boxes outside the building. Visit www.wildbasin.org for more information.
Special note: This article was written by Hannah Hepfer as a special to the Westlake Picayune. The story was published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Distinct section.