Don Young is a never-say-die dude, which is why his name appears in this column so often. His protests against urban gas drilling were among the first to ring out in Fort Worth, and his persistence has helped shape what little protections residents have managed to get in a city that’s run by a mayor whose fortune was made in oil and gas.
But when it comes to causes, Young’s first love is the 160-acre paradise within spitting distance of his Eastside home. From Young’s front porch, he can behold the Tandy Hills Natural Area’s gorgeous canvas of 540-plus native prairie grasses and wildflowers, one of the last remnants of the great grassland prairie that once covered what is now Fort Worth.
“It’s the most valuable piece of real estate in the city because there is nothing else like it that’s left,” he said. “Your average front yard has about a dozen species of native plants.”
The view this time of year is especially breathtaking, when Indian blankets, hyacinth, engelmann sage, milkwort, bluets, and many other wildflowers are blooming. In his quest to protect, this former shy guy has become the P.T. Barnum of Fort Worth environmentalists. Three years ago, he founded Prairie Fest in his front yard to draw attention to Tandy Hills, and about 500 people came out to hike the trails, listen to music and poetry, and learn about environmental issues affecting the city. His West
Meadowbrook neighborhood embraced the event, although some refer to it as a hippie fest, which irritates Young to no end. “It’s not a bunch of granola-chewing dope smokers,” he said. “It’s about healthy living and taking care of the planet, and that’s something that’s been missing from Fort Worth since the 1970s.”
The third annual event, held a few weeks ago, drew 3,500 visitors and 80 vendors and turned a profit for the first time, which will help pay for next year’s event. Young’s artist wife, Debora, boosted the bottom line by selling copies of her limited edition Prairie Wildflowers of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a field guide containing 84 hand-drawn and colored illustrations of the park’s most fetching flora.
Fort Worth Nature Center staffers were at Tandy Hills giving official wildflower tours, and more than 300 people participated. Many others went on solo tours. Even the teenagers at nearby Nolan Catholic High School are on board. The school’s ecology class recently completed a documentary on the challenges the park is facing, particularly the onslaught of urban gas drillers.
To Mayor Mike Moncrief, Chesapeake, XTO, and the like, “Don Young” is a name that leaves a bitter taste on the tongue. But Static raises a glass to him – elderberry wine, perhaps, or that other drink made from those natural hops and barley and stuff.