MIDLOTHIAN — As the sun rose on a crisp, blue-sky morning, and locals gathered to enjoy a beautiful display of nature, Midlothian Mayor Bill Houston welcomed the growing crowd to his annual Mayor’s Winter Walk at Mockingbird Nature Park.

“We do this event every year, and I love it. It’s wonderful, and I look forward to this walk every year,” Mayor Houston said as he complimented the success of the Winter Walk that took place last Saturday, Feb. 25.

Sponsored by Methodist Mansfield Medical Center and ACE Hardware store, more than 100 people congregated for the occasion, relishing in the opportunity to learn and embrace nature with their community.

“It’s a mile, and you walk through, and they identify the grasses and flowers, it’s just neat. People come out here and bird watch, jog the trails, and it’s all natural,” Houston explained. “When I first came out here, of course, I don’t know a lot about that stuff, but I looked at it and thought, ‘It’s just weeds.’ But it’s not, they’ve identified it as natural grass, flowers, and later on in the spring and they start to bloom, and it's just beautiful."

In collaboration with Midlothian’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Indian Trail Master Naturalists of the Texas Master Naturalists is leading the conservation effort at Mockingbird Park, preserving and protecting the organic state found within the 62-acre property since 2010.

“We’ve built benches, bird blinds, and these benches were actually the back deck of my house,” chuckled Aaron Gritzmaker, of the Indian Trail Master Naturalists, explaining the repurposed value added to the park. “I put in a new patio at home, so we took all of the old wood and built benches out of them out here.”

Although the park shines with environmental wonderment today, the beginning stages of its cultivated transformation needed a plan by the experts.

“When we first got this land, it was donated to the city by Holcim Cement, and we were looking at it, and I thought, ‘What are we going to do with this land,’” Mayor Houston recalled. “And we didn’t really know what we were going to do, and then the Master Nationalists came out here and started identifying the grasses and flowers. A few years ago they showed me how they attracted butterflies to this area, and now it’s my favorite park and it’s going to get better and better."

Billy King, Manager of Midlothian’s Parks and Recreation, explained, “Everyone loves it, and from the city side, we have to give 90 percent of the credit to the Master Naturalists. These are the guys that take care of it more than we do. Everything you see, or that’s done is what they do. We’re very fortunate to have them.”

Partnering efforts of many volunteers and generous organizations, the community park was built and maintained by those who saw value in keeping Midlothian’s raw beauty intact. From Holcim Cement Company donating the land in 2008, to building projects of the Boy and Girl Scouts of America since 2011, and the support of the city — the entire community can enjoy nature at its finest.

“The park itself is 62 acres, and it’s a one-mile trail with a part that goes back through the forest bit. It’s a good place to run,” Gritzmaker included. “The kiosks were an Eagle Scout project, so the Eagle Scouts have worked out here a lot, and the Girl Scouts built the blue birdhouses, so we have quite a nest of bluebirds back there."

“They initiate everything for the most part, and we help out,” King extolled the conservation group for their hard work.

Among the park’s charitable accessories, the Indian Trail Master Nationalists also planted a butterfly garden, grass beds, and provided brush clean up around the property.

“The community can benefit from exercise, enjoying nature, I mean, there’s so many things out here to see. The butterfly garden is great in the spring, and then when the wildflowers do come in, they’re so beautiful,” King smiled.

“The bluebonnets are thick out here. It’s really nice in the spring and summer. We conduct wildflower walks, moth nights, and much more,” Gritzmaker added.

As far as the community is concerned, the park provides a chance to educate those about the Texas environment while fusing 21st-century locals with their wildlife roots through a leisurely stroll through the park.

“The Mayor, Bill Houston, comes out every year for this walk. It just gets people out and about. Sometimes they don’t know about it, but they’ll come out and walk, especially since it’s a beautiful day,” Gritzmaker remarked.

“This is one of the unsung parks in Midlothian. It’s gradually gotten more and more people. The mayor is a big support of this park, so we’re very fortunate,” King acknowledged.

Walking the mile-long trail with Mayor Houston, families investigated the wildlife on display, while dog owners, bird watchers, and nature admirers soaked up the sun and took the time to stop and smell the flowers.

To visit Mockingbird Nature Park, go to 1361 Onward Road in Midlothian.

Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer