Grow Zone Action: Habitat Restoration in Austin, Texas

Walk the streets of Austin, Texas and you’ll notice an abundance of colorful bushes and flowers, to include Fern Leaf Lavender, Texas Lantana, Mother-of-Thyme, Autumn Sage, Whirling Butterfly Bush, and Fall Aster, all of which are indigenous to the state. The parks are equally lush. River and creek banks are thick with greenery and foliage. All of this is largely the result of a group of volunteers working with an organization called “Grow Zone.” Grow Zone finds natural means to reduce erosion and carbon pollution while restoring, maintaining, and even creating new habitats, all with the help and enthusiasm of the community. Austin has created a natural and cost effective solution to a number of their environmental problems. Other cities can just as easily incorporate Grow Zone principles to address their own unique environmental needs.

Founded by Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, Grow Zone is a local nonprofit organization that encourages habitat preservation through community involvement. The city also partners with the Urban Forestry Group, Austin Parks Foundation, and Tree Folks, all of whom are nonprofit organizations that help with donations of trees and shrubs while providing additional volunteers for Watershed Protection projects. Anyone in the Austin community can be involved with Grow Zone activities. To facilitate these ends, a calendar of events on the Austin government website includes upcoming Grow Zone meetings, organized restoration projects, and day camp schedules.

Volunteers at a Grow Zone location

Volunteers at a Grow Zone location

Grow Zone workers contribute to the Austin community in several vital ways. First, they significantly reduce pollution and the influx of carbon dioxide gas by planting and preserving trees. Second, by laying seed blankets down by the edges of river and creek banks to prevent erosion, they greatly reduce water pollution and soil loss. This is important not only for the human consumption of clean water, but also for the wildlife and plant life that depend on these ecosystems for their homes. Third, by encouraging other locals to address Austin’s environmental needs, volunteers expand community participation in the restoration and beautification of their own city. Last, Grow Zone does all this work to preserve creeks, rivers, and parks in a cost-effective manner. The city and local nurseries provide the seed blankets, and work costs are minimal because most of the labor is done by the volunteers.

Children playing in a creek bed with friends

Children playing in a creek bed with friends

Along with these transparently valuable outcomes, Grow Zone offers a host of other benefits, such as community activism, community enrichment, and increased awareness of some serious environmental issues that everyone should address. Grow Zone volunteers also enjoy the added benefit of personal fulfillment through meditative therapy. Some of them live in apartments that don’t have yards or garden areas for them to plant and create a nurturing space that only the outdoors can provide. They can also take advantage of Grow Zone day camps where they can bring their children along to help plant and seed of the creeks. The children, too, may be apartment prisoners who can now spend quality time with their parents out in the sunshine. The day camps also teach the kids about the importance of pollution prevention and habitat restoration so they may carry on this tradition and continue to enjoy beautiful outdoor spaces for many years.

Austin has created and adopted a structured, cost effective, inspiring, and well-organized program designed to preserve and restore their city. Other cities can do the same. Even if they might not have to tackle erosion issues, they still need to address other environmental issues. For instance, Grow Zone programs throughout the country would be a great solution for burn areas because new tree growth would prevent flooding and erosion issues with the bonus of carbon dioxide reduction. Meanwhile, community volunteers who want to be involved with efforts to improve local landscapes can boost the spirits of those affected by the loss of their homes. The possibilities are endless and worth considering.