13 Trails and 109 Goats: The Houston Arboretum- An Environmentalist’s Haven


Houstonia Magazine

Image from Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

Ever since I was a kid going to camp during the summertime, my heart has always yearned for the outdoors. Hidden places, unseen corners between trees, and great wildlife is what I searched for and what fueled my excitement for the outdoors. Nature was somewhere I always wanted to be, and the Houston Arboretum was my perfect sanctuary.
Ten years ago my parents took me to summer camp at the Arboretum, and now, it is all it was and more. Back then, I found myself learning about composting, conservation, and little animals you’ve never heard of. For a budding environmentalists, this was a dream. Now I volunteer to replant native species and involve myself in an escape from the city when I enter the Arboretum’s welcoming arms.Going back to my old escape, the magic of being in a world of nature was at my fingertips again, now only a 10 minute drive away. Today the Arboretum covers 155 acres of prairie, ravine, savannah, wetland, and woodland, spread across a large green area 4 miles away from downtown. Their goal? To strengthen “our educational mission by tying our landscape more directly to our child and adult programs and exposing visitors to endangered native habitats that many people have never seen before.” The Houston Arboretum was first developed by Robert A Vines in 1951, and the nature center was created in 1967. It now is one of the largest preserved green spaces in Houston.

Aerial view of the Houston Arboretum (Houstonia Magazine)

Upon my visit, once getting off the freeway, I was led to a small entrance off the feeder revealing a screen of green against the plain cement. The entrance was equipped with a large sign and a nicely paved road leading to the parking lot, surrounded by trees and nice flowers. I noticed a large construction area next to the visitors center where they were creating a whole new children’s area, something I would have died for when I was younger.

Another part of their renovating plans is to double classroom space, diversify available programs, and to expand trails, all while restoring and protecting the native ecosystems in place.

With social distancing in place, the trails surrounding the area were the perfect move to stay away from people and to enjoy what nature has to offer. With 13 trails to follow, there are different distances and views for everybody. The largest is about 2 miles long and wraps around the whole park. Entering the trail, I was immediately taken away from the concrete and the noise and buried in the woods. I crossed over bridges with creeks underneath and took in the freshness of the wind blowing through the trees and fluttering the leaves. Looking closer I could see turtles popping their head out of the water and small birds flying above my head. This place had created a source of serenity for me.

A 2-mile trail at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center (Houstonarboretum.org)
There are 13 trails you can choose to explore at the Houston Arboretum (Houstonarboretum.org)












Leaving the trail, I took in a deep breath to discover the thick must of goats was nearby. Looking towards the visitors center, there was a sign that said “Goats” with an arrow. Today the Arboretum has roughly 109 goats, which surprisingly all have names, roaming the grounds and eating away at invasive species: a sustainable way to manage the land.

Although I didn’t have time to see any goats, the smell of a petting zoo and fresh goat poo was enough to take me back to my childhood days of going to the zoo and other animal related summer camps. The arboretum has everything that I love: nature, social distancing, and goats.

A closer look at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center