Group of people at Shell deer park

Imagine traveling back in time thousands of years before the first settlers arrived in Harris County. In Deer Park, instead of highways, refineries and houses, you would see coastal prairie – “a sea of grass” as tall as people, full of wildflowers, grassland birds and wildlife from the bison to the horned lizard. The coastal prairie stretched over 9 million acres from south Texas to Louisiana. Today, this type of prairie is considered “the rarest of the rare” – with less than 1% remaining. Even more special, 50 acres of it exists in the heart of Deer Park, Texas. Considered a “platinum prairie” the Lawther – Deer Park Prairie is home to more than 350 plants that include rare findings like the snowy orchid and the purple pleat. The land also houses many coastal bird breeds such as the White-tailed Kites, Snipe, Ibis, Eagle, Osprey among others.

“This particular site is a very rare gem, when you consider that this area is highly industrialized and we happened to find a 50-acre prairie that has never been plowed and it has all the original plants,” explains Pat Merkord, Native Prairies Association of Texas Executive Director.

In 2013, the Deer Park Prairie was saved from development as a result of a massive fundraising drive, that Shell and many of the employees at Shell Deer Park individually contributed to. Since that time, Shell Deer Park has supported the Deer Park Prairie bringing subject matter experts out to site to share the prairie’s story with our employees, introducing them to native grass gardens and helping the experts at the Deer Park Prairie to connect with stakeholders in the community. 

In 2017, Shell Deer Park had another opportunity to support the prairie and did so through a grant to the Native Prairies Association of Texas, funding the inaugural Outdoor Education Program, including hiring of a Prairie Educator at the Lawther – Deer Park Prairie.

“At Shell Deer Park, we seek opportunities to invest in our community in a sustainable way with the biggest possible impact for many in our community,” said Amanda Accardo, External Relations Manager at Shell Deer Park. “The Deer Park Prairie’s Outdoor Education Program falls into two of the key areas we seek opportunities in – education and environment – and seeks to both bring the Prairie to the classroom and students and other community members out to the Prairie. From the beginning, we knew it was something we wanted to be part of.”

Sunflowers at Shell deer park

In 2017, 24 volunteer work and training days were completed by 150 individuals, performing over 1000 hours at the Deer Park Prairie. The Deer Park Prairie is currently in the planning and organization stages to produce an outdoor education program for neighboring communities.

“Because of the Shell Deer Park grant, we’ve been able to grow our volunteer numbers, especially from the City of Deer Park.” Pat explains. “Another really good thing about this prairie, is that people can come out and collect the seeds where they can be taken to other places and used for restoration.”

The Outdoor Education Program will offer a fully developed program with information about seed collecting and the opportunity to supply pollinator seeds for pollinator sites in Deer Park and other Houston areas. Programming will work in conjunction with neighboring school district curriculum so that students will have supplemental learning experiences outside of a classroom setting.

“Eventually, we’ll have a nature center to allow us to have students come out from schools to introduce younger generations to their local ecosystems. We very much welcome the opportunity to continue working with Shell Deer Park and the Deer Park community,” Pat says.

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