WACO, Texas — There’s a living laboratory teeming with abundant wildlife and beautiful plants right in Central Texas.
But the Lake Waco wetlands are also a favorite spot for award-winning photography.
City leaders 21 years ago raised the level of lake Waco by seven feet, and that wiped out habitat. A year later, construction on the Lake Waco wetlands began, and today 11 million gallons of water flow through on a daily basis.
"A lot of people had some water issues a few years ago before the construction of the wetlands, and I’m talking about the taste and odor," said Nora Schell, Lake Waco Wetlands coordinator. "So, we addressed that not only by teaching people what a wetland does because it's not only a habitat, but it can biologically help clean the water.”
Schell said the lion’s share of credit for better tasting and smelling water go to the city’s 50-million dollar “dissolved air flotation” plant. But she said the 180 acres of wetlands habitat are crucial to the environment.
“What a lot of people don't realize that there's still life going on within the water source as it flows through the wetland itself," Schell said. "And so that provides not only the habitat for the smaller organisms but for the bigger organisms like the eagles, the hawks, the coyotes, even the feral pigs that we have that live around here. So those are it's a really important ecosystem that provides life.”
And the wetlands are a rich learning environment for school children and college students alike.
“What I like to do is show, especially students that have never been out here before they don't know what a wetland is, they don't know what lives out here. Of course, they think alligators and snakes the whole time and mosquitoes, which that's a different story because we don't," said Schell. "But we also partnered with Baylor University for before, during, and after basically any type of research study that we needed to do.”
The ecosystem serves as an incredible outdoor studio for photographers like Brian Boyd, who is noted for his wildlife photography.
“I’ve hiked all the parks in Waco, but it seems like I’m always drawn back to the wetlands," said Boyd.
Boyd captures images of wildlife large and small... From majestic bald eagles to colorful and rare songbirds.
“I’ll tell you the best thing I’ve shot out here and we're so fortunate to have it in," said Boyd. "It's called a prothonotary warbler. It's a little yellow bird that you never know where it's going to be. But I’ve shot it for the past two years”
Even though he’s a regular visitor Boyd tells me he does have a favorite time of year.
“I love to come out here during all the seasons, but probably my favorite is on a really cold, frosty morning when the frost on the ground and you walk back there and you had the canopy trees that are over, you feel like you're in northern Maine or someplace," said Boyd. "It's just almost magical.”