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Vegetation location

Nov. 20, 1997

By Jeanette Witt

Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

William Cameron Park offers visitors natural beauty year-round with numerous types of vegetation, including trees, vines, shrubs and flowers.

Among the 416-acres of the park, visitors are encouraged to take nature hikes through the hills, bicycle down the winding roads lined with massive trees and visit places of breath-taking beauty such as Lover's Leap and Miss Nellie's Pretty Place.

Nora Schell, a park ranger for the city of Waco, offers tours of Miss Nellie's Pretty Place and other areas in Cameron Park throughout the year on request from visitors.

'The park rangers talk about the trails in the park and the different vegetation found here,' Schell said. 'At this time, most of the flowers are not in bloom, but we do talk about the plants that people can currently see.'

Even though the blooming season for flowers ended a few months ago, the park is still full of activity for park rangers and supporters of the park, who come to visit the beauty and peaceful atmosphere that envelops it.

The trees that line the roads throughout Cameron Park are among the most distinguishing characteristics.Of the numerous types of trees inside the park, pecan and oak trees are the most prominent.

The state tree of Texas, the pecan tree, looms above most of the others at an average height of 50 feet, according to 'The Tree Growing Guide for Waco and Surrounding Areas.' The pecan tree, called a 'long-lived shade tree' by the guide, also provides shelter from Texas' sweltering heat in the summer by providing vast amounts of shade in the park.

Visitors are encouraged to take the pecans that fall, but there is a rule against climbing and shaking the trees, Schell said.

Several types of oak trees also exist in Cameron Park, including the live and bur oak trees. These trees, like the pecan, are large in height, around 30 to 60 feet, and provide acorns for wildlife in the park. One feature of the live oak, as the guide mentions, is 'it has such massive limbs that would grow all the way to the ground if allowed to grow free.'

Because many of the popular attractions of the park are located on the cliffs that line the Brazos River, these limestone cliffs have remained an important feature of the park.

'These are typical erosional cliffs,' Dr. O.T. Hayward, a retired professor in the geology department, said. 'All of the landscape in this part of the hill country is dependent upon this bluff.'

According to a web site about Cameron Park, there are four distinctive types of cliffs inside the park. More than 40 pecent of the cliffs are extremely steep limestone formations while another 40 percent cliffs are moderately steep slopes of various creekbeds and canyons. The other cliffs consist of plateau and flat lowland areas in the floodplain of the Brazos River.

For Baylor students, some lab experiments in entry-level environmental science classes take place among the different locations in the park, including the cliffs.

Dr. David Aborn is lab coordinator for these classes and says vegetation in the park is common compared to other parks but ecology is important to Baylor's environmental studies, especially by showing the different species of plants.

'In these classes, we show the different plant communities and how they change over time,' Aborn said.

The different plant communities can especially be seen at Miss Nellie's Pretty Place, founded in 1983 by retired Congressman W.R. Poage.

According to a brochure that the city of Waco park rangers provide, the site was chosen in honor of Poage's mother, who was nicknamed 'Miss Nellie.' She went here often to pick wildflowers as a child.

The place was designed for all ages and features a latticed arbor, a large grassy amphitheatre and a fountain. Plants surround brick materials and the fountain provides soothing noise for visitors.

The same brochure says the wildflower preserve was created 'to revitalize the once popular park and draw more people in to appreciate its natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere.'

Since the founding, the beautiful wildflowers have remained as a constant reminder of Cameron's Park beauty.

This natural beauty lies in the number of wildflowers the attraction offers--about 22 different species of wildflowers, including brightly colored Indian Paintbrushes, 'he loves me, he loves me not,' Ox-Eyed Daisy's and Texas' state flower, the Bluebonnet.

The brochure also states that Miss Nellie's 'transports the visitor to a special place far from the confusion and noise of civilization.'

Schell said there has been talk about moving the current greenhouse inside the park to a new location inside the arboretum which houses Miss Nellie's Pretty Place. The greenhouse would help with testing experimental plants.

'The new location of the greenhouse would cut the number of wildflowers but would increase the number of trees,' Schell said. 'Right now we're working on putting everything closer together.'

Because main attractions are spread out among the hundreds of acres, visitors travel through the park mostly in car rather than walking through the winding roads. Driving through the park has caused an impact on Cameron Park's soil, which is mostly sandy and silty. Parking is limited and poorly-defined in the park, which causes visitors to make their own parking spaces. This has contributed to severe compaction of soils and damage to the vegetation along the road edges.

This is part three of a four-part series on William Cameron Park

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