On Monday morning, the sound of chainsaws cut through the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area. The 2,600-acre nature preserve is undergoing a prairie restoration.
"We're trying to bring the prairies back," UNT research scientist and restoration manager Richard Freiheit explained. "They're the most endangered ecosystem, in pretty much, the world."
Freiheit manages an army of UNT students, Master Naturalists, and community volunteers to clear away non-native trees that have taken over during the last half-century to make way for native prairie grasses, wildflowers, and wildlife.
"Yeah, it's a labor of love," Freiheit said.
It's hard work navigating areas that are overgrown with brush, poison ivy, and other undesirable things like fire ants.
"My first day I actually got a massive scratch on my arm," UNT senior Alessandra Valenzuela said showing off a scar on her forearm. "What I love about it is I'm with like-minded people. We talk about awesome things all day...and we all have a passion for the environment and helping to preserve it."
"The plants are disappearing," Freiheit said. "There's so many prairie plants that people don't even know what they look like anymore."
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Freiheit and his students grow plants and grasses in a controlled environment, then transplant them when an area is ready. The restoration project includes bringing back some species of birds and animals.
"You look in this one spot right there, and it's opened up," Freiheit said. "The sunlight is hitting the ground again. You're giving it a chance for what was here to come back."
Freiheit said it's taken thousands of volunteer hours to get where they are today. The work takes blood, sweat, and a few tears.
"Um, it's amazing," Freiheit said with a tear rolling down his cheek. "Because you know you're doing right. You know you're doing good."
The project is funded by a $17,000 grant from the Anita Berry Martin Memorial Fund at the North Texas Community Foundation, the University of North Texas, and Friends of LLELA.