Wild for Good
Three weeks into her new job as executive director of the Shield Ranch Foundation, Andrea Mellard listened in wonder to four high schoolers from the El Ranchito Conservation Corps.
“This group of young women in goggles and hard hats and gloves were building erosion dams,” she says. “They were able to describe the work that they were doing and how it was contributing to the conservation happening here on the ranch.”
They had a combined 27 years of hands-on experience with the El Ranchito nature discovery summer camp, and at least two were considering careers in environmental engineering and conservation.
“Obviously it was deeply impactful for them to come back every year and connect with friends to do these outdoor projects,” Andrea says of her transformative experience. “It was a great introduction to the program and left me so excited about what it could look like next year.”
These campers-turned-leaders (and others like them) have been the public face of the primitive tent-camping summer program at the Dripping Springs-area ranch for 15 years. The Shield Ranch Foundation formed in 2008 to operate El Ranchito and provide access to nature to youth who otherwise might not experience a wild, protected place. The Shield-Ayres family has searched for ways to share the natural wonders of the 6,400-acre ranch — blessed with an unbelievable six miles of Barton Creek — with partners and neighbors and community.
Right now, they’re breaking ground on a campsite project that’s going to allow for year-round, all-ages programs in a way that’s light on the land but also more hospitable than a tent in summer.
For 20 years, Andrea’s created opportunities for the public to enjoy museums, parks and historic sites. She’s come on board just in time to extend an invitation for a transformative nature experience at Shield Ranch.
“We want to encourage the same sense of discovery and wonder and curiosity that children have,” she says. “Maybe there’s a point when people think that is no longer for them. Having a nature immersion experience can really spark that magic again.”
Andrea points out the painted bunting, a bird that fills her with “wonder and magic,” on the Shield Ranch logo.
“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at art, and I’ll still say there’s nothing more beautiful than nature,” she says.
A transformative experience doesn’t have to involve epic effort.
“Use all your senses and slow down,” she says. “Then bring that feeling to your park, your yard, your walk with the dog, your time digging in the garden.”
Learn more at www.shieldranch.com
Chase Fountain | TPWD
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