by Linda Jo Conn
A couple of weeks ago, several ECR members visited three of the city parks in Rockdale.
The first was Wolf Park, which is located on Main Street in town where the former American Legion Hall once stood. When we arrived, a crew was at work erecting the framework for a Christmas tree near the pavilion in the center of the lot.
The closely trimmed city block has a border hedge of holly festooned with Carolina snailseed (Cocculus carolinus ). The lawn contains the usual scattering of straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis), turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), and yard asters (Symphyotrichum divaricatum). A couple of large lilac chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus) and a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) are the landscape trees.
Leaving the busy scene at Wolf Park, we drove across the railroad tracks to visit Sumuel Park which was funded in part by a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department grant. It has a splash pad water feature (unused this summer due to COVID), a playscape, picnic area, walking trail, basketball half court, restrooms, and free WiFi.
There was a bit more nature to observe at this park, including upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) and buttonweed (Diodia virginiana) in bloom. A black vulture (Coragyps atratus) watched our activity from a nearby tree.
While Eric Neubauer captured another image of a grasshopper, Donna Lewis tried out the swing set.
I suppose the high point of the visit to this park was our discovery of an enormous cottonweed tree. ECR nature explorers Debbi Sorenson, Donna, Scott Berger, and Eric physically distanced themselves around the tree for a photo to show its size. It turned out that this tree had already been noticed by our ECR chapter. You can read more about this towering cottonwood on our ECR website: https://txmn.org/elcamino/chapter-projects/special-projects/big-trees-of-milam-county/ .
We traveled on to Moultry Park, located behind the former Aycock School on Baxter Street. The park was being enjoyed by a mother with her young children when we arrived. A spacious area, it contains a basketball court, baseball field, and restrooms.
This park visit was a sobering and disturbing personal experience for me. The adjacent brick building, used by various community organizations until a 1993 fire, remains in ruins. I could literally hear the echoes of children chattering in the hallways, chalk screeching on the blackboards, and bouncing balls in the gymnasium.
We did observe some interesting species in and around Moultry park: an appropriately named three-ribbed darkling beetle (Eleodes tricostata), a flighty orange sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme) visiting a camphorweed flower (Heterotheca subaxillaris) and several mounds of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.).
The area is a perfect habitat for horned lizards.
Eric stalked what he has identified as a common thread-waisted wasp (Ammophila procera) until we were both able to take photos of the large wasp.
He also graciously pointed out a couple of grasshoppers (Melanoplus sp).
After some unexpected and serendipitous happenings at the park we headed to our homes for the day. A good time was had by all. I think. You will have to ask Donna about that.