The Tipping Point That Begat a Festival

We all have personal reasons for getting involved in David vs. Goliath-type battles. Something or someone pushes our "button"; we become mad as hell and can't take it anymore; we reach our tipping point. Mine began, modestly enough, on a hot, summer day in 2004 when, an acquaintance pointed across the street from my house and said something like:

"Hey, I hear they're gonna put a gas well up on that hill."

Not just "any" hill, mind you, but one of "my" hills. Tandy Hills Natural Area (THNA), to be exact, a public park owned by the City of Fort Worth. My heart-rate jumped. I had a gut feeling my life was about to switch gears.

Before Cowtown became Dirty Ol' Town, this very special place was eyeballed by advance troops of the drilling industry. Un-plowed, un-grazed and virtually unknown at the time, Tandy Hills is a 160-acre, 500-species marvel in the heart of Fort Worth. Surrounded by I-30 and low-moderate income neighborhoods, it's a botanically-rich relic, lost in time. There was also a deposit of natural gas about a mile under the wildflower-covered limestone hills.

On that day in 2004 I received a calling of sorts. Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area (FOTHNA) was founded. Tandy Hills is the largest remaining urban, native prairie remnants left in north Texas. The other 99.5% were foolishly buried under concrete decades ago. Gas drillers aimed to get what was left.

They were met with a barrage of 80+ hand written letters from teachers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, mothers, fathers and children across north Texas, declaring the importance of keeping drilling far away from the park. Mayor Moncrief was presented with a photo album showing the many rare wildflowers, grasses and wildlife that make Tandy Hills so special. At the time, Fort Worth did not even have the inadequate drilling ordinance that exists today. Drilling was allowed anyplace.

Aided by the efforts of FOTHNA, drilling in Fort Worth parks was disallowed. But there was no time to rest. Within a few months, Chesapeake Energy and XTO bought up most of the prairie acreage adjacent to Tandy Hills. It became clear to those of us who loved the place that, in order to save Tandy Hills, we would need some help; a BIG idea. We had to find a positive way to get more people to love it as we did. (At this point FWCanDo split off from FOTHNA as a separate entity.)

In a sense, the first annual Fort Worth Prairie Fest, in 2006, was the first major public protest against urban gas drilling. A dozen or so green vendors and environmental groups set up tents held in my front yard. There were hybrid cars on display in the street, a bio-diesel tanker truck, vegetarian food, environmental activist groups and live local music. State Rep. Lon Burnam, Gary Hogan and Kathleen Hicks gave speeches. About 300 people showed up to see what was up and how they could help, "keep it like it was.".

By 2010, Prairie Fest had become the largest, privately produced "eco-fest" in north Texas and named Best Outdoor Cultural Event of 2010 by the Fort Worth Weekly. Attendance topped 4,000. Dozens of environmental group and social justice groups in north Texas gathered to share their campaigns with the public. Wildflower tours led by Master Naturalists showed hundreds of people why Tandy Hills was so special. Two solar-powered stages contribute to Prairie Fest having the smallest carbon footprint of any festival in the region.

Not coincidentally, Prairie Fest is the only large festival in Fort Worth that is NOT sponsored by gas drillers.

The success of Prairie Fest has helped FOTHNA, a 501 (c)(3) non profit organization, raise money to sponsor field trips to Tandy Hills for Fort Worth ISD students beginning in May 2011. We have also set aside a fund to purchase adjacent land that becomes available. Most importantly, we have helped increase awareness in the population at large about the importance of protecting ALL green space from the ravages of gas drilling.

Tandy Hills is no longer the unknown place it was in 2004. By next Saturday, April 23, FOTHNA will welcome thousands of visitors to the 6th Annual Prairie Fest to "celebrate our connection to the natural world."

Come on in!


To learn more about Tandy Hills Natural Area, check out, Prairie Notes, a kind of photo/journal/ramblings of my impressions of Tandy Hills. The early Notes from 2004 address the situation in FW at that time.

Fest poster