Review: John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center is an amazing place! The learning center explains the value and importance of the wetlands for cleaning and reusing water, while the outdoors spaces are wide open giving you a chance to explore and see the ample wildlife that calls this place home. In the winter months, a pair of bald eagles calls this place home, and if you are lucky you may see them!
Distance: Unclear. There is a vast area along the levees, so you can get as many miles are you want
Area of Town: SouthEast of Dallas near Seagoville
Facilities: There is a learning center here with bathrooms
Suitable for: Hiking, bird watching
Type of Trail: Natural Trails
Shade: There is no shade here, so expect full sun
Where to Park: There is parking on site
Official Website: Official Site
The John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center is Southeast of Dallas, near Seagoville just outside of I-20. This is a relatively flat part of the area, even by North Texas standards. This is one of the more unique spots you can visit in the area to visit, as it fulfills a vital role in the sustainability of our water resources, and provides home to many species of birds. Before we dive into what it’s like to explore the center, I think a brief history lesson would be useful to explain why this place matters.
History of the Area
Dallas and it’s suburbs have long been one of the faster growing areas in the country, and one of the biggest needs for it’s citizens is access to water. Typically in the past these water needs have been served by building reservoirs (aka lakes) to pull water for treatment and then delivery via the local water systems. Waste water is then collected and cleaned of solid wastes, and then released. Much of this water is returned into the Trinity River, where it flows downstream and is lost as it makes it’s way south to the Gulf.
In 2004, the North Texas Municipal Water District began work on the East Fork Wetland Project, to create one of the largest man-made wetlands (1,840 acres in the country). The work was completed in 2009. The aims of this site is to bring in water from the East Fork of the Trinity River into a series of ponds or cells, where the water is treated by plants, not machines, and then returned to Lake Lavon via a pipeline. As the water moves through the center, sediments in the water settle out of the water, and the aquatic plants remove the nitrogen and phosphorous. This water once ‘polished’ is returned upstream to Lake Lavon and mixed back into the reservoir where much of our drinking water comes from. This process saves water, and reduces costs by 40%, as well as providing a natural environment to attract and support local wildlife. More information can be found here. The very idea that a former cattle pasture could be turned into this, is incredible!
The Learning Center
When you arrive at the Center, you’ll need to pay a $5 fee to enter the grounds, and sign in. Inside the Center are restrooms, but also multiple plaques explaining the history of the site, the importance of the wetlands, and how the process to clean the water works. Take time to read and understand what the site does, it’s fascinating! I wish I had taken time to take some photos of these to share, perhaps on my next visit!
The center itself is a very pretty building, with a long deck on the backside offering views of the broader wetlands that extend to the south. This is where you’ll be able to access the boardwalks to start your exploration.
The center is also where you can join several guided tours the center offers. On the first Sunday of the month, you can go on the ‘Walk and Talk Bird Tour”, and on the third Sunday of the month they off a Guided Boardwalk tour. You’ll need to sign up for reservations.
Click here for more information on events at the Wetlands Center.
Just out the back of the John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center, you’ll find a grassy area that extends towards the nearest cells, and a series of boardwalks that bring you closer to the water. The boardwalks extend over the water, and offer a few informational signs that tell you about the local wildlife and plants (i.e. what a pelican looks like, or how to tell the difference in grass vs reeds). Take your time looking around, the views here are beautiful, and if you stay still, you may see some of the local birds approach.
If you take another look above at the map of the center, the boardwalks are in yellow, and take up a very small percent of the total land out here! So this is a vast place to explore outside of the boardwalks
Bald Eagle Trail
One of the reason I even learned about the John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center, was a few years ago when the news ran a story about a pair of bald eagles that had made their winter homes here. They originally set up a nest on an active power tower. The nest was moved to a nearby inactive power tower for their safety, and a webcam was set up to allow people to watch the bald eagles as they wintered here and took care of their young. (Apparently in 2021, the birds have made another nest and are not in the tower, where the cam is pointing)
When you exit the boardwalks, take a look at the map and you can follow the red dotted lines, which will take you across the levees to the western side of the grounds, which approaches the tower where the nest is. You can’t get too close to the tower, as it’s separated by a wetland area and protected by fencing.
If you look at the map above, you’ll see that the majority of the grounds are comprised of the various cells where the water is cleansed or ‘polished’, and then a series of levees that surround them. Those black lines mark the levees, which are open to exploration. I asked if there was any measurement on how many miles of ‘trails’ exist through the Wetlands, and was told that they are in the process of measuring, but at this point they do not know. They did say that they had hosted 10k runs before, so the distance is extensive.
I didn’t explore too much, due to time, but as i wandered along the levees I did encounter quite a bit of wildlife. From hawks circling above, to a heron that flew close by, lots of ducks that I spooked who would launch themselves into the sky, and in the distance a flock of white pelicans that were sunning themselves. This really hammered home that i need to invest in a better camera to take wildlife photos. The wetlands are teeming with wildlife, and you could spend hours here exploring the center and enjoying the outdoors.
The Dallas Trinity Trails website has amazing photos of the wildlife here, check it out!
If you are looking for something different, the John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center is an amazing place to see nature up close. It’s not your typical nature preserve, as it serves a vital service to our area in cleaning and restoring water. It also provides a home to wildlife, letting you observe them up close in their natural habitat. I will be returning in the future, to take in some of their guided tours, exploring more of the levee trails, and upping my wildlife photography skills!