McALLEN — Alondra Villarreal sat on a curb outside of the main entrance to Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center with dried mud on her shoes, jeans and shirt.
The 17-year-old girl was one of the hundreds of volunteers who participated in the center’s first Earth Day in the Dirt volunteering day. Participants were allowed to do a variety of hands-in-soil projects, including mulching, weeding, planting and reforesting.
Villarreal said she pulled weeds and invasive plant species as well as planted flowers and trees.
“It was hard work,” she said. “There were some trees that were very heavy, but it helps us get closer to nature. It’s just so relaxing and calming to get away from the noise and people.”
The McAllen native had explored the center once before with her friends, though this time, she left with something more than a memory of nature.
“Walking around you get to see the beauty of it, but actually being able to plant and later on see what you did kind of makes it better,” Villarreal said. “I know I’m going to come back and look at the plants that I planted.”
To Jose Luis Zuniga, the volunteer coordinator, Villarreal’s awareness of the environment was ideal.
“As a community, we’ve lost interest in nature,” the McAllen native said. “We’re all too busy indoors with our own endeavors, and if we can expose the children, teenagers, adults and grandparents to the nature that we have here in the Valley, we’re more likely to promote and conserve what we have.”
Lisa Cofoid shares Zuniga’s vision. The 57-year-old woman said she especially likes to volunteer during events that allow her to help children and adults learn about nature.
“I especially like sharing about what rich, diverse plant life and wildlife we have and to encourage others to love it as much as I do,” the McAllen native said.
She believes if children become excited about nature, it will not only help them preserve it but encourage others to do the same.
“The kids go away and teach their parents as well,” she said. “Our environment is so precious, our nature is so important to support the wildlife because there is so little of it.”
April 23rd marked Quinta Mazatlan’s first reforestation event, Zuniga said. He said the center and communities alike have specific needs for plants and although some plants may be aesthetically pleasing, they might not always be the best option for the area they’re in.
“It’s not like we can just till a big plot of land and have people plant,” the 46-year-old Zuniga said. “Some areas require shady plants; other areas require plants that are bird friendly. We tended to our native scrub area.”
Zuniga emphasized that reforesting does not only benefit birds and animals.
“Without the Earth, nobody would survive,” he said. “How much more plain can that be? We need the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need us. It’s to our benefit to protect the Earth.”
For more information on Quinta Mazatlan, visit www.quintamazatlan.com.