HARLINGEN — For years, thieves have dug out plants and even trees at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park.
The thefts have hampered the work of residents who have turned the city’s old landfill into a beautiful branch of the World Birding Center.
A broken gate left open at night might be paving the way for thieves to enter the park largely maintained by a group of volunteers, residents said.
“It happens all the time — it’s been happening since the opening of the park,” said Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society. “We’ll plant something and someone will dig it up and steal it.”
Since the mid-1990s, residents have sown native plants across much of the 53-acre park, transforming it from a hilly garbage dump to a World Birding Center site luring flocks of birders during the city’s annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, its biggest tourist draw.
“The whole place has been affected by theft,” said Christina Mild, a Texas Master Naturalist who has helped build up the park.
“They’ve stolen many of the plants we raised in our yards.”
Mild said thieves have stolen large native plants and even trees.
“They’ll steal cactus, freshly-planted plants,” Alicia Cavazos, the Audubon Society’s vice president, said. “But we don’t give up. We plant some more.”
At City Hall, parks Director Javier Mendez said this past week he was not aware of the theft of plants.
“If that’s happening, we definitely want to take some precautions,” Mendez said.
Mendez said options include more police patrols and surveillance cameras.
Meanwhile, the volunteers are concerned thieves are entering the park through a gate that appears broken.
Crews have repaired the sliding gate’s bent rail, Mendez said.
But Mild said another gate has become a safety hazard.
“The gate is falling over and is a hazard and needs to be replaced,” she said.
Mendez knows thieves have stolen equipment from the park.
Last year, thieves apparently used a bolt cutter to break into the storage shed that stands near the park’s entrance.
“They took everything that was in there,” Cavazos said.
Now, a metal storage unit, built to better withstand break-ins, stands at the site along with a storage shed sporting a “vandal-proof” lock, Mendez said.
But since the break-in, volunteers have been taking their equipment back home.
Along the park’s winding nature trails, thieves steal garden hoses used to irrigate feed ponds and plants — and even bird feeders.
“We try to hide them so people won’t see them or we bring our own hoses,” Laura Robinson, the Audubon Society’s secretary, said.
New hoses even undergo makeovers so they do not appear attractive to thieves.
Mild said she has been putting spray paint on the new hoses they take there so they look bad.
- 1995 — James Matz carves nature trails
- 2000 — The Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society begins work
- World Birding Center site 54 acres of woodlands with a walking trail, wildlife viewing, gardens & water features.
- 1000 499 Loop, Harlingen