By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
If you want to get Victoria Nivison-Todd riled up, just suggest Wildcat Bluff Nature Center is "just a bunch of dusty trails."
Nivison-Todd, the center's executive director, recently overheard a teacher use that phrase in wondering why he should take his students to the center. And in recounting the episode, she ... well, she got a little passionate.
"It's getting them outside where they can be in the air, where they can get their hands dirty. Where they can see everything from the tiniest insects on the plants to the hawks overhead that are going to feed on all of the things in that (life) cycle. ... Where they can look over the overlook and see almost 200-year-old wagon tracks from the wagons that took people to Santa Fe, because people always went shopping in Santa Fe. ... They can talk about a day in the life of a settler, about a kid their age who was on the trail with their parents.
"I get excited, can you tell?"
The nature center — which survives on donations, admission fees and memberships — has been engendering that kind of excitement from visitors and staff for a quarter century. Now, Wildcat Bluff will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a Friday dinner party at Starlight Canyon Bed and Breakfast, 100 Brentwood Road. Admission is $100.
The center was founded by Mary Emeny, Judy Spurlock, Ann Crouch and Charlene Barnard in 1992. The women were hoping to preserve a historically and ecologically significant area of land as Amarillo continued growing to the north and east.
"It was right in the growth pattern of Amarillo," Emeny said.
The area — a branch of the historic Santa Fe Trail where wagon ruts are still visible today — was named by early cowboys for a den of wildcats that lived under the bluff, according to the Texas Heritage Trails Program. It features more than 600 acres of rolling grasslands with 5.3 miles of hiking trails.
It's not just a place to hike, though.
"It's really important for people to have an opportunity to understand the ecosystem in which we live. Someone, I don't know who, once said that if you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are," Emeny said. "There's some validity to that in terms of being able to live consciously and respectfully in the environment you inhabit.
"We can spend our lives in an environment and not know anything about it, and that's not healthy for us or for the environment, and we wanted to help change that."
The party will begin at 6 p.m. with music by Amarillo folk singer Mike Fuller and continue with dinner by Joe's Catering and music by Amarillo country band Next to Kin at 7 p.m. Festivities also will include a silent auction, a bar and a specialty cocktail, Sunset at the Bluff.