During the last 15 years Arlington’s River Legacy Foundation has emerged as a world-class nonprofit entity significantly enhancing the quality of life for all of Arlington’s residents.
The leader of that remarkable success story has retired, and it is past time to sing her praises and that’s the purpose of this month’s Finish Line.
Jill Hill took the reins of the Foundation in 2009 at a critical time in its service to the community. While the mission of the organization to educate the next generation and preserve the Trinity River and its unique eco-system remained its driving force, resources to achieve that goal had run thin.
Fast forward to now and we discover one of the community’s most dynamic achievements in serving the public by providing experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.
It takes an annual budget of about $1 million to fund the education programs at the Living Science Center and promote the wonders of nature found only in the 1,300 acres of forest floodplain across the entirety of North Arlington’s River Legacy Park—the city’s largest and among its most visited.
That resource is made available and fully protected through a unique public/private partnership with the City of Arlington.
Funding for its operations throughout the years has been developed from many corporate and private resources and sponsorships for the organization’s annual community events. Those include the always fun Cardboard Boat Regatta, the Sporting Clay Fun Shoot, the Classic Golf Tournament, the always popular Night With Nature, and the biggest of them all: the River Legacy Fall Festival which attracts visitors from throughout the region.
Some of those fundraisers were in the fledgling stage when Jill joined the foundation, others on the list didn’t yet exist. Among many other reasons to salute her devotion to put the organization on solid financial footings is the tireless commitment of Jill and her team to annually stage these labor-intensive projects and ensure they produced the desired results.
The original cost to develop the nature center, with my wife Sylvia chairing the Foundation board, was funded by $500,000 in park bond money and a record-setting $4.5 million of private money resulting in its 1996 opening. Then, about five years ago, another $2.5 million was raised to bring the Center to a museum-quality experience for all who visit.
Again, Jill guided that outcome. But she was not finished.
That transformation has now provided the opportunity for the center to host visiting exhibits each year beginning with The Nature of Things in 2019, then the Art and Science of Arachnids, the Dinosaur Safari was up next, and the Dragons: From Lizards to Legends exhibit having just concluded its run last month.
Last year provided the opportunity to celebrate passing the mark of one million children, many through the foundation’s partnership with the Arlington Independent School District, having achieved their environmental and natural science education at the center.
With education being a primary goal of the foundation’s operations from the beginning, that initiative now includes nature school, summer camps, field investigations, after school clubs, home school clubs, wildlife outreach and scout programs.
The watch word always guiding the educational work at the center is “It’s one thing to read books and look at pictures, it’s another thing to immerse yourself in the experience.”
I’ve run out of space to describe all the results Jill Hill and her team have produced for this community. There’s lots more you can explore on the foundation’s website and social media.
When you look upon it all, you will agree with me that Arlington is very fortunate that Jill Hill, with her formidable business acumen, came our way and her positive impact on our city will always be regarded as among our best days.
Jill’s replacement is her long-time colleague Shannon Porter who promises a future built upon the organization’s remarkable history.