Michael Riley has a special reason for voluntarily attending the Texas Naturalist Masters classes on Saturdays throughout Northeast Texas.

Certainly, he wants to learn everything he can about nature. But another reason is that he has a park – a city park – that he can turn into a work of art. He is the Parks Supervisor for the City of Linden.

Riley has also just been appointed by Linden City Council to head the city’s public tree department. This is a necessary office for Linden to become a Tree City USA community.

Yet it is Linden City Park with Riley as supervisor that creates a remarkable opportunity for him to pursue his park projects with enthusiasm.

“He’s excited, and we’re excited for him and the city,” Linden City Manager Lee Elliott said.

The way Michael explains his duties and goals for improving the park is a bit breathless.

“We get a lot of people walking around the park,” he begins. “The disc golf course is great. Right now we’re clearing the underbrush. I hear a bunch of blue jays right now. The animals are there in the morning, especially when I’m running in the park around 5am”

He keeps on.

“We don’t want to see an entire tree gobbled up by poison ivy and creepers. We’re going to clean the bottom of our trees. Last year you couldn’t see the bottom of the ground, so we did a really a lot. Make the pond, make the amphitheater.

He wants native plants and grasses to help migrating birds and butterflies and also to receive less attention from city workers with their lawnmowers.

“Birds and animals always choose the native plant over the invasive plant. And we will definitely plant wildflower seeds here,” he said. “Maybe they can walk some of the wildflower trails around here.”

All of this will take time, he admits.

“It takes a while if we stay there a few days a week. I’m giving it a year to two,” Riley said.

“Right now we’re going to be adding more picnic tables. Try to get four more, then frame concrete slabs for the rest.

“We recently stocked the pond with about 100 catfish and next time we’ll do 150 baitfish and then we’ll move on to bass. Maybe we can have a day of fishing. Now we have to clear paths on the side of the pond. Then the elderly can get out of their buildings and walk a path around the pond. We can make it a little sanctuary, not just a Jane Lake. We can have a garden. community here,” he said.

“I just became a full-fledged nerd about what we can do with this park,” he said.

Of his Texas Master Naturalists training on Saturday, he points out that he should receive his certification in November.

“It’s pretty much the same as a master gardener. You learn natural history and science, study things like the Caddo Indian, wetlands and conservation. Anyone can do it. I am one of the youngest in the group, and we are about 16.

“Sometimes,” he continued, “you have a lot of retirees with a lot of volunteer projects all over the state. We have to do eight hours of advanced training every year and 40 hours of volunteer service to keep our credentials. Maybe when we become a Tree City USA community, then we can get our park certified as a National Wildlife Habitat.

“Maybe we can piece together a park sign. Brace yourself for a bigger picture. Texas has 660 different bird species, second only to California which has 680. We’re a good flight channel around here .

“I’m for it. Birds and animals will prefer it too. I’ve always grown up outdoors. Now I can start to understand it better.”


Michael Riley’s municipal job is to also be park superintendent and responsible for public trees. This nomination goes hand in hand with the city’s desire to become a certified Texas Tree City USA. Here he also works as a disc golf supervisor. (photo by Neil Abeles)




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Michael Riley shows the abundance of mulch brought in first to resurface the playground (in the background) and the practice stations in the park. “It was so much that we will use to put around the base of trees, especially American elm,” he said. (photo by Neil Abeles)




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Michael Riley shows the sassafras tree leaf which is divided into three parts, ie, “simple” (the small part), the mitten (right) and the ducktail (bottom). Learning this is an example of what can have educational value in the park. (photo by Neil Abeles)




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From left, Linden City employees Alex Washington, Michael Riley and Scott Ross cut down several of the cedars in the park. “I learned that they produce a hormone that stops other plants from growing,” Riley said. (photo by Neil Abeles)




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Michael Riley examines this large flowering bush that turns out to be dog grass. He discovered it by looking at his photo on a Nature ID app on his cellphone. Other people and students could easily do it too. (photo by Neil Abeles)



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