Tim Pylate likes to arrive early to work, preferably at sunrise.
Walking along one of the many pathways at Armand Bayou Nature Center, the Pearland native might catch a glimpse of a white-tail deer, nearly cross paths with an armadillo or greet the red-tail hawk that stands guard near the admissions office.
That’s an ordinary morning at work for the new executive director of one of the largest urban wildernesses in the United States and the largest in the Gulf Coast region.
But there’s nothing ordinary about all the living things that call 2,500-acre Armand Bayou home.
“People have this opportunity to come and engage in nature and see hundreds of species of animals, and all sorts of plants, birds and reptiles, armadillos and deer,” Pylate said. “It really is an amazing thing.”
Pylate, 47, assumed the position three months ago following the retirement of Tom Kartrude, who had served as executive director since 2008.
Pylate has over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, including a humanitarian effort in Afghanistan. He was executive director of Forgotten Angels Foundation in Pearland and The Arc of the Gulf Coast in Alvin, both of which serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Pylate’s passion for nature began when as a Boy Scout he made a canoe ride at Armand Bayou.
Situated between one of the nation’s most expansive industrial landscapes on one side and a vast aeronautics complex on the other, the 2,500-acre nature preserve encompasses Pasadena and southeast Houston and home to over 300 species of birds, plants and other wildlife, Pylate calls Armand Bayou the region’s best-kept secret.
“This is a real urban hub, and yet in the midst of all this urbanity, you have 2,500 acres of largely untouched wilderness nestled right here in Pasadena,” Pylate said.
Although the center has existed since 1974, it’s worth reminding the public, said Pylate, that the treasures at Armand Bayou are unique. Getting the word out will be one of Pylate’s primary goals as he plans the next phase in Armand Bayou’s future as the center increases its social media reach and expands educational programs.
“Tim has been here only a few months but has been a good fit with the organization,” said Mark Kramer, ABNC conservation director and it’s chief naturalist.
According to Kramer, in addition to being able to wear several hats, Pylate’s personal connection to ABNC and passion for what it represents make him the ideal leader.
“He has fond memories of exploring and canoeing ABNC when he was young, and his enthusiasm for job and willingness to listen have made him a great addition to the team,” Kramer said.
The center includes a preserved farmhouse, pontoon and canoe tours and five miles of nature trails that are the site for hikes, including one at night that focuses on owls and bats, spiders, snakes and fireflies.
“Most kids have never seen a firefly and they can see that right here,” he said.
“It’s especially important for children who live in Harris County who may have never experienced any sort of wilderness in their lives,” he said of the preserve. “And it’s right around the corner.”
In the last the last 20 years, an ongoing effort to restore close to 30 acres of marshland and restore habitat, crucial to the survival of the ecosystem, has allowed hundreds of species of plants and wildlife to thrive and others to make resurgence. The marshland and bayou also help alleviate flooding, which Pylate said was one reason most of Pasadena was spared major flooding during Harvey.
“Basically, everything you get on your seafood platter in town, they spend the first part of their lives in that mix of salty fresh water in the marshes of Armand Bayou,” Pylate said. “They find protection from predators and are able grow for the first part of their life before they go back out into the bay before they are fished by commercial fisherman.”
Making a return are river otters, the American bald eagle and other types of birds. According to Pylate, people come from throughout the world to see the least bittern, a colorful, rare heron. Recently, the center’s social media page followed the transformation of monarch caterpillars into butterflies that were released into the wild.
“This is an amazing place to see things that you may never have seen in your lifetime, and you may not have seen except for that restoration work we’ve done,” he said.
When Pylate thinks of ways to reach young people in an age of video games and cell phones, the alligator is a good place to start.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, he said, people could swim in the bayou, formerly Middle Bayou. Not anymore. The American alligator, unchanged for millions of years, has returned.
“Most kids aren’t going to be turned on by prairie grass, but they may be turned on by an alligator, or ‘baby dinosaurs’” he said.
When he takes his solitary, early morning walks before the work day begins, Pylate thinks of that first canoe trip as a Boy Scout, when his curiosity about the world around him became something to see, touch, smell and marvel at.
That, he said, is what he wants to bring to Armand Bayou as a director.
“It’s about helping people fall in love with this amazing, beautiful place,” Pylate said. “Whether you call it God’s nature or Mother Nature, there is a spark in us that needs to be connected with our natural world.”
For information on Armand Bayou Nature Center, visit www.abnc.org