Lady Bird Johnson saw roadside restoration as an opportunity to bring ecological richness, plant and animal biodiversity, and regional identity to what might otherwise be unhealthy, homogenous areas lined with billboards and invasive species.
The Highway Beautification Act, her signature achievement toward this goal, laid the groundwork for roadside enhancement and conservation; signed in 1965, the act celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. Restoring roadsides is a natural part of the Wildflower Center’s commitment to honor Mrs. Johnson’s vision and serve its own mission to create healthy landscapes with native plants.
Center researchers have developed strategies to do just that, including enriching soils with recycled low-nutrient organic matter and preventing unnecessary soil compaction. The result is vibrant vegetation that prevents erosion while reducing maintenance costs and contributing to a healthy ecosystem. Healthy roadsides also support pollinator communities and can even bolster crop production and, in turn, earn farmers more money — cotton farmers in particular.
As the late Dr. Mark Simmons, former director of research and consulting for the Center, said, “By applying ecological design consciously to roadsides, we could be driving through uniquely picturesque and ecologically important native ecosystems.” He goes on to list a host of benefits provided by ecological roadsides (which, incidentally, cover roughly 17 million acres of land in the U.S.): clean water, reduced noise, improved air quality, sequestered carbon, conservation of native plant species and habitat for “declining and charismatic species like the monarch butterfly.”
Locally, the Wildflower Center worked toward this vision in partnership with TBG (a landscape architecture firm) as consultant on a large-scale project in Williamson County in 2010. Goals included improving vegetation, reducing soil erosion and providing other long-term benefits through careful grading of roadsides, reduced soil compaction and protected zones for soil and vegetation.