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Friends of O.S. Gray strive to carry on the legacy of a Pecan Pioneer


A budding pecan tree reaches for the sunlight and provides shade for walkers in this natural area

The walking trail throughout the park has markers that showcase the names of the varieties Gray propagated. A budding pecan tree reaches for the sunlight and provides shade for walkers. (Photo by Catherine Clark)

In 1985, Kevin Donovan moved to a new home in Arlington, Texas near what is now O.S. Gray Natural Area. But what was once pecan giant Oscar “O.S.” Gray’s nursery, now stood what appeared to be an overgrown woodland.

Donovan and his family, as well as his friends and neighbors, would often come to the wooded area to play and enjoy nature. But it wasn’t until 1996 that Donovan realized that this space could be so much more. He recalls the particular trip that changed everything. He and his children were making their usual visit to space when his daughter told him: “This is a really nice park.”

the pecan variety 'GraKing' is etched into the sidewalk on the trail

An example of one of the etchings in the trail that commemorate O.S. Gray’s work breeding pecans. (Photo by Catherine Clark)

But it wasn’t a park…yet. Donovan and his wife went to the City Council to see what they could do to transform this overgrown space into a park and natural area that could live up to O.S. Gray’s legacy.

By organizing, petitioning, and lobbying the city, Donovan, his wife, and friends were able to get the city of Arlington to add money to a “Parks Bond Package” to buy this area and make it into a park. But it wasn’t until 2010 that these 20-acres would become what we see today.

This lone pecan tree marks part of a row that has long since been surrounded by other vegetation.

This lone pecan tree marks part of a row that has long since been surrounded by other vegetation. The Friends of O.S. Gray Natural Area continue to work to uncover these trees and bring them to their full glory. (Photo by Catherine Clark)

And it’s all thanks to the Friends of O.S. Gray Natural Area.

As one of the founding members of Friends of O.S. Gray Natural Area, Donovan and his fellow volunteers led the effort to restore O.S. Gray’s pecan nursery.

The 20-acre park provides “a woodland escape” for Arlington residents. With picnic tables, a playground, walking trails, and wildflower gardens, the park has become a space to honor O.S. Gray’s legacy and to provide locals with a taste of nature, even in the big city.

Originally, the area stretched across 46 acres when O.S. Gray was running his nursery in the 1930s to 1980s. Operating the leading pecan nursery in Texas for many years, O.S. Gray was a “true horticulturist,” according to Benton J. Storey, Ph.D. He was the president of Texas Pecan Growers Association from 1962 to 1963. Gray spent many trips searching for and discovering the best pecans. He is remembered as one of the greatest pecan breeders and nursery operators in the Southwest and as a true pioneer in the pecan industry. He cultivated a number of varieties, including ‘GraKing’, ‘GraZona’, ‘GraTex’, and ‘GraPark Giant.’

Over the years, the Friends of O.S. Gray Natural Area have transformed this once overgrown space into a proper park in O.S. Gray’s memory; their work continues today as there is still much to do. This non-profit group builds and maintains pollinator gardens, installs park benches, constructs mulch trails, engages native vegetation renovation, and hosts work days and nature walks as well as other events within the park. Overall, the Friends of O.S. Gray Natural Area try to help manage the property.

“One of our goals is to manage vegetation to commemorate O.S. Gray,” says Donovan. “Being a small group, we don’t have the funds or manpower to do that yet.”

a field of Indian Paintbrushes with a wooden sign that reads O.S. Gray Park

One aspect of O.S. Gray Park is Rosser’s Meadow, which is covered in wildflower blooms and still being revived. (Photo by Catherine Clark)

The Friends of O.S. Gray welcome volunteers, donations, and any assistance. To reach their goal of truly commemorating this industry legend, the group continues to search for trees that are Gray’s varieties, such as ‘GraKing’, ‘GraTex’, ‘GraZona’, and ‘GraPark Giant.’ If you have any of these varieties or would like to contribute to the Friends of O.S. Gray Natural Area’s work, please contact Kevin Donovan at [email protected]. The group hopes to plant these trees in the park so to further educate visitors about pecans, nature, and a pecan pioneer: O.S. Gray.

 

Author Photo

Catherine Clark

Catherine Clark is the managing editor of Pecan South. She has her M.S. in Journalism from the University of Southern California, and her B.A. in Communication and Spanish from Trinity University. For questions, comments or concerns, she can be reached at [email protected].