San Antonio’s Southside is home to a very special community of creators, hard workers, and people that inspire—many of which own small businesses in and around the Southside. Our Southside Makers and Shakers blog series is all about highlighting the people making their mark on SA’s Southside. Each addition to the series offers new insight into the community and the gente that make the Southside so unique. In this blog, we hear more from Mitchell Lake Audubon Center Director, Sara Pruneda Beesley.
Interview With Sara Pruneda Beesley
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Sara Pruneda Beesley and I am the Director at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Although I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family spent most summer and winter holidays driving down to the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico to spend time with family. I knew I wanted to go to university in Texas and ended up at Trinity University, where I met my husband and settled down in San Antonio. I started at Mitchell Lake in 2013.
What inspired you to become a leader on the Southside, and what keeps you motivated to continue your work?
This life chose me! When I came to interview at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center for the Development Assistant position, I didn’t know it existed. As soon as I got out of my car and was surrounded by butterflies, I knew I landed somewhere special. I worked my way to eventually become Director, and I am passionate about sharing this ecological gem we have on the Southside. The more time I spend on this side of town, the more it feels like home. Even when I first started at Mitchell Lake, I was warned it was “in the bad part of town,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. The Southside is a traditionally under-resourced area of town. People are generally afraid of what they are not familiar with, so it’s been my mission to share how special the Southside is with everyone and bring much-needed resources to the community.
How does your organization give back to San Antonio, foster collaboration, and build partnerships with other organizations and leaders?
Our mission is to connect people to nature through community education and conservation, focused on birds and the places they need. We are uniquely located along the central flyway, the path migrating birds take when they fly south for the winter or north for the spring. Our location along with our diversity of habitats on the 1,200 acre site attract over 350 species of birds throughout the year.
As a result, over 10,000 visitors from across Texas and the world visit the site for hiking, bird watching, and time in nature each year, including thousands of school kids and families from across the San Antonio area for field trips and public programs.
We wouldn’t be able to do all the good work we do without our community partners – including working with City Council District 3 on bird-friendly development, partnering with Texas A&M University – San Antonio for research and interns, collaborating with San Antonio River Authority and SA River Foundation on community programs and working closely with San Antonio Water System around water conservation, native plants, and natural infrastructure solutions. We also have a close relationship with the local Audubon chapter, Bexar Audubon Society, and the growing VIDA San Antonio community.
Looking to the future, what initiatives or projects are you most excited about, and how do you believe they will benefit our city and its residents?
All the work advocating for resources for the Southside by myself and with others did finally come to fruition in 2022, when the citizens of San Antonio voted for a historic bond package, including $6M for infrastructure improvements at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center! As a city-wide project, our improvements will provide assets everyone can enjoy, bringing people from across the area to enjoy the Southside. I am most excited about full service restrooms and trailheads along our trails and an expanded education pavilion, where we plan to host community meetings and expand the number of students we see for field trips. New parking, roads, bird blinds, and rest stations are also planned.
Where can folks find Mitchell Lake Audubon Center?