Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute
The mission of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute is to promote public awareness, appreciation, and concern for the natural diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert region through research and education.
The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute was founded in 1974 as a research organization dedicated to gathering and disseminating knowledge about the Chihuahuan Desert region. Institute staff immediately began an aggressive research and education program that involved everything from studying the nesting behavior of golden eagles to taking teachers on rafting trips down the Rio Grande to study geology.
A major goal was achieved in the late 1970w, when the Institute was able to purchase 507 acres of grassland and volcanic rock outcrops near Fort Davis, Texas. The landsite became the focus of intensive efforts as Institute staff and volunteers sought to put together a facility that would support scientific research and serve as an educational tool. Over the next two decades, an arboretum featuring trees and shrubs of the Chihuahuan Desert was established, a 1400 sq. ft. greenhouse containing one of the world’s largest collection of Chihuahuan Desert cacti and succulents was developed, and an adobe visitors’ center with exhibit space, administrative offices, and a gift shop was built. The landsite—known as the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center—is now open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
In addition to operating the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, the Institute hosts an internationally-respected symposium on the natural resources of the Chihuahuan Desert region every five years and provides scholarships and grants to students.
In 2003, the Institute launched the Chihuahuan Desert Field School, an educational program targeting 4th grade classes in Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Presidio counties. One focus of the program is to prepare Texas students for their fifth and eight-grade science knowledge and skills tests, but the overwhelming response to the program led to the inclusion of students from all grade levels and from regions far outside the tri-county area. Since its inception, thousands of students have participated in the field school. In 2006, the Institute added an annual field day for third and fourth-grade students to its education program. This program, called The Earth Rocks!!!, provides hands-on activities focusing on the earth sciences to approximately 300 students each year.
The Institute also offers opportunities for learners of all ages through our Life-Long Learning Program. This program features workshops, fieldtrips, and lectures on a wide variety of topics related to the natural history of the region. In 2008, another layer was added to the CDRI’s education programs. The Institute was recognized by the Texas Education Agency as a Continuing Professional Education Provider for the State of Texas. This recognition allows us to offer continuing professional education credits to school teachers throughout Texas.
A 23-member Board of Directors govern the activities of the Institute. Dr. Cathryn A. Hoyt has served as the Executive Director since 2001 and is assisted in day-to-day operations by her staff of three full-time employees and five part-time employees. Student interns and over 125 volunteers provide additional assistance.