AUSTIN, TX – After a searing summer and record-breaking drought, cooler weather and the promise of at least some rain have many Texans thinking about heading outside for recreation and relaxation.
Texas’ 93 state parks offer a safe, economical and fun environment for enjoying the great outdoors this fall. Although the past year’s extreme weather conditions have taken their toll on a number of state parks natural resources, wildlife and lake levels, there remain dozens of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department-operated sites where the impacts are minimal.
In east Texas, sandwiched between Angelina National Forest to the north and the Big Thicket National Preserve, lakeside Martin Dies Jr. State Park is faring well. Park superintendent David Weeks reports that Lake B. A. Steinhagen remains at full pool level and is expected to maintain that level through the winter.
Martin Dies now has 38 canoes for rental to tackle the park’s four official Texas paddling trails where the waters are still flowing and wildlife abounds. Space is still available on the park’s popular guided canoe trips into the forks of the Angelina and Neches rivers held the third Saturday of each month. The paddling trails offer excellent opportunities for birding, wildlife viewing and nature photography.
“Excellent hunting opportunities exist adjacent to the park in the Angelina/Neches Wildlife Management Area, where waterfowl hunting is expected to be good due to the positive lake level,” Weeks adds. “Fishing, too, is picking up already on cooling area waters, with anglers reporting good catches of catfish, crappie and bass.”
Despite the dry conditions, Weeks predicts fall color on most park trails should still be good. A good time to take to the trails will be Oct. 29 when Martin Dies hosts its Haunted Halloween Hike. On Nov. 26, the park will hold its Cowboy Campfire.
Cooler fall nights make for more comfortable tent camping, Weeks notes, and when winter finally arrives, campers will be glad to know new heaters have been installed in campground restrooms and showers. Though the park continues under a burn ban, there has been sufficient recent rainfall to again allow charcoal grilling. The use of camp stoves is still fine.
Located roughly 50 miles east of Dallas, Lake Tawakoni State Park reports good lake access via a four-lane boat ramp and decent fishing, though the reservoir is about six feet lower than normal. As the weather cools off, the park will experience less crowded campgrounds for those who want a little elbow room in a part of Texas that rarely receives more than a week of freezing temperatures.
“The wildlife has been more active than normal because of the drought,” says park superintendent Donna Garde, “so we’re getting more gray fox, mink and deer sightings. And from November through February, we offer favorable long-term camping rates for our full-service campsites.”
In Central Texas, Buescher State Park still offers a bucolic Lost Pines experience since it was untouched by the early September wildlife that burned most of its sister park, Bastrop State Park, 11 miles to the west. The park boasts small, quiet campgrounds and an excellent trail system that winds through the hills amid the loblolly and hardwood forest that covers much of the park.
The 25-acre lake still has plenty of water and recently has been stocked with 900 pounds of catfish, according to Buescher State Park superintendent Cullen Sartor. And, he notes that park-goers need to remember that fishing within the boundary of any Texas state park requires no fishing license. In addition, the park rents canoes and kayaks to access the lake.
And, outdoor lovers shouldn’t forget that fall is a great time to visit a seaside state park. Texas boasts four such parks: Sea Rim State Park on the uppermost Gulf Coast, and further south Galveston Island, Goose Island and Mustang Island state parks.
Sea Rim and Galveston Island state parks have bounced back from recent hurricanes and are welcoming campers, bird watchers, anglers and kayakers in increasing numbers. Half of the 44 worn-out seaside shade shelters have been replaced with new ones at Goose Island and the others will be replaced over the next couple of months. Keep an eye out for the endangered whooping cranes that winter in the area and enjoy the new boardwalk over the recently restored marsh. At 4,093-acre Mustang Island State Park, visitors can cruise the beach, pitch a tent and even build a campfire, a rarity in rain-starved Texas. And, remember you don’t need a fishing license to wet a line in any Texas state park, so don’t forget to bring your rod and reel.
Despite the spring wildfire that struck 1,500-acre Possum Kingdom State Park in North Texas, the park has made a great comeback, has received some rain and welcoming an increasing number of visitors. The lake level is down some, but the park’s boat ramp remains one of the few still open and the county’s burn ban has been lifted, so campfires are okay again. The campgrounds are open and all but one cabin, which sustained slight fire damage, are available for overnight stays.
Keep in mind, too, that many state parks offer reduced camping fees during “off-peak” fall and winter months, especially for campers planning a longer stay.
Reservations for accommodations and campsites can be made by calling the reservations center in Austin at (512) 389-8900 or online through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us.