Getting Better all the Time
Brazos Bend State Park
Park System Improvements Reflect Support From Voters, Legislature
NEEDVILLE - Brazos Bend State Park, one of the most popular state parks in Texas located just outside the Houston metro area, is adding staff to help restore and protect native park prairies and wetlands, and to better serve the public. These upgrades in staff will allow the park to address its overall conservation mission, rather than struggle to meet basic customer needs, such as cleaning restrooms, with volunteer labor as in years past. In short, the extra manpower will not only provide welcome relief to current staff in keeping up with customer demand, but will also enhance the overall management of the park's delicate resources.
What's happening at Brazos Bend illustrates just some of the positive changes occurring at state parks all across Texas, thanks to new funding provided by the Texas Legislature and state voters.
New staff positions here for 2008 include a new park ranger dedicated to natural resource management and another resource manager/park peace officer. This will mean "doubling our security here in the park" for visitors "and also doubling resource management," according to Assistant Park Superintendent Dennis Jones.
"We've always been pretty good about the recreational components of the park, but our resources have suffered on some levels as a result of limited staffing," Jones said. "We have a fragment of coastal prairie that's important, since less than one percent of this type of prairie habitat is left in North America. People understand preserving documents and buildings because of historical significance, but we tend to overlook that prairies have significance too and they're all but gone."
Jones said the new positions will allow the park to control noxious, invasive plants that threaten to turn the prairie into a forest and encourage native prairie grasses to return. To do that, park staff is planning additional prescribed burns to mimic natural wildfire's beneficial effects. And they'll also be able to begin measuring progress to see which management strategies are most effective.
Brazos Bend is also known for shallow lakes and sloughs where visitors from Houston and other cities can see alligators and birds and other aquatic wildlife. Jones says the new staffing will help address serious problems threatening the wetlands, such as other exotic invader plants like deep-rooted sedge and water hyacinth.
"Under optimum conditions, water hyacinth can expand its surface area about 20 percent per day," Jones said. "We can't ignore that situation; we can't leave it alone; we have to manage it. We plan judicious use of approved herbicides to control exotic and invasive native plants throughout the park's wetlands. We want to create more open water for recreational fishing and birding. If we don't do that, the lakes will literally disappear."
The park's natural resources are a significant part of what draws tourists to the area, and state investments at Brazos Bend stand to potentially generate a strong return for the host surrounding communities. Texas A&M University research reported in 2005 that state parks draw tourist dollars from outside their host counties. That same study also showed that the 80 Texas state parks surveyed generated an estimated total of $793 million in retail sales, had a $456 million impact on residents' income and created roughly 11,928 jobs statewide.
Details on Brazos Bend State Park, including visitor facilities, hours and fees, maps and directions, can be viewed online at Brazos Bend State Park.