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Water, Water Everywhere, But State Parks Still Going Strong
AUSTIN, Texas — August is usually one of Texas’ hottest months, parching the landscape and shrinking the state’s lake and rivers. This year it is shaping up to be one of the best months for getting outdoors.
Despite continuing storms and some flooding that have wreaked havoc with a few state parks, such as Mother Neff near Waco and Palmetto near Gonzales, most Texas state parks are open for business and sporting an atypical lush look.
State park officials report, too, that flowing rivers and full lakes are bringing out legions of boaters and anglers. They caution, however, that visitors engaging in water sports should be ever-vigilant of floating hazards and other dangers brought on by high water. But the upside of summer’s torrential rains outweighs the negatives in most parts of the state.
“Last year at this time, our state was experiencing terrible drought conditions almost everywhere,” said Walt Dabney, director of Texas state parks. “While this year’s rains have certainly reduced visitation on some weekends, Spring Break and recent holidays, when the rains resume a more normal pattern, the parks are going to be the greenest and the rivers and lakes the best they’ve been in many years. It should make for an outstanding park experience.”
At Garner, one of the state’s most popular parks, Superintendent Craig VanBaarle reports that despite periodic heavy rains and a little mud, campers have been enjoying swimming and tubing on the Frio River, which has been running four to six inches above normal most of the summer. The usual four-hour float trip is now taking only two hours, he said.
“Visitors are advised and pulled off the river during floods, but everything returns to normal within a couple of days,” VanBaarle said. “This has been a good year for river activities, but a bad year for occasional heavy showers and a little mud in camping areas. All in all, our park visitors have been a bit inconvenienced, but they’re having a whole lot of fun.”
East Texas parks, too, have had their share of heavy rain, but it hasn’t been all bad news for water recreation, according to Ellen Buchanan, regional director of Texas state parks in Tyler. “We are green and beautiful, and the fish are biting,” she said, adding that all the East Texas lakes are at or above pool level.
Buchanan noted, for example, that Cooper Lake northeast of Dallas, which was down 18 feet in December, is full again. And, she said that Lake Bob Sandlin State Park’s boat ramps, which had been closed all spring and half the summer due to low water levels, are operational.
Even in West Texas, which can be quite parched and hot this time of year, regional state park director Mike Hill reports cactus blossoms are the showiest in decades and grasslands are looking great.
“Images from the movie ‘Giant’ not withstanding,” Hill said, “the grasslands in West Texas are green, green, green. Purple sage has already started blooming around Devils River State Natural Area and Seminole Canyon State Park and promises to put on a spectacular display for weeks to come.”
Though stormy weather has caused temporary weather closures at Kickapoo Cavern State Park and Devil’s River State Natural Area, cooler temperatures are making visits to Big Bend Ranch State Park near Presidio and Davis Mountains State Park, both of which sit at above 4,800 feet elevation, quite pleasant.
“West Texas parks are open for business,” Hill said.
For Texas anglers, the higher-than-normal rainfall throughout much of the state is good news, said Dr. Gary Garrett, a fisheries biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“Floods,” Garrett explained, “are natural events and fishes can move to new habitats and re-colonize areas they could not get to before, such as upstream of small dams. Heavy rains also add nutrients into streams, help clean them out and reset the environment.”
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