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Abilene State Park Commemorates 75 Years
TUSCOLA, Texas — Abilene State Park, renowned for its huge swimming pool and rustic water tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the 1930’s, RV camping, roaming bison stately oak and pecan trees, will commemorate 75 years of operation on Saturday, May 16.
An entire day’s worth of activities have been scheduled to commemorate the anniversary, beginning at 9 a.m. range. They will include historical re-enactments featuring soldiers in 19th century dress from Fort Richardson, Fort Concho, Fort Chadbourne and Fort Griffin, archery events, birding and nature hikes, and a Kidfish fishing area. The park is waiving its customary $4 per-person adult entrance fee (kids ages 12 and younger are always free) all weekend long.
On hand, too, will be the Abilene High School marching band, considered to be one of the oldest marching band programs in Texas, which will play during the morning ceremonies just as the high school band did in 1934 during the park’s original.
"I think the significance of this park is that it has always been a gathering place for citizens of this area, and for visitors to enjoy," said Okie Okerstrom, who is in her 16th year as park superintendent. "Maintaining this public land and resource and keeping it accessible emphasizes the importance of its history and preserving it for future generations. The Comanche people camped here; pioneer settlers settled here. The buffalo hunters were here. It’s always been a popular gathering spot."
Abilene State Park’s cultural heritage will take center stage during the festivities with a stagecoach on display to honor the park’s Butterfield Trail history, a covered wagon that will host chuck wagon cooking demonstrations and interpretive panels highlighting the CCC’s critical role in developing the Texas State Park system. In addition, there will be a classic car show and food vendors are scheduled to be on site selling concession items.
On Friday, May 15, the night before the anniversary event, the Friends of Abilene State Park will be hosting a Dinner and Dance Under the Stars at the nearby Perini Ranch Steak House restaurant in Tuscola. The special fundraiser is reminiscent of weekly juke box dances held at the park’s pavilion during the 1940s, which were known to be popular among soldiers from Camp Barkley. After dinner, guests can dance to traditional Big Band sounds from the 1930s and 1940s. Reservations for the Dinner and Dance Under the Stars fundraiser must be made by May 8. Contact the park for information and reservations.
Over the years, Abilene State Park has become a symbol of both an unchanged landscape for traditional family fun, as well as one of how parks can adapt to the changing needs of their customers’ recreational interests. The park’s CCC-built swimming pool, scenic pecan groves and RV camping loop remain popular attractions that bring groups of people back year after year.
The park’s recent history, however, includes some notable changes. Four years ago, the park expanded by roughly 1,000 acres with the addition of Lake Abilene to its original 529 acres. The lake acreage, which includes restrooms and a security fence, adds a new fishing and boating dimension to the park visitor experience. Abilene State Park also boasts the only Yurt tent sites in the state park system. A Yurt is a large, canvas tent structure with a floor and furnishings, giving campers yet another option of overnight accommodations.
Abilene State Park represents a significant economic contribution to the Taylor County area, generating more than $1 million to the local economy in sales, some $560,000 in impact on personal income, and more than $5,000 in sales tax.
For more information about Abilene State Park, the 75th anniversary celebration or the Friends of Abilene State Park fundraising dinner and dance, contact Abilene State Park at (325) 572-3204.
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