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Buescher State Park Saving CCC History for Future Generations
SMITHVILLE — For more than seven decades the massive-looking Recreation Hall at Buescher State Park has stood firmly on a hill overlooking the park’s lake. Imperceptibly, the historic Civilian Conservation Corps structure has moved — the result of creep — three inches downhill.
Still sound and functional, the hall also has been plagued by sticking doors and windows, the result of frame-settling and bowing lintels. Late this summer, Texas Parks and Wildlife will take action to correct those issues and others at the hall.
"We will protect the Recreation Hall for future generations with soldier piers," says project manager Tony Bettis. "These piers are put in side by side by side, creating a subsurface wall structural system. It stabilizes the hillside and keeps the hall from creeping any farther."
Thanks to bond funding authorized by the Texas Legislature and approved by statewide voters, Texas Parks and Wildlife is able to protect and preserve Buescher’s historic and stately Recreation Hall. At the same time, TPWD is making the hall more accessible by renovating and enlarging restrooms to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
The more than $700,000 in work to save and update the Buescher Recreation Hall is one more check on a long list of major Texas State Parks rejuvenation projects underway this year, all aimed at keeping the parks fun, safe and customer friendly. Texas State Parks general obligation bonds have been sold to fund more than $44 million in repairs and renovations to park cabins, bathrooms, electrical and water systems, and other state park infrastructure. Along with fixing up more than 40 state parks, the bonds provide an additional $25 million to dry berth the Battleship Texas.
Along with fixing up more than 40 state parks, the bonds provide an additional $25 million to dry berth the Battleship Texas and raise it out of the corrosive waters of the Houston Ship Channel.
After 72 years, the CCC’s Recreation Hall remains as beautiful and useful as when it was built.
"The Recreation Hall is a key focus for the park and one of the main draws for groups coming to Buescher," says Lost Pines Complex Superintendent Todd McClanahan. "It’s still sought out and utilized by groups and family reunions. We’ve got one family that has been using the hall for more than 50 years."
The affection for the hall is due in part to its classic park look — sturdy and rustic with exterior walls and chimney of great rectangular stones. The CCC builders used the same reddish stone for the structures in nearby Bastrop State Park, which, like Buescher, was constructed in the 1930s by companies 1805 and 1811 of the CCC. The Recreational Hall was completed in 1938. The park opened in 1940.
To add ADA-compliant restrooms to the building, TPWD planners worked closely with the Texas Historical Commission to protect the building’s historic nature. It was decided to extend a wooden portion of the structure to create the larger turning space and wider doors the ADA-compliant restrooms require.
The massive lintels have bowed a bit over the years, causing doors and windows to stick. They will be straightened out as much as possible. The hall also will get a new wastewater system and a new lift station.
When the project is finished in spring 2010, it will still be the same classic building park visitors have enjoyed for decades, just better. And it will be ready to serve more generations, perhaps for another 72 years.
"It is our duty to protect these historic resources," McClanahan says.
Buescher, pronounced Bisher, is sometimes overlooked in the shadow of its sister park, Bastrop. At just a little more than a thousand acres, it is less than a fifth the size of Bastrop, and its visitation last year, an impressive 46,000, was still less than a third of Bastrop. But park personnel say visitors who return year after year like the slower pace and peaceful nature.
"A big draw is the tranquility out here," says Buescher Superintendent Cullen Sartor. "That’s what draws people back. It’s laid back and quiet and a lot of people really appreciate that. It is easy to get away. We’ll have a full park and it’s still quiet. People come for that."
The 20-acre park lake does not allow gas-motors or swimming, but kayak and canoe rentals are available. "Our management goal is to provide a top notch fishing lake," says McClanahan. "The fishing is awesome."
Many guests like to stay in one of the park’s three air-conditioned mini-cabins overlooking the lake’s western shore, or one of the four screen shelters (one built by the CCC, which also created the lake). Or they pick from dozens of camping sites, including walk-in sites for tent campers and water and electric sites for RVs.
Another draw is the 7 ½ miles of hiking trails. Though most of Buescher is dense hardwoods, as you hike farther north you get into the loblollies of the Lost Pines for which this region is known.
Buescher is 4 ½ miles north of Smithville and 12 miles east of Bastrop. It is just over a two-hour drive from Houston, 125 miles to the east, and an hour from Austin, only 42 miles to the west. Buescher is also connected to Bastrop State Park by winding Park Road 1C, which is entirely inside TPWD right of way. The challenging and scenic ride (10 miles from park border to park border) is a favorite of cyclists and motorcyclists.
For more information, call the Buescher State Park at 512/237-2241 or check the website at http://tpwd.texas.gov/spdest/findadest/parks/buescher
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