September - October 2008 Feature Park
Lockhart State Park
Another Reason to Visit Bar-B-Q Capital
It's a sound rarely heard in a Texas state park. A young boy was shouting, "You made it. You made it; a hole in one!"
Sure enough, I looked over and saw the youngster's beaming dad retrieving the golf ball he had hit with a 9-iron that had traveled 150 yards and into the cup on the final hole of the Lockhart State Park golf course. For Robert and Joseph Anachando, it will be a visit to Lockhart State Park that they'll never forget.
The 264-acre park, originally developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, retains a rural feel in fast-growing central Texas, less than an hour's drive from the state capital. A rock wall-lined park road cut by the federally-funded workers following the Great Depression years still winds its way through hardwood forests to the top of a cliff. There they constructed a wood-framed refectory, or recreation hall, enjoyed today by church groups, families, wedding parties and scout troops who rent it for a day or overnight. The building is air-conditioned and heated, has a fireplace and boasts a fully-furnished kitchen and restrooms.
A spacious backyard patio, picnic tables and grills benefit from a scenic location atop a 300-foot hill that affords 180-degree views of the countryside and the nearby county seat of Caldwell County. An adjacent picturesque, rock cistern once provided water for the state park.
Just down the hill, golfers once teed off from what in those days was dubbed the "highest tee box in Texas." The tee box was abandoned with the advent of electric golf carts because they couldn't make the climb up the steep incline. Nonetheless, golfers tackling the nine-hole course can still hit from a slightly less elevated tee box on one hole that provides a breathtaking view of the fairway below.
Park employees have been busy this summer replacing the deteriorating asphalt cart paths with new, cement ones made possible by increased legislative funding. The 2,900-yard, par 35 golf course, the only staff-operated course in the Texas state park system, records more than a thousand rounds of golf annually, generating much-needed revenue to upgrade and maintain park facilities. Eighteen holes of golf (with electric cart), including a $2 park entry fee, costs $26. Almost 100 golfers pay an annual membership fee of $250, or $325 for a family, to play the moderately-challenging layout.
But that's not all that this down-home park offers. Lockhart State Park also attracts legions of swimmers to its spacious outdoor pool, which is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. A bath house, life guards, chlorinated water and a kiddie pool make a plunge into the park pool a safe and soothing experience. Visitors can purchase a season pass or pay a daily pool fee of $2 a person, plus the $2 park entry fee.
Nearby, a series of five small rust-colored, rock dams built by the CCC form swirling pools along spring-fed Clear Fork Creek, ideal for fishing for bass, catfish and sunfish. A basketball court, sand volleyball court and hiking trail add to the recreational setting. Further down the creek sits the park's only campground served by one restroom with hot showers. Ten water-and-electric sites ($15 a night) hug the bank beneath red and live oaks, cedar elms, pecans and mesquite trees. The 10 interior campsites ($18) across the road prove popular with the RV crowd, offering water, electrical outlets, sewerage and a golf course view.
Park superintendent J. Hess says during warm-weather months a number of recreational vehicle owners like to set up their RV in the shaded campground, play golf and cool off afterward in the pool. This past year has been one of the state park's busiest in recent memory, he notes.
"This year, we're making the most revenue we ever have," Hess says. "I think it has a lot to do with the fuel prices and people not wanting to drive that far. We're centrally located and not that far from major metropolitan areas. We're just 15 miles north of Interstate 10, so we're only about two and a half hours from Houston."
Park staff includes a park ranger who leads interpretive programs on such things as the CCC, xeriscaping and astronomy for park visitors. And each school year, local elementary school students attend outdoor education classes at the park to learn about conservation, native plant and animal life, aquatic pollution and more.
Hess hopes the fifth graders' learning experience will make them more comfortable in the outdoors and get them to encourage their parents to bring them out to the park more often. In the future, the park superintendent says youngsters and adults alike will be able to visit a restored Blackland Prairie plot and take a self-guided tour of a native plants demonstration area.
While you're visiting Lockhart - "The Barbecue Capital of Texas" -- be sure to bring your appetite and try some post oak-smoked brisket, sausage, ribs and more at one of the four restaurants catering to carnivores: Smitty's, Kreuz's Market, Black's and the Chisholm Trail. Afterward, head for the downtown historic district to shops for antiques and see the 1900 Dr. Eugene Clark Library, the oldest public library in Texas.
Lockhart State Park is located about a mile south of the Caldwell County seat, just off U.S. 183 on FM 20.. For more information visit the Lockhart State Park web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle