April 2006 Park of
Goose Island State Park
Oldest Texas Gulf Coast State Park Still Going Strong
On a balmy spring morning, Goose Island State Park begins to come to life. Park visitors walk their dogs on Trout Street and Redfish Road, cast lines to try to hook lunch, scan the skies with binoculars for migrating songbirds or lounge about outside their recreational vehicles, many of which sport out-of-state plates. Overhead, laughing gulls squawk overhead and in the distance the air fills with the steady drone of a passing shrimp boat.
Springtime marks one of the most exciting times to visit the oldest state park on the Texas Gulf Coast that sits 12 miles northeast of Rockport, a bustling bayside city on the grow. It's the time when Winter Texans, who dominate the campsites from November through mid-April begin to return to their homes in the Midwest and our feathered friends begin their migration north from Central America.
Goose Island ranks as perennial favorite to "glass" a variety of avifauna, many of them gaily colored songbirds, such as the painted bunting and rose-breasted grosbeak that find the park's tangled thickets and live oak mottes to their liking. It is not unusual some years to literally see birds fall from the sky in the teeth of a wet, late-season norther, a bizarre phenomenon known as "fallout."
Goose Island State Park reigns, too, as a year-round home to a variety of bird life, especially colonial waterbirds such as pelicans, rails and other shorebirds and wading birds such as great blue herons and reddish egrets stalking their prey. The park's diverse habitats of seagrass beds, oyster reefs, salt marshes, mudflats, shallow open bays, dense thickets and live oak woodlands serve as a magnet for hundreds of bird species, as well as an assortment of small mammals and reptiles. On rare occasions, park visitors may catch a glimpse of endangered whooping cranes from the nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Located at the southernmost tip of the Lamar Peninsula, the state park's roughly 320-acres also encompass a small spit of sand known as tiny Goose Island, accessible via a 100-foot long concrete bridge. I say "roughly" 320 acres because the ancient barrier island has been shrinking in size as Gulf currents and the wave action of Aransas and St. Charles bays whittle away at the beach. Since 1969, Goose Island has lost more than 25 acres of marsh and upland habitats.
To address the erosion and submergence of the island that threatens valuable seagrass, oyster reef and high marsh habitats, a group of federal, state and local partners recently launched the Goose Island Shoreline Stabilization and Marsh Restoration Project to restore and protect wetland habitats integral to the coastal ecosystems. A 4,400-foot offshore rock breakwater now protects the island's southern shoreline and has created a 40-acre quiet lagoon between the breakwater and island that will enhance seagrass beds occurring there. Next will be the dredging of two nearby boat canals, whose dredge materials will be used beneficially to create a 24-acre marsh site planted with native marsh plants, such as smooth cordgrass, behind the island.
Texans owe Company 1801 of the federal government's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) thanks for developing the park in the early 1930s. The CCC cleared undergrowth and built roads and a concession building using shellcrete, a mixture consisting of crushed oyster shells and concrete. The concession building, known as the Recreation Hall, can be rented by the day for family reunions, meetings and the like.
"One of the most unusual things about Goose Island is that you have two completely different types of campgrounds - the bayfront area for people who want to be next to the water and the wooded area on the peninsula," says park manager Stormy Reeves, who has worked at the park since 1973. "Most folks who come to this part of the coast are here for camping, fishing and birding."
The park records some 60,000 overnight stays a year. Bayfront camping on the island, which features 45 concrete shade shelters with water and 50-amp electric service, proves the most popular. Reeves recommends campers make reservations for the shelters at least a month ahead. Most campers set up pop-up campers or small tents in front of the shelters, or pull in small RVs to take advantage of the prevailing southeasterly breeze.
The Wooded Campground in the mainland portion of the park features 57 campsites with water and electricity, plus 25 water-only sites. Each site - most of which are at least partially shaded by live oaks and other hardwoods -- has a picnic table, barbecue grill and fire ring.
Goose Island State Park excels when it comes to fishing opportunities. Land-bound anglers can wade fish or cast from a lighted 1,620-foot long pier for a variety of sport fish, including flounder, redfish, drum and speckled trout. Reeves terms "remarkable" fishing at the park during the last 10 years. Boaters can launch their craft from the park's two-lane boat ramp. A ramshackle wooden building that was once part of the old bridge connecting the island to the mainland sells bait and ice.
Most park visitors take a few moments on their way to the main park unit to stop nearby to gaze with wonder at a massive coastal live oak, commonly known as "The Big Tree." The Big Tree presides over an oak motte of other arboreal giants a couple of miles off State Highway 35 on Lamar Peninsula on St. Charles Bay.
Estimates place the arboreal monster's age at well over 1,000 years old. Metal supports have been erected to support the several of the majestic Aransas County oak's octopus-like, tree trunk-sized limbs. Also known as the Lamar Oak, the tree boasts a trunk circumference of 35 feet and an 89-foot crown reaching 44 feet into the sky. Roots big around as a grown man's thighs radiate in all directions. Visiting this natural wonder at Goose Island State Park is free and a must see while you're in the area.
Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles northeast of Rockport, two miles east of State Highway 35 on Park Road 13. It is one of more than 115 state parks that make up the Texas State Park system. For more information visit the Goose Island State Park web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle