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June 2007 Park of the Month
Lake Somerville State Park & Trailway

Water Based Recreation Rules at Lake Somerville State Park

On a quiet mid-week morning on a late spring afternoon, a woman wields a fillet knife at a fish cleaning shelter on the edge of shimmering Lake Somerville, cleaning her husband's catch of crappie. Just downhill, several anglers wet their lines hoping to catch their limit, too. Time seems to stand still in this wooded, 2,365-acre state park until not far from Brenham.

Rob McCorkle © Tx. Parks & Wildlife Dept.
View a larger version of this image.
Firewheels decorate the shoreline of
Lake Somerville in the Birch Creek unit.

The Birch Creek Unit is one of four publicly accessible areas of Lake Somerville State Park that hug the western end of 11,000-acre Somerville Reservoir. The Birch Creek and Nails Creek units, the two more heavily used units, occupy opposite sides of the lake that is located in the post oak belt that runs through Lee and Burleson counties.

Houstonians find the lake, which is less crowded than many closer-in reservoirs like Lake Conroe, an easy drive for weekend getaways to enjoy boating, fishing, swimming and other water-based recreational activities. Visitors frequently come from nearby Brenham and Bryan-College Station as well. But there's more to do that fish and boat at Lake Somerville State Park.

"The Somerville complex has multiple drawing cards catering to people with varied interests, but the major activity is water-based," says Kim Ochs, superintendent of the Lake Somerville park complex that includes both Nails Creek and Birch Creek state parks, the Somerville Trailway and the Somerville Wildlife Management Area. "People love the campgrounds, too, because we’ve left plenty of vegetation between campsites to provide some privacy from neighbors."

The 3,155-acre Nails Creek Unit near Ledbetter on the southwestern corner of the reservoir offers a number of quiet, secluded acres for picnicking and provides ready access to the 13-mile trailway that links the park to its sister Birch Creek unit on the northern lakeshore.

The trailway winds through upland forests of oaks and yaupon, bottomland forests of mixed hardwoods and open prairies. It still draws its share of horseback riders and is popular with scout groups and outdoor lovers looking for solitude. Trail users will find water for livestock, a handful of primitive toilets, primitive campsites and shade shelters. The most salient landmark along the trail is 350-acre Flag Pond, an impoundment of Yegua Creek frequented by waterfowl.

In 1967, the U. S. Corps of Engineers, which leases the parkland to TPWD, impounded Yegua Creek to create the reservoir designed primarily for flood control. The state park complex opened three years later.

Even when the lake is low, boaters can still access the water via Birch Creek’s two, double-lane boat ramps. Anglers without a boat can fish from the shore or the unit's fishing jetty and pier. Anglers pursue white bass and crappie during early spring months, catfish later on and black bass in the summer.

Rob McCorkle © Tx. Parks & Wildlife Dept.
View a larger version of this image.
Cisterns capture rainfall runoff from the metal roof
of the headquarters building for use in watering the
landscape at the Birch Creek unit of
Lake Somerville State Park northwest of Brenham.

The park offers a limited supply of loaner fishing equipment to visitors, many of whom show up at the lake without rods and reels and with kids in tow who want to catch a fish. In addition, a Free Fishing in State Parks initiative waives the necessity of having to buy a fishing license to fish in the park.

While water provides the main focus for most park visitors, the scenic, wooded environment proves popular, too, with campers, hikers, mountain bikers and wildlife watchers.

"People tell us they like all the wildlife in the parks," Ochs says. "There’s a good population of white-tailed deer, some wild turkey, feral hogs and plentiful songbirds."

Bird watchers have been pleased in recent years to discover bald eagles nesting at Lake Somerville. The park's diverse habitat of open water, wetlands, mud flats, riparian woodlands, grasslands and yaupon thickets attracts an impressive variety of birds, with water birds being the special attraction.

During spring and early summer, dazzling fields of wildflowers, such as bluebonnets, Indian blanket, coreopsis, winecup and prickly pear poppy compete for attention with the abundant wildlife. A Texas wildscape garden in front of the park headquarters at Birch Creek adds another botanical dimension to the park.

Built several years ago on a hill that catches a nice southern breeze and overlooks the reservoir, the headquarters facilities incorporate a number of "green building" features, such as rainwater harvesting and plentiful windows for natural lighting. Buildings, too, were constructed of recycled materials, including discarded oil field pipe for structural material and shredded denim for insulation.

Campers at Birch Creek can choose from among more than 100 water-and-electric campsites in three camping areas tucked into the woodlands bordering the lake. Each comes with a picnic table, lantern post and fire ring/barbecue grill. (Ochs suggests making weekend end camping reservations early). Restrooms, some with showers, are available. Spacious picnic pavilions, a group trailer area, a group dining hall, canoe rental, and basketball and volleyball courts also are available.

To reach Lake Somerville State Park's Birch Creek Unit, take Texas 36 north 4 miles to Lyons; go west on Texas 60 for 8 miles to Park Road 57, then 4 miles to the park entrance. To reach Lake Somerville's Nail Creek Unit, from Giddings, take U. S. Highway 290 east about 5 miles to FM 180, then north about 15 miles to the park entrance. To reach the Lake Somerville State Park complex, call (979) 535-7763. For more information visit the Lake Somerville State Park & Trailway web site.

Article by Rob McCorkle

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