Most Texas State Parks Recovering from Hurricane Ike

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AUSTIN, Texas — Most of the Texas state parks in the path of Hurricane Ike have been cleaned up, have electricity again and are open for business. Galveston Island and Sea Rim state parks on the Gulf Coast, however, suffered catastrophic damage, and will be closed for some time.

Of the 32 state parks closed at the height of Ike’s rampage through east Texas, only a few state parks remain closed two weeks after the Category 2 storm struck the coast Sept. 13, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife State Parks Division Director Walt Dabney. However, he said, Brazos Bend, Lake Livingston, Martin Dies Jr. and Village Creek state parks are expected to be welcoming visitors by early next month, if not sooner. The current list of state parks closed due to Ike is online.

"Crews from other parks have done heroic work getting trees cut out and parks cleaned up," said Dabney, who noted that 110 state park employees were assigned to Ike-related tasks. "Several of these parks will be back in operation soon."

TPWD estimators are busy reviewing photos, measurements taken and other information gathered by agency architects and engineers who last week visited affected state parks in southeast Texas damaged by hurricane winds and flooding, said Scott Stover, interim director of the Infrastructure Division. Detailed estimates of remaining repairs needed, and a determination of how they will be funded, he said, are expected soon.

"Some repairs have already been done by our crews," Stover said. "Damage to buildings insured after Hurricane Rita may be covered by insurance, with FEMA covering any amount that exceeds the policy coverage. Some structures and site work will have to be funded through other means."

San Jacinto Battlegrounds Historic Site in La Porte southeast of Houston and Mission Tejas State Park near Grapeland suffered the most structural damage. Most affected state parks, however, primarily saw downed limbs that in many cases knocked out power lines and had debris cluttering park roads and campgrounds.

Justin Rhodes, the regional parks director headquartered at San Jacinto, reported that hurricane-force winds ripped off some roof shingles and the electrical loop attached to the exterior of the TPWD headquarters building, and toppled a fee booth adjacent to the Battleship Texas, which came out unscathed in the storm. TPWD is awaiting the release of $25 million in bonds approved by Texas voters to dry berth and repair the aging battleship. Floodwaters from Ike also inundated the state park store and restrooms adjacent to the battleship. San Jacinto Monument remains closed, as well.

Mission Tejas State Park’s headquarters building suffered significant damage from fire caused by the malfunction of a portable generator. Arrangements are being made to secure a temporary structure to house park operations. Timber salvage operations are under way at Village Creek and Lake Livingston state parks. Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston is being cleared of storm debris and still has no power.

"The damage this time around doesn’t look as bad as Rita. But the biggest difference between Rita and Ike has been our response to the damage," Rhodes noted. "Park employees have been showing up from around the state and are working their tails off to get parks back open."

Most of the almost 6,000 Hurricane Ike evacuees who sought shelter at 63 parks outside the storm’s path are reported to have headed back home. Of the 1,650 evacuees who waited out the storm at Garner State Park, only eight families remained 10 days later.

"We have had a good experience in spite of a bad situation," said Garner State Park superintendent Rick Meyers. "Although the evacuees are tired and ready to go home, they have been grateful and want to return to Garner on vacation."

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