The Girl Who Loves Parks

The Girl Who Loves Parks

Season 3 Episode 6


Under the Texas Sky: S3E6 THE GIRL WHO LOVES PARKS


[ERIN FREIBOTH] When you take care of nature...when you engage with it...when you go to those places and you have that positive memory—you're part of the care of that place.

When it comes to the natural world, we aren't just users and observers, we're stewards...and like Erin...cheerleaders.

[ERIN FREIBOTH] Hello, this is Erin Freiboth, the state parks promotions and sales specialist. So, I have a really cool, interesting job where I get to go around and basically tell people how awesome the state parks are, and what they can find there to enjoy.


Have you ever talked with someone whose charming quirkiness and enthusiasm for a thing left you smiling every...single...time you thought back to the conversation? And because of the joy they exuded as they shared their perceptions and experiences, you found yourself chomping at the bit to go to the same places and do the same things—even though you'd been there and done that before—because this time you'd do so with new eyes? That's how it's been for me since talking with Erin Freiboth[FRY-bawth] about Texas State Parks.

Unlike some of our other state parks colleagues who've been at TPWD for many years, Erin's relatively new. And while her seasoned co-workers are more studied and deliberate, offering a fine-tuned message when detailing the virtues of our parklands, Erin was delightfully uninhibited as she waxed poetic about the great Texas outdoors. Her unbridled delight could easily entice the most ardent couch potato off the upholstery and onto a trail.

Erin speaks about the natural world in general and Texas State Parks specifically from her heart; you can feel the wildness and the wonder of a place in her words.

Our conversation took place in January 2020, before the Covid-19 scourge took root and started to impact park operations. To be on the safe side, prior to traveling to any Texas state park, natural area or historic site—it's always wise check the Texas Parks and Wildlife website for updates or to call ahead.

I had originally wanted to do a short podcast with Erin about picnicking in parks. We talked a little bit about that, but mostly I listened with delight as Erin effused about the parks she loves.

Stay with us.


From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.


At the time I'm putting together this podcast, it's early April 2020; Texas state parks have been temporarily closed to maintain the safest environment for visitors, volunteers and staff in this age of Covid-19. I am working from my home office...while a large fluffy cat is sprawled on my desk supervising my efforts.

As I listen back to the conversation I recorded with Erin Freiboth [FRY-bawth], three months earlier, I feel nostalgic and cannot wait until life returns to normal so we can all immerse ourselves in the beauty and wonder of Texas State Parks without limit.

It's my hope that by the time you've discovered this podcast, the world is back to normal—at least a new normal—and the gates to all our parks are open wide and ready to welcome you again.


[CECILIA] So, how many state parks do we have, Erin?

[ERIN] We have in total [pronounces crisply] eighty-eight. Gotta make sure I pronounce it just like that or else sounds like I'm saying ADA. [Shared laughter]

[CECILIA] But we do have ADA parks now that you mention it.

[ERIN] Yeah, we do. We actually have quite a few of our parks with ADA friendly facilities and ADA rule-following facilities as well. So, it's pretty cool. And I definitely appreciate that as someone with differently-abled family members. I was just at Cooper Lake, south Sulfur unit and I got to take my grandmother around the walking paths. So, she got to go all around the lakes even though she's in a wheelchair; we got to take her over a bridge. And that was pretty fun, and so there's always a little something for everybody at our parks.

[CECILIA] I want to back up a little bit. When you came to Texas Parks and Wildlife, you came as an AmeriCorps Vista Volunteer, and now you are here working with parks. What is it that made you want to stay after your initial year?

[ERIN] I would say it's the mission. To me, one of the most important things in my life is I want to do something with meaning, with impact—that makes the world a little but better just because I'm in it. And getting to work with Texas Parks and Wildlife really helps me fulfill that internal desire, but also helps me be part of a bigger picture of conservation and community and engagement and enrichment. Because when you take care of nature...when you engage with it...when you go to those places and you have that positive memory—you're part of the care of that place. You are an important piece of the continuing success of that location, because if no one ever goes to a park, whose going to care if the park's no longer there? So, being able to have a job where I go and I tell people about these wonderful places where they can have these wonderful experiences, they in turn are enriched by those places, and those places are enriched by their compassion and love for them. So, to me, that is an amazing way to live life—is doing a job that does good.

[CECILIA] I see why you're in promotions now. [Shared laughter] It sounds like it's a pretty easy sell.

[ERIN] It can be. Most of the time it's more like trying to find people what's the destination that best matches their interest. Like, I have people that come and they're like, we want to go someplace that's got a view. Like, we want...we want an experience away from civilization. And then I'm like, oh, go to Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend. You hike into the waterfalls there's this great dramatic reveal of just hiking down this trail that looks very calm and normal; there's another hill country trail, then you start hearing rumbling in the distance—then the trail starts getting a little bit steeper, so you're paying attention to where you're stepping and then suddenly you realize this loud rumbling noise is right to the left, to the right, of your ear and it sounds like a jet engine and you just look, and you see this 150 foot wide and 75 foot tall waterfall just cascading down, and this riveting noise that seems to rumble deep within you. All at the same time you're enchanted by the different rows of fern and vegetation, moss, and then the minerals depositing on, and creating this multi-textural layer.

And then I've got people that come and be like: well, I just want a nice experience outdoors. We're trying out our RV; we want to go see what it's like to go and see if we like to do the parks. And I'm like: oh, Blanco's a great park for that. It's right in the middle of town. You have a little hiking trail, you have a little bird blind; you can go swimming, you can go fishing. It's got this nice little charming camping area. So...a lot of the time it's just trying to find the parks that best meet people's interests.

[CECILIA] Sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on that. How many of our 88 parks have you actually been to, Erin?

[ERIN] I have been to 70. I am going to hopefully have 76 by the end of February. Yeah, I've turned into a bit of "completionist". I'm just like using all of my vacation time just to visit our parks, because I'm like: I want all of them. [Shared laughter]

[CECILIA] Then what next after 88 parks?

[ERIN] Uh, I think I'm going to go back and visit my favorites. And revisit them and get the...spend more time knowing their trails and their views. Because a lot of times when I'm visiting I'm just trying to sort of see the highlights. So, now I'm going to go back and like with Colorado Bend, they have like 30 miles of trails, and I only got to hike maybe about six of them. So, I want to go back and hike those some more, and go—because I am definitely much of a hiker. And I will say one of my favorite things to do it to take pictures...uh, to take sandwiches and take pictures of them from scenic location [laughs]. And just be like this is my highlight reel of my hike. Look at me eating Thundercloud [sandwich] on top of a mountain. [Shared laughter] I will say, there are sometimes I just that to make my friends jelly.


Taking photographs of what you're eating on the trail as part of your state park travelogue is sweet, quirky and funny—just like our guest Erin Freiboth, who promotes Texas state parks for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Coming up, picnics in parks and hidden gems in the state park system...but first, this reminder:

This is Under the Texas Sky. A podcast from Texas Parks and Wildlife...about nature...and people...and the connection they share. I'm your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti. Thanks for listening.

Erin Freiboth promotes Texas state parks for TPW. She has a passion for the outdoors, and for conserving our wild places and wild things. Her life's goal is to make the world a better place for having been here.

She's on her way.

We spoke in January 2020 before Covid-19 affected park operations. Before traveling to any Texas state park, natural area or historic site, check the Texas Parks and Wildlife website for updates, or call the sites directly.

Meanwhile, if you've listened to the podcast this far, you know Erin is fun-loving and has a penchant for photographing her lunch—usually sandwiches—on her hikes, using state parks as a scenic backdrop. This brings us to picnicking in parks.


[CECILIA] One of the things that I like to do is I like to pack a picnic and go outside with friends and family. Tell me why a park is a great place for dining al fresco or having a reunion; what sets them apart from someplace that you can rent in town.

[ERIN] Well, for one you get all that natural beauty around you. It's such a lovely experience to just go out and escape the noises of the city and traffic and be able to enjoy just a quiet peaceful moment, or just have that space available for you and your family to get to talk and engage them with each other without having to worry about talking over other people.

[CECILIA] What are some of the facilities people can find [in parks] that can make their outdoor experience more pleasurable?

[ERIN] Well, we have a little bit of—from the most basic thing of sitting on a nice rock—to group facilities with full service kitchens and restrooms that can house up to a hundred people on average [the group facilities, not the restrooms], but some of our buildings can go up to 200. One of our star buildings for our group gatherings is actually at Lake Brownwood. That park is super popular for renting its group recreation hall. Like almost every weekend it's rented out to a wedding at this point. We've got so many great facilities just like that one.


We also have the more casual format where it's just a nice picnic bench by the river with a good breeze going by, some shade. Sometimes there are public beaches and you can go and do some hiking off of those as well. Or just enjoy some nice time just looking and listening to birds.

[CECILIA] Tell me of parks that you think—in the 70 some odd that you've already visited—you think are some of the great picnic destinations.

[ERIN] Enchanted Rock is a great destination because you get to go climb on top of a pink dome and have a sandwich, so you feel very accomplished. But at the same time you get this really enjoyable experience going up. Another one that's really nice is... I really like Palmetto. Palmetto's nice because it sort of feels like you're in this primeval swamp but you don't have all the –you know—gnarly mosquitoes and biting bugs. So you sort of get this, [you] feel like you're walking with the dinosaur lands, but at the same time you don't have to be worried about being eaten by anything.

[CECIILIA] So, i-in this kind of a setting you'd probably bring a big turkey leg or beef rib bone [for your picnic].

[ERIN] Oh yeah. That's definitely a great setting for Palmetto. Palmetto would be perfect for a big old bone or something [laughs].

[CECILIA] Another park—other parts of the state...

[ERIN] Oh...Estero Llano Grande [Rio Grande Valley] is a great place to have a picnic. They have this beautiful birding center there and it overlooks this pond where they normally can see almost like 200 birds a day on this pond. It's crazy. And they have these really nice, relaxing picnic tables and chairs overlooking the pond, and it's all shaded. And, so, it's just a great location to do some birding and have a nice picnic.

[CECILIA] Yeah, so you can really multi-task. You know, you go out there for a day of picnicking, but there's so much more; so, Estero Llano Grande...what's another great wildlife viewing park?

[ERIN] One of my favorites has got to be Brazos Bend. 'Cause I grew up in the, uh, 1990s and the 2000s and I love alligators. And so I love that park for wildlife. They have this wonderful little nature boardwalk trail. And it's great for photography because how all the light comes in. My favorite thing is you get to see baby alligators on the trail. And they chirp like little birds, like: chirp... chirp... chirp. It's adorable! I think they're so cute. I have to stop myself from being like, I want to hold one! [laughs] And then at the same time you've got all these wonderful wetland birds. So, when I was there—and I just took like an hour and a half hike—and I saw 20 species of wetland birds. I even got to see a bird riding a big alligator.

[CECILIA] Really?

[ERIN] Yeah, it's pretty funny. The alligator was just trying to be like all sneaky through the mud, marsh; like it was trying to move slowly. And then there was this white egret just ridging it, like: pffft here I am. [laughter]

[CECILIA] You never know what you're going to see when you get outdoors.

[ERIN] No. I see stuff all the time that just amazes me. One of my favorite things to do when I'm outdoors is take pictures. It's a very millennial thing to say, probably, but I'm out there with my cell phone taking pictures. And I love trying to find those like "wow" moments in nature, and get a good picture of them, and then find beautiful vegetation and animals. Like, one of my favorite pictures I ever got was a little green lizard sitting in these green leaves. And you could barely see it, but this lizard was just so cocky. He was just like, looking me dead in the eyes while I'm like inches away taking a picture. And he just like, I don't care; I'm a celebrity. [laughter] And it was just so much fun.

And then I saw an armadillo. Like I was just hiking down the trail, not paying sort of attention to my surroundings; just off in my own head—just sort of thinking my thoughts. And then I hear this rustling in the corner and I look over and I see an armadillo like seven feet away from me just face deep in a pile of leaves looking for grubs. And it just stood there, like—even looked at me, like oh...oh—just just kept going on his way. And I just stood there for like a good five minutes watching this armadillo dig for its grubs. I'm like: this is pretty cool! You would never like get this experience at any other place but at a park.

[CECILIA] How do people, if they want to go to a park—get a big group going there—there are opportunities to make reservations and such. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

[ERIN] So, we have reservable group facilities [online]. So, you can go online to make those reservations. They'll tell you the size and any amenities that they have, like if they have a cooking area, refrigerator, uh, restroom, or if they're just like an outdoor shade pavilion; they'll tell you the capacity and things like that. And you can rent that. And you can also go ahead and use our call center where you'll be sent to the group desk. And they specialize in handling groups coming in and making reservations for them.

[CECILIA] Now, our parks and pretty popular and some of these facilities are pretty popular. How far in advance can somebody make, uh, make an arrangement?

[ERIN] Um, it depends what you're times of day you're going. Like, if you're going for weekends, uh, try to reserve out as far as you can. I would start looking probably about two months out, uh, especially at the more popular parks. Like, uh, Lake Brownwood can fill up almost six months in advance. But, yeah, so two months is about the beginning window, but if you start go-, inching off towards the more really popular parks that get booked way in advance, you want to start looking around the four to five month window.

[CECILIA] And of the parks that you visited, which do you think are hidden gems that somebody really ought to make the time to go to—whether they bring a sandwich or not.

[ERIN] [laughs] Well, we've got quite a few hidden gems. I was just at one recently, about a week ago, and that was San Angelo. That was a hidden gem. Like, oh my gosh, what an amazing park. You can go hiking there and be in a sea of native grassland—one of the rarest ecosystems in the entire United States—and not see any buildings in a 360-view. Like, it is amazing! Like, I was hiking for about a mile and I got this experience. It's amazing.

And they had dinosaur tracks that you could go in—like they were actually pre-dinosaur tracks—and you could actually go and touch them. They're one of the few places in our park system where you can go and tactically interact with our tracks. Uh, the other one would be Dinosaur Valley, which is such a gem of a park. Like, oh my gosh... I grew up with the Jurassic Park. There might be a theme with scaled creatures at this point in time, um [laughs]. But I love the dinosaur tracks because they're in the river bed, so we don't really have protections on them. They are 100% interactable. So, I immediately went into the water, put my foot in the track, took a picture of it, sent it to my mom, and in all caps went: DINOSAURS! [laughter] I was very excited, and I had a wonderful time. They have this place called the "Dance Room Floor," and it's just this big dinosaur tracks on top of each other, moving around, and it's so cool. And they mostly have two types of dinosaurs, both are herbivores, but one like has a T-Rex style track. And the other has that longneck style track, with it's like, it looks like a big circle with those three little toes on the top [laughs]. So those are the most common ones there. Oh, I, uh, got li-slightly sidetracked on the dinosaurs. Sorry. [laughs]

Um...Lyndon B. Johnson state historic park is a wonderful little gem of a park. It's going to have its wildflower start up soon. So that is a great photo destination, especially of you want to see a sea or red flowers or a sea of yellow flowers. Because, for some reason, how it was planted, the flowers time out so you almost always get like a uniformity of colors. And they also have a historical living farm. And so, you can go back and see what farm was like before the advent of the modern the technology of a tractor. So you get to see someone plow a field with ox. And you get to see the chickens, and you get to see how they cured meat, how they make cheese, how they grow veggies; it's a pretty cool experience. And it's uh, one of our few free parks.

So you can go there for the day, have picnic, go explore the farm, and at the same time you can go over to the National Historic Site and go see his house, his ranch, his airplane and his airport and all those fancy cars. It's a great daytrip park.

Another hidden gem: Eisenhower. Eisenhower's really cool. You could see like fossilized seashells and snail shells, and all this stuff around the bay area. They have lots of water there and like these rocky cliff-like coasts. So you almost feel like you're in some place other than Texas when you're there. Like, it's a very unique feeling park. And, really nice hiking trails there. I enjoyed that.

Erin Says Lake Colorado City State Park is another hidden gem with trails that seem to make music as you hike.

[ERIN] They have one of the funnest trails I've found in the entire system. It's called the Cactus Trail. And it winds around the lake, but it goes up and down and it's got all these dynamic movement along the trail; you get to see all this different vegetation. And there was this really fun plant that I need to look up the name, but the sea pods sound like a little maraca. So, I would just brush them accidentally—quotation marks—and I could hear this whole maraca plant going chhh...chhh... chhh...chhh...chhhh. It was a lot of fun on that trail. And great little looks of the lake. So, it was a great photo destination as well. So I really enjoyed that.

[CECILIA] Everything you that you've said right now is very encouraging to anybody to get out and explore our state park system. So, if you had to do that elevator speech— w-we'll give you ten floors—why somebody should get out to a state park, whether they're picnicking, or they want to hike, or they want to take photographs, or they just need a little bit of time in a quiet place, what would you say to them?


[ERIN] I would say that the state parks have a myriad of opportunities to enjoy yourself, but also to try things out. You could do kayak rentals, you can borrow fishing equipment; we have swimming. We have all the hallmark classics: like the swimming, the hiking, the biking, horseback riding, picnic tables, and overnight stays. So, you've got the classic, but then you also have those unique experiences found at our parks: getting to see a waterfall; getting to hike in the second-largest canyon in the United Sates; going to see wild bison roaming through your campsite; enjoying those la-sparkling lakeside views with the amazing sunsets. Um, going to hike mountains, or go to the largest urban park in the continental United States at El Paso—with over a hundred miles of hiking and biking trails. Like, we have all these unique experiences to offer, and you could find something that will attract you, and that will open the door to all these other amazing experiences. Because once you [get a] taste, you want the whole meal.


I am ready to get out to a state park, natural area or historic site right now. What about you? Since we are living a "new normal" due to the Coronavirus, before heading out to any Texas State Park, historic site or natural area, always check the website for updates, or call the site directly.

By the way, you might like to know that a $70 Texas State Parks pass allows you free entry to state parks for one year. Some parks do not charge an entry fee. Activity and camping fees still apply. Find complete details, including discounts card holders receive, on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

[MUS—Orbit Your Soul]

And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available for streaming or download at or wherever you get your podcasts.

We record at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our sound design.

We get distribution and web help from Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing.

Stream or download the podcast from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, leave a review and let us know how we're doing and what you'd like to hear.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside when you’re Under the Texas Sky.

[ERIN] You're part of the care of that place. You are an important piece of the continuing success of that location, because if no one ever goes to a park, whose going to care if the park's no longer there?

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.