Wanderlist – Future State Parks
There’s a lot of steps to becoming a State Park. In this edition of Under the Texas Sky's Wanderlist, producer Randall Maxwell and TPW Magazine Editor, Louie Bond, discuss future State Parks currently in development. We’ll also visit with biologist and Natural Resources Coordinator for State Parks Andy Sipocz about an up and coming State Natural Area just outside of Houston.
Wanderlist – Future State Parks
Season 3 Episode 1
Under the Texas Sky: S3:E1: WANDERLIST – FUTURE STATE PARKS
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[NARRATION] Texas State Parks offer a wide diversity of scenic trails, flora and fauna, wildlife viewing and camping opportunities. They are a tremendous bargain for experiencing outdoor fun. Have you ever wondered how those beautiful places are born? Well, it’s a long long process that includes purchases, donations, surveys and conservation planning. Then there’s the physical development of the park, design, and construction of any facilities, as well as the eventual staffing of the park.
On the Wanderlist, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine Editor Louie Bond and I will give you a sneak peek at some cool future state parks currently in development. We’ll also talk to Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Andy Sipocz [Sippets] who is a Natural Resources Coordinator in the State Parks Division. He’ll tell us about a unique property with an unusual geographic feature that will one-day give visitors a new view rarely seen in the area today.
Stay with us.
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[NARRATION] From Texas Parks and Wildlife, this is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist. I’m Randall Maxwell and with me is Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine Editor, Louie Bond.
[RANDALL & LOUIE]
[RANDALL] Hi Louie, how’s it going?
[LOUIE] Going great Randall. How are you doing today?
[RANDALL] I’m very well, thanks for asking. This episode of Wanderlist is about our newest state parks on the horizon. So, what do you have for us today?
[LOUIE] You know they’re not only the newest state parks, you’d have to think of them as future state parks. I mean, they’re basically just dreams at this point. Dreams that are sort of on the road to reality.
[RANDALL] How does Texas Parks and Wildlife acquire these properties?
[LOUIE] You know, it’s such an interesting thing, like a whole mix of politics, donations and long family legacies, and it’s really like embroiled and intriguing. Each one is different. Sometimes families have a piece of land for a long time and it’s their desire that you know when they pass on, they want to leave it to the state of Texas. Sometimes they’re partnerships with cities or counties, but a lot of times there’s just great fundraising efforts and wonderful generous donations by the people of Texas that help us acquire these parcels of land to begin with properties to begin with.
[RANDALL] So how do these properties go from just a piece of land to a state park?
[LOUIE] You know, it’s a complicated process of course and it starts at the beginning I guess with the siting. Is it going to be a state park or some other type of state property? And, I’ll tell you really quickly what the difference between those is. A state park we’re all familiar that, it’s a place like Garner State Park. There’s cabins, there’s restrooms, there’s maybe lodges and different kinds of facilities. A state natural area is set aside to protect resources just the same way a state park is, but there’s fewer facilities. You’re not going to go stay in a cabin overnight, you might go hike the trails during the day, there might be some primitive camping, but there’s not a lot of creature comforts there. And then wildlife management areas also protect resources, but they’re run more by our wildlife division and they are more for the purpose of researching different species and habitats. There’s also hunting available on those lands which is very important for Texans who look for public lands to hunt on. So, once they kind of decide which kind of development is going to be best for this property, then they have to go through a whole series of things where they hold public hearings, they create a public use plan, they do a lot of baseline surveys. The surveys tell them what creatures are there what the views are and you know is there water, are there scenic areas and you know all of that takes years and years and then the planners come in and they’re trying to figure out where to put facilities and where everything should go and what it should look like and after all that, maybe construction can begin, but first they have to find funding and that’s always the wildcard.
[RANDALL] Wow, yeah that funding is the wildcard, certainly in these times. I’m wondering, when they have these hearing, does the public have an opportunity to come and ask questions or contribute thought?
[LOUIE] Oh, certainly so, I mean we’d be nowhere without our partnerships with the public. And after all, the public is going to use these so it’s always best to plan ahead, right? You don’t want to find out later that the public doesn’t want to hike up this hill or around that area for whatever reason, so, that’s why the planning takes so long and the public is definitely involved in it.
[RANDALL] I know that on the Wanderlist in the magazine you talked about several future parks. Can you tell us where they’re located and you know, what they’re around in different areas of the state?
[LOUIE] Sure. And you know I don’t know whether it was planned or maybe kismet, but I suspect it’s planned. These five properties that we talked about on this Wanderlist, which actually just ran recently this year, they are spread out across the state. There’s one in the Hill Country not far from us here in Austin, and that is the Albert and Bessie Kronkosky State Natural Area. We just talked about a state natural area and maybe not having quite as many facilities, but having a lot of resources to protect. And that is definitely the case here. It’s in Bandera County. It’s a little less than 4000 acres, and it was left by this wonderful couple, left it to the state to protect it from development. And it’s a good thing they did. There’s all these rare and endangered species, Golden-Cheeked Warblers and Texas Spring Salamanders, and Snowbells and Bigtooth Maple. There’s just a lot of great diversity on that property.
[RANDALL] And you know Bandera. That’s cowboy country.
[LOUIE] It’s such a fun place to visit for a variety of reasons. I can’t wait to see this new state natural area.
[RANDALL] Louie I know you love the Big Bend area. Isn’t there one planned for out there, like around the Chinati Mountains?
[LOUIE] There is, there’s going to be a Chinati Mountains State Natural Area just Northwest of Big Bend Ranch State Park, and it’s going to be 38,000 acres, desert to a high-peak Sierra Pardo. And the neat thing about Chinati is that people have been living out there for 8000 years Randall. There’s going to be pictographs and Petroglyphs showing all the human habitation back there. There’s going to be abundant wildlife with lots of big mammals, all the great things we love to see out there in the desert.
[RANDALL] Yeah, it’s not too far away from the Alpine region and Davis Mountains. I’ve done some work out there with Wildlife Biologists, interviewing those folks. I even visited this place called Chinati Hot Springs, and just driving through that area, you look to the left and right, and just mountains around you, and it’s just so awesome.
[LOUIE] Texas is amazing, to think that we can have a place like that. And then other places so incredibly different in other parts of the state.
[RANDALL] So is there anything in the works for North Texas, for those folks up there?
[LOUIE] Well, actually if you go just a bit West of Ft. Worth, 75 miles, yeah maybe a good, little bit more than an hour drive, in the Palo Pinto Mountains we’re going to have the future Palo Pinto State Park. It has the Palo Pinto Creek, it kind of meanders along the Northern border. Then there’s Russell creek and it has a dam on it impounds a 90-acre lake called Tucker lake, and there’s going to be like 32 miles of trails, hiking, biking, horseback riding. This is going to be a real jewel for Texas
[RANDALL] Wow, it sounds great. And so, finally I gotta ask you, there’s a buzzword that I’ve been seeing. Powderhorn? What is Powderhorn? Isn’t that down near the coast?
[LOUIE] It is and I think there is just something about the name Powderhorn that just sounds so majestic, I don’t know, it’s just..
[RANDALL] It does.
[LOUIE] It’s so evocative and it is indeed you know. It’s 17,000 acres. It’s in Calhoun County so it kind of jets out into Matagorda Bay, and it was purchased oh I guess about six years ago. It was the largest dollar amount ever raised for a conservation land purchase in Texas. That’s a big deal. So they are going to take it and make a big chunk of it, 15,000 acres, in fact they already did make it into a Wildlife Management Area a couple of years ago. And about, oh I think, 2500 remaining acres, that’s what they are going to make into a state park with more facilities. And that will have eleven miles of tidal Matagorda Bay front. Eleven miles. Tons of wetlands which is so important. And for the first time this year, even before the state park opens, it’s going to be part of the Big Time Texas Hunts for Texas Parks and Wildlife, and you can be entered into a drawing to have both a hunting and fishing package there. It’s so incredible I can’t even tell you about it, it’ll take too long. But you should look it up on our website, Big Time Texas Hunts, if you want a little peak at Powderhorn, that’s the way to do it.
[RANDALL] Yeah, I know our hunters will be interested in that one for sure.
[LOUIE] Oh yeah. Hey, don’t forget the Redfish and Speckled Trout on Matagorda Bay as well, it’s just a sportsman’s paradise.
[RANDALL] Let’s not forget the fishermen, that’s going to be a good bounty for them.
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[NARRATION] Next, we’ll speak with Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist and Natural Resources Coordinator Andy Sipocz about a fascinating property in development as a future State Natural Area. But first…
[SPONSOR] Support from Toyota allows us to bring you stories from Under the Texas Sky. Toyota has been a proud sponsor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation since 2002, providing generous support to help the department provide outdoor programs for Texans and conserve the wildlife of the Lone Star State.
[NARRATION] This is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist from Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Randall Maxwell…Wanderlist is a collaboration with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. Editor, Louie Bond, and I have been talking about future state parks. There are plans for new properties in the Big Bend Region, North Texas and the Gulf Coast. But there’s a really special place just Northeast of Houston that’s sure to be seen from miles around. Davis Hill State Natural Area. I spoke by phone with Andy Sipocz, he’s the Natural Resources Coordinator in the State Parks Division for the region.
[RANDALL & ANDY]
[RANDALL] Hi Andy, how are you?
[ANDY] I’m good, thank you.
[RANDALL] So, I understand that you are very familiar with this future state natural area down, what is it, Northeast of Houston?
[ANDY] Yeah, Northeast of Houston, right along the Trinity River.
[RANDALL] And so, tell me about it. What’s the big scoop on it?
[ANDY] Well, it’s upstream of Liberty, Texas, near Tarkington Prairie is the name of the small town that’s closest to it. And it sits right on the Trinity River, it has a good long frontage on the river itself. Back from the river it’s mostly swamp and bottomland hardwood forest; however, as you get a little ways away from the river, there’s a salt dome. And if you’re not familiar with that, a salt dome is a very interesting geologic formation. It’s where a large layer of salt that’s deeply buried in the ground slowly gets pushed up through the surrounding rock, we’re talking thousands and thousands of feet down, pushes the rock up all the way up until it gets near the surface, and at Davis Hill the result is that it’s pushed a sandstone up about 280 feet in elevation. So you have this very flat swamp along the Trinity River and suddenly the land rises up to, what we would say down here on the coast is, you know, nosebleed height. It’s pretty prominent, because it actually has rock at the top of it, which is very unusual here on the coast. People grow up down in the Houston area their whole life without seeing a natural piece of rock. Because of that rock there it’s got a very unique plant community and it has a pretty interesting human history behind it as well. As you can imagine a nice high hilltop would be a pleasant place to put a homestead and put a farm and when people settled this area you know, that stood out like a sore thumb to them.
[RANDALL] That’s a major geologic feature of the area and you’re saying that it was inhabited at one time? Somebody built a farm or ranch up there?
[ANDY] Yeah, there was a plantation there in the 1800s. I’m not completely certain about the history of it, but my understanding is that the head of the family went off to fight in the Civil War and did not come back. And so the plantation fell into ruin. At one point they were using the house as a hotel, I believe back in the late 1800s. As far as the evidence of human history, there’s some buried artifacts of course, and some graffiti scratched into the rocks.
[RANDALL] So how much area are we talking about Andy?
[ANDY] It’s about 2000 acres. Now there’s still some inholdings with private land, that are unfortunately long and narrow, so the cross the majority of the property. That’s why it’s not open to the public yet, because they would end up trespassing on private property in order to access the main portion of the park. Plans would be essentially to leave it in its natural condition. Just to allow access into it with trails and some minimal facilities, parking and restrooms. But for the most part because it’s a good portion of it is swamp. A good portion of it is up on top of Davis Hill where there’s this sandstone formation and some rare plants. And of course because of the sensitivity of the area, it will not be developed in a manner that a lot of state parks are where you would have campgrounds and facilities like that. So that’s why it’s termed a state natural area versus a state park.
[RANDALL] And so you mentioned a lot of it is swamp land. What might a visitor see wildlife wise, and maybe plant wise.
[ANDY] So, the park is sandwiched between a couple of units of the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, and there is a bayou that runs through this swamp, Davis Bayou, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. So, canoeing and kayaking is something that people would want to come to the park to do.
[RANDALL] Andy I know you’ve hiked up that hill a few times. What’s the view like from up there?
[ANDY] Well, when I first started going to Davis Hill you could actually look out over the swamp all the way down to the river, and it was an amazing site, because you’re so high up; however, the top of the hill is what’s called a sandstone barren. And it actually looks like a field of grass and flowers, but it’s surrounded by forest, and we need to get in there and control the growth of brush. But it is almost like a fantasy land where you’re hiking through a swamp and then you’re suddenly going up a hill so steep that you’ll have to rest before you get to the top of the hill and then you’re in a dense forest and you’ll suddenly break out into this open field just filled with flowers and grasses. It’s very idyllic. And then there’s some deep sandstone gorges that cut through the sides of the hill and the sides of those gorges are covered in ferns, there’s springs that weep out to form a small stream and it’s perfectly clear water. It’s got these gorgeous damsel flies that are dark purple and have huge wings.
[RANDALL] This is a beautiful place and the details are still being worked out, but hopefully one day we’ll be able to open that to the public.
[LOUIE] It is, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place and we have been able to do some baseline surveys of what lives there, different plants and animals. And there’s been some baseline archeological surveys as well. You have to live down in the Houson area, down on the Texas coast to understand just how unique an experience it is to be able to walk up something that that’s tall, that is natural, not man-made, and just see the change in the forest from the swamp up to the top of the hill. The plant diversity, the number of trees and flowers the visitors would see, the different kinds, it’s just amazing. So it’ll be great when it is open to the public. I think it will be quite popular, and because of the bayou that runs through it and the adjacent National Wildlife Refuges, there’ll be a lot for the visitor to do.
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[NARRATION] My thanks to Andy Sipocz for providing an insight to the future Davis Hill State Natural Area.
We’re done wandering for this podcast…but Louie Bond and I—or our executive producer, Cecilia Nasti—will be back with more fascinating things to see and places to explore in the Lone Star State.
Before heading to any state park, historic site or natural area, call ahead.
Also, keep an eye on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Instagram account, which is @TexasParksWildlife. We’ll use it to notify you of some of the Wanderlist subjects we plan to cover in the weeks ahead and give you a chance to ask questions, some of which we’ll answer on the podcast.
Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife. We produce our Wanderlist series in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine in the Media Production Studios in Austin, Texas. Yours truly did our sound design. Whitney Bishop does our social media. And we get distribution and web help from Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing.
Stream or download Under the Texas Sky and Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist wherever you get your podcasts. And please leave a review while you’re there and let us know how we’re doing and what you’d like to hear.
Until next time…keep on wandering Under the Texas Sky. I’m Randall Maxwell.