Wanderlist – Holidays in the Parks
The holidays are upon us and it's time to be festive in the outdoors. On the podcast, we'll speak with State Parks marketing and branding director Thomas Wilhelm. He’ll share what opportunities Texas State Parks have to offer you this holiday season.
UTTS: S3:E14: WANDERLIST – HOLIDAYS IN THE PARKS
[SPONSOR] Under the Texas Sky is Brought to you in part by Toyota, a proud supporter of Texas Parks and Wildlife Programs. Toyota, Let’s Go Places.
[MUS—CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY]
[NARRATION] There’s nothing quite like the sound of sleigh bells. Maybe it reminds you of Santa putting presents under the Christmas tree, or enjoying a cup of hot cocoa in front of the campfire.
On the Wanderlist, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine Editor Louie Bond and I discuss what makes the holidays so special in the outdoors. We’ll also speak with Thomas Wilhelm. He’s the marketing and branding manager for Texas State Parks. He’ll tell us about some unique opportunities that will surely put you in a festive spirit. Stay with us.
[MUS—JINGLE BELL JIVE]
[NARRATION] From Texas Parks and Wildlife, this is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist. I’m Randall Maxwell, and joining me by phone is Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine Editor, Louie Bond.
[RANDALL & LOUIE]
[RANDALL] Hi Louie, how’s it going?
[LOUIE] Hey Randall, ready for Christmas yet?
[RANDALL] Oh boy! The holidays are approaching. We just had Thanksgiving. Of course, it was very low-key at my place. Really didn’t travel anywhere. No family showed up. Trying to be safe. What about you Louie?
[LOUIE] It’s a different year this year Randall, but we’re going to make the best of it and kind of bust out of our traditions and do some Zoom calls with the family across the country, and you know, we’re just going to make the most of it. Every year is not always the same. I know that there’s always been hard times where people kind of had to pinch back for Christmas, and gosh, even in my own lifetime, there were years when I wasn’t sure how I was going to put presents under the tree. I mean, Santa, of course.
[LOUIE] But it always works out. It’s always Christmas and just like us I guess, Christmas in the Parks may be a little different this year. But still filled with a feeling of joy and wonder.
[RANDALL] And even more different for you this year because I know you hurt your ankle. How are you healing up?
[LOUIE] I’m doing great. My doctor has promised me, well, maybe not promised, but I’m taking it as a promise, that I get my boot off by Christmas. (laughter)
[RANDALL] Oh good.
[LOUIE] So, I’ll be out hiking in no time.
[RANDALL] Aww, well that’s fantastic news. Thanks for sharing, and I know our listeners appreciate knowing how well you’re doing. Well, you know, even though the things are a little different, like you said, Texas State Parks and the Texas Historical Commission State Historic Sites are hosting more than 50 events across the state to help bring in some of that holiday cheer. I think there’s going to be like, scavenger hunts and self-guided walks, and some virtual events as well. And I should mention at this point that anyone planning a trip to a Texas State Park should keep in mind that they are operating at a limited capacity, and that means that you really need to reserve a day pass in advance. That’s highly recommended since some of these parks are expected to reach their capacity limit. Now, you can get day passes by going online at the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, or call 512-389-8900, that number again is 512-389-8900.
So, Louie, what are some of your favorite traditions this time of year?
[LOUIE] Well, you know, we’re kind of a goofy, creative family, and so, some of the things that are not normal traditions that I love the most, for instance our Christmas dinner is chalupas (laughs), so we celebrate our Mexican tradition in culture on Christmas as well. We like, have tamales. A lot of Texans like to have tamales on Christmas. And I also like to celebrate my German heritage. My grandmother used to make a German holiday cake called “stollen.” And so, we make that now. My husband has also learned to make it and so, just like me, the Texas State Parks and Historic Sites put on some of the best cultural Christmas displays. One of my very favorite ones Randall, is at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, and they have the Sauer Beckmann Living History Farm there. And when you go, you’ll see an old-fashioned Christmas of all the German holiday traditions. They make candles and string popcorn. They make wreaths out of the cedar that grows there. So really, that’s my favorite part of Christmas. It’s whatever tradition you have, but based on you know something in the past and something that’s real and part of our everyday life in Texas like our German and Mexican and Native American cultures.
[RANDALL] Well how does some other state parks celebrate the holidays?
[LOUIE] You know, I think one of the most popular things that state parks do, and the most wide-spread thing that they do, is to decorate campsites. You know, people come and they bring their little, you know, plug-in lights and they put them around their tent, or their camper, or you know, just along their campsite. And then when people come, they can just drive through and it’s as though a campsite, which is already pretty wonderful let’s say to begin with, becomes even more magical at night. It’s just something about those twinkling lights out there at night that makes everything so special and sacred and wonderful.
[RANDALL] I can imagine it’s a picturesque sight seeing a Christmas tree right next to a little RV. You know? (laughs) Inside of a state park.
[LOUIE] I know. It’s all Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t it? That’s what we love.
[LOUIE] Sometimes it can be a single string of lights that says a lot more about the Christmas spirit than the biggest display, you know, the most professional display. I’m a big fan of the Charlie Brown Christmas.
[MUS—LINUS AND LUCY]
[NARRATION] Next, we’ll speak with Thomas Wilhelm, the marketing and branding manager for Texas State Parks. 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 to conserve the wildlife of the Lone Star State.
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. It’s the holiday season and joining me on the phone is Thomas Wilhelm. He’s the marketing and branding manager for Texas State Parks.
[RANDALL & THOMAS]
[RANDALL] How’s it going Thomas?
[THOMAS] Going great. How are you?
[RANDALL] I’m great. Hey you know, this time of year there’s a lot of things going on for the holidays. We’ve got different things, I think there’s fifty different events in all of the state parks and state historic sites across the state. This year’s different, right? So, we’ve got virtual things going on. What specifically is virtual?
[THOMAS] Yeah, it’s, we every year have a ton of Christmas events around the state in our state parks and historic sites. You’re right, this year is a little bit different. We’ve done our best to kind of adapt our events to the current situation. So, for example, we have some virtual events happening at Bastrop State Park. They’ll be doing that through their Facebook Live page, so if you’re nowhere near Central Texas and you still want to attend, it’s great for anybody because all it is, is a situation of logon to their Facebook and following the instructions. You’ll get to virtually do some crafts. You know they’re usually items that anybody may have around the house to kind of create fun holiday themed crafts and things like that.
[RANDALL] That sounds really cool, like you know, you don’t have to be in the park. You can actually participate online, and kind of get that educational benefit too.
[THOMAS] Absolutely, and like I said, it’s great for anybody. They’re using things that most people would have around the house. Color pencils, crayons, you know, and then there are encouraging people to just look outside, walk outside, maybe find some leaves or something, so you get that outdoors, but you don’t have to really leave the house to have that experience.
[RANDALL] Now I know that we should mention that there are capacity limits for all the state parks this year. And, especially you need to really plan ahead and go online and get a day pass, right? I mean, how easy is that to do?
[THOMAS] Yeah, you’re absolutely right, so all of our parks do have some capacity limit in place, and that’s true whether we were in the Covid era or not. Every park has a capacity limit just to protect the resource. So we have made that easy for people to avoid a situation where they show up at a park and they’re turned away. So you can go to our online reservation site, texasstateparks.org, and go to reservations. So, just like if you were making an overnight reservation, you can have the option to choose a save the day pass, or a daily entrance reservation.. You do the same thing. What you are essentially doing is reserving a spot into the park. So you’re guaranteeing that when you get there, they’ve already got your name. Your spot is claimed; you don’t have to worry about being turned away when you show up at the park.
[RANDALL] You’ll be like, c’mon in. (laughs)
[THOMAS] Yeah, exactly. There’s no extra fees for that. You pay the same as you would, arriving at the park. You just pre-pay it when you make your reservation. And if you happen to be a Texas State Park Pass holder, you don’t pay anything to do that. Just like you would at the park, when you don’t pay an entry fee, with your park pass, it doesn’t cost you anything to reserve that spot.
[RANDALL] Well Thomas, you know, speaking of state park passes, that’s one of the items that you can get this year, along with an ornament. And the ornament is a special 19th Anniversary, right?
[THOMAS] That’s right. So we have a variety of ways that you can make state parks part of your gift giving this holiday. So my top recommendation will be the Texas State Park Gift Card. You can purchase a state park gift card either online and/or at any state park. What’s great about our gift cards is that they’re usable for really anything that exists in the state park system. So you can use it to pay entry fees, you can use it to pay camping fees, you can use it in the park store. But what I think most people find it useful for is, it’s a great way to give someone a park pass. The advantage of the gift card is where as in a situation where if you were to buy someone a park pass, the clock starts ticking. If you buy them a gift card and give that to them, they don’t have to redeem that gift card for the park pass until they are ready to use it. So you can give them a gift card in December, and if they don’t make it out to a park until March and redeem it for their park pass, they haven’t lost any time on that park pass by using that gift card.
[RANDALL] Very versatile. And, we’re still producing an ornament this year, right?
[THOMAS] That’s right, yeah. We have our 19th annual Christmas ornament as well. This year we are featuring Sea Rim State Park with an image of people kayaking at the park. This year’s ornament, like last year’s, is full-color in metal laser engraved. They’re really spectacular. You can purchase those exclusively through our website. You can go to texasstateparks.org/holidays, and that’s the fastest way to find the link to order holiday ornament this year.
[RANDALL] And there’s a beautiful picture of it there I would imagine?
[THOMAS] Yeah, absolutely. You can see what it looks like, you can also look at our history of the ornament program and see all the ornaments from the past years as well.
[RANDALL] Thomas, there’s a lot of events going on in state parks and the Texas Historical Commission State Historic Sites. What can you tell us generally, about you know, some of the highlights?
[THOMAS] Yeah, so we have a lot of events happening throughout the month of December celebrating the holidays in our state parks. We have several events that are just based on the idea of decorating your campsite. Over ten parks are essentially doing a weekend where if you come in and decorate your campsite, you can stay for free. And then they are encouraging people to just come in and drive through the park and check out all the lighted campsites, which is always fun. We have several parks that are offering Christmas themed hikes, either with a Ranger. Yeah, sometimes that Ranger is Santa Claus, while other times, just a self-guided Christmas themed hikes. We’ve got some scavenger hunts going on that are holiday themed. You can just pick up a list of things you’re looking for at headquarters and take your time and be perfectly, you know, socially distance and on your own, and just exploring the park and looking for these holiday themed goals. And then we have several, kind of these flagship unique events that happen across the state. So, Goliad State Park does a, for years they lighted the park with luminaries and you know, kind of tell the history of Goliad. We’ve got a neat event at Colorado Bend State Park, where they’re doing Santas and Smores on Christmas eve, so just before Santa heads out on his big night, they’re fillin’ him up with smores and gathering around the campfire which is always fun. Fort Richardson up in North Texas, they do something called “Ghost of Christmas Past,” where the fort is, you know, filled with people in period costume kind of telling the story of what Christmas would have looked like at the fort’s heyday. Or even LBJ State Park in Central Texas where they’ve been doing a tree lighting that’s been happening there since President Johnson started the tree lighting more than 50 years ago. So a lot of unique events happen around the state. So you kind of have your pick of whether you want to do something that is more formalized like a tree lighting, or something that’s more casual like a holiday themed hike.
[RANDALL] Wow, you know, no matter where you are in the State of Texas, it sounds like Texas State Parks are prepared to really help bring in that holiday cheer.
[THOMAS] Absolutely. We’ve got events all the way up until Christmas eve, and then even after Christmas we have some of what you call recovery hikes that kind of shake off the holiday snacks maybe?
[THOMAS] And then, January 1st we have something that’s a nationwide event that’s called First Day Hikes, where essentially you’re encouraged to start the year off right, visit a park and do a hike on New Year’s Day. Get yourself moving in a good direction.
[RANDALL] Well that sounds wonderful. Thomas thank you so much for your time.
[THOMAS] Absolutely. Happy to be here, there’s so many cool opportunities across the state. Texasstateparks.org/holidays is the best way to find your next opportunity.
[RANDALL] Happy Holidays Thomas.
[THOMAS] You too. Thank you so much.
[MUS—MERRY CHRISTMAS WISHES]
[NARRATION] 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 or search online for updated admission information. For state parks and natural areas, you can reserve camping sites and day passes online by visiting Texas State Parks dot org.
Also, keep an eye on the Under the Texas Sky Instagram account, which is @Underthetxsky. We’ll use it to notify you of some of the Wanderlist subjects we plan to cover, 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.