Friday

Prescribed Burning Saves, Nourishes Texas Land

A recent TPWD-led burn was conducted in urban Houston at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, and went off without a hitch. Photo by Chris Schenck/TPWD.

When Texans see a pillar of smoke rising out of a forest or state park, our instinct is always the same: we think wildfire. However, that isn’t always the case.

Prescribed burning has become one of the most efficient and effective tools for land management in the state, and some of the state’s leading experts in wildland fire management — from the Texas A&M Forest Service to the the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department — can’t emphasize its merits enough. 

“Prescribed burning helps reduce fuel loading,” says Connor Murnane, a district forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service. “We see fuel as a woody, shrubby or herbaceous species that can easily burn.”

Eliminating some of this excess “fuel” reduces the risk and severity of potential wildfires. If there’s not enough brush or grass on the ground for a fire to feed on, it won’t get as hot or as big, and it’s less likely for the flames to reach the canopy of more established trees. It can also help slow down a raging wildfire, giving Texas A&M Forest Service and local firefighters a better shot at containment.

It feels counter-intuitive to light a fire in dry, burnable conditions, and many Texans believe that humans should simply “get out of the way” and let nature run its course, but the result would mean disbanding fire suppression all together. Since fire suppression has been integral to the establishment and upkeep of communities across Texas, one of the main issues facing wildland fire management is the build-up of fuels from about a hundred years of unnatural fire suppression.

Texas used to forbid planned burning

“For a long time, we excluded fire,” says Chris Schenck, the State Fire Program Leader for the TPWD wildlife division. “At the turn of the 20th century, we looked at fighting fires as almost the moral equivalent of war.”

In fact, one of the earliest laws in Texas prohibited the burning of grass. People didn’t realize that fire is a natural part of the Texas landscape. Before Texas was fully settled, lightning would strike in the heart of an eastern pine forest or on the grassy plains of the Panhandle and spark a fire to sweep across the land, purging it of invasive species, diseases and unwanted undergrowth.

Fire was an essential element that helped uphold the natural balance.

“Native Americans recognized the importance of fire in their environment,” Murnane says. “They would often intentionally light fires to create a better habitat for hunting or browsing of wildlife species.”

East Texas is what Murnane calls a “fire-dependent ecosystem” with a wall of understory brush – namely yaupon, sweetgum, Chinese tallow and other invasive species – that is unnatural. Because of the lack of fire suppression by humans, East Texas used to look more like a pine meadow or savannah, with beautiful open spaces filled with green grasses and wildflowers between the trees. While that kind of environment is visually pleasing and aesthetic to us, it’s also attractive to wildlife.

 “One of the immediate positive results of any prescribed fire is forage production and habitat improvement,” Schenck says. “Better feed means better care and capacity for the land, and therefore greater diversity of species, both wild and domestic.”

Returns nutrients, prevents wildfires

Wildlife depends on open space and healthy plant life for foraging — including grasses, fruits, seeds and other vegetation — and out of the ashes of a prescribed fire rises healthy new plants. The trick, it seems, is to avoid fully incinerating the brush.

“Depending on the fire’s intensity, the ash produced following a burn can be full of valuable nutrients,” says Mike Lloyd, a Texas State Parks wildland fire manager. 

Prescribed burning breaks down the chemical composition of organic matter, recycling nutrients back into the soil. According to this study by Leonard F. DeBano, some of those nutrients are “volatilized” or lost, but most are made more readily available to plants and native organisms. The fire acts as a mineralizing agent, making nutrients immediately accessible, instead of being gradually recycled over the span of years, or even decades, via decomposition. 

Even for us, fire (heat) can make an otherwise inedible substance not only palatable, but more nutritious. Cooking anything too long, however, can leave it charred, vaporizing its nutrients. In the case of forest management, the most endangered element is nitrogen. If a wildfire burns off too much nitrogen, it can adversely affect a wildland ecosystem for decades.

This is one of the many reasons that prescribed burning is so crucial — to prevent wildfires from burning forests past the point of rehabilitation — but it is also a key reason why prescribed burning is so highly regulated, and so carefully conducted. For Texas A&M Forest Service, very specific conditions are required to conduct a prescribed burn.

“It’s extremely weather dependent,” Murnane says. “The winds, the direction of your winds, your mixing heights, what your fuel moisture is at, all sorts of different things, and all of this comes back to the prescribed burn plans that we’re required to write.”

Once a burn plan is in place — which can be written and approved by Texas A&M Forest Service up to six months in advance — foresters look for an ideal weather window to conduct their burn. These usually occur between November and March, during the dormant season. Then it has to be a clear-skies day to help with smoke dispersal, and the winds have to be no less than 5 mph, but no greater than 15 mph. If the winds are too strong it could blow the fire out of control and start an uncontained wildfire, but if the winds are too weak, the fire won’t disperse well and parts of the forest could overheat, burning the roots of trees. 

That’s why at the W.G. Jones State Forest prescribed burning requires a lot of preparation, and a lot of boots on the ground. 

“We get several firefighters dragging drip torches, and several more on type-6 engines that are ‘holding’ so we don’t have a spread or a spot fire,” Murnane says. “Then we’ve got several bulldozers on standby, just in case.”

Helping private landowners burn

While Texas A&M Forest Service has the resources and capacity to take all of these precautions, not many landowners do. That’s why Murnane recommends any landowner interested in conducting a prescribed burn reach out to their local TFS forester or TPWD biologist. According to Murnane, they would be happy to visit the property and give their recommendations. They also have local connections with certified burn vendors who can provide prescribed burning services.

“Texas is 95 percent privately owned, so one of our roles is to provide landowners with technical guidance and the development of a burn plan,” Schenck says. “Then we help them implement it. We teach them how to use their prescribed fire tools, how to prepare their land and how to implement that fire.”

Schenck was a federal wildland firefighter for years, but he still sees a need for prescribed burns across the state. This is, in part, because he’s witnessed the benefits of prescribed burning firsthand: from the clearing and rejuvenation of Wildlife Management Areas, to the survival of forests and structures during the catastrophic wildfires of 2011. In Bastrop, Schenck and Lloyd recall how areas that had received a prescribed burn the year before survived virtually unscathed.

“I wonder if those cabins would’ve made it if we hadn’t implemented a prescribed burn around them the year before,” Lloyd says. 

A survey conducted by the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils (CPFC) and Texas A&M Forest Service found that over 325,000 acres of land in Texas were successfully treated with prescribed burns in 2019. That number is down from the year prior, but even 2018’s record amount is shy of where Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife would like it to be.

“For Texas to get enough prescribed fires safely on the landscape, it’s going to take a lot of people,” says Schenck. “But if you’re going to light ‘em, you’ve got to know how to fight ‘em.”

Fortunately, Texas A&M Forest Service does both. They also provide ample resources to help landowners conduct their own prescribed burns – from grants and cost-shares to help subsidize the price of a prescribed burn vendor, to courses and trainings on how to become qualified to conduct prescribed burns yourself. But the most important element, for both Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife, is educating the public. 

If you’re a home or landowner interested in conducting a prescribed burn on your property, visit the Prescribed Burns page of the Texas A&M Forest Service website or the TPWD Wildland Fire Management page. There’s also this interactive map to help you determine your eligibility for a Prescribed Fire Grant, with additional information on how to apply here


To learn more about parks and wildlife and how to help conserve them, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Wednesday

The CCC in Texas


In the fall of 1932, as we entered the 3rd year of the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of people were migrating out of large cities, which had quickly become overwhelmed by the needs of their desperate citizens. Although initially insulated from unemployment and food lines due to a largely rural population and strong agricultural economy, Texas also soon felt the devastation, as the formerly burgeoning lumber and oil industries crumbled, livestock and crop prices tumbled and the Dust Bowl swept across the plains.

But things were about to change.

At the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Franklin D. Roosevelt said it was the responsibility of government to ensure that every man had “…a right to make a comfortable living" — the New Deal

The FDR campaign swept to victory that fall. At his inaugural address on March 4, 1933, FDR uttered those famous words: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” 

And then he got to work on his promised New Deal.

Congress approved the Unemployment Relief Act the last day of March, and on April 5,  FDR signed Executive Order 6101, which provided structure and funding for the newly created Office of Emergency Conservation Work.  

Less than two weeks later the first beneficiaries arrived at Camp Roosevelt in the Virginia Woods. By July, more than a quarter-million young men were living and working in 1,300 camps across the country. 


The act and order were relatively generic in scope. The government would provide jobs that would restore natural resources and advance public works to relieve the “widespread distress and unemployment” facing the country. The press dubbed it the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the name gained enough traction that it was elevated to official status in 1937. While the New Deal eventually resulted in the creation of nearly 70 so-called “Alphabet Agencies,” the CCC was by far the most popular and successful. 

There were criteria to be in the CCC. It wasn’t a job that could be done by everyone, nor was it intended to be. You had to be young, male and single.  Although the age requirements fluctuated during the CCC’s 9-year existence, 2/3rds of the over 3 million young men that worked in CCC camps were 20 or younger. Physical fitness was key, as days were long and work was arduous. 

To qualify, your family received some form of government relief. The average CCC worker came from a family of eight. While wages were kept artificially low to discourage unfair competition with local businesses, most of it was sent directly home. A CCC worker made $30 a month and kept only $5 for himself.


Most camps had libraries and organized recreational sports; workers formed orchestras, published newsletters, and held regular dances. In addition to the vocational skills learned during the workday, CCC workers were provided with an education. 

Many workers were illiterate at worst and minimally educated at best when they arrived in camps. Basic subjects like spelling, reading and math were taught in camp and at local high schools. At some camps radio, shorthand, advanced math, debate, typing, vocal performance, and dramatics were offered. 

Between 1933 and 1937, 35,000 men learned to read and write, while over 1,000 achieved high-school equivalency and 39 earned college degrees.


The CCC’s directive — to restore natural resources and advance public works — was carried out in every state and the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and then-territories Alaska and Hawaii.  There were no conservation projects that the CCC couldn't master; soil erosion control, flood mitigation, bridge and dam building, road construction, battling fires, reforestation. But without a doubt the CCC is most intrinsically linked to the revitalization of the National Parks system, and the creation of state parks throughout the country.

For Texas, the CCC couldn’t have been more fortuitous. While the Texas State Parks Board had been in existence since 1923, the Legislature never actually funded it.  In 1933, seeing the opportunity inherent in the New Deal programs, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson petitioned the federal government for funding of 26 CCC projects, and pushed the creation of the Texas Rehabilitation and Relief Commission (a pre-cursor to today’s Health and Human Services agency) to facilitate the relief aid. Texas would see a total of 97 CCC camps established; 27 were dedicated to development of state parks. 


Around 50,000 young men lived in Texas CCC camps between 1933 and 1942. For most it was the first time away from home. They arrived in camps mostly undernourished — the average worker gained 11 pounds even while working strenuous jobs. They gained strength and confidence, an education and vital job skills they could take back with them.   

While here, they created 56 national, state and city parks. Today, 29 of those parks remain in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for visitors to enjoy. Here are a few that you can visit to see their craftsmenship.

Abilene State Park

Two CCC companies worked on the creation of this 529-acre park between 1933 and 1935. Both groups were veterans of World War I; the second, an all-Black company. Using native limestone and red sandstone the men crafted everything in a style reminiscent of classic Romanesque architecture. A unique feature of the park dating from the era is the Star Picnic Table along Elm Creek.


Bonham State Park

In the Blackland Prairie, near the Oklahoma border, Company 894 worked on erosion control and built an earthen dam to create a 65-acre lake. Local cream-colored limestone and red cedar were used to build a dance terrace, concession building, picnic tables and water fountains between 1933 and 1936. Today the boathouse, originally built as a storage building, is a stellar example of CCC construction.


Daingerfield State Park

The hardwood forests of northeast Texas boast a 501-acre park built around 80-acre Little Pine Lake. The development of the lake was initially the primary focus of CCC Companies 2891 and 1801, with the rest of the park’s architectural features built to take advantage of the vistas created by this central point. From 1935 to 1940, the CCC worked on trails, steps and roadways, and buildings that frame the lake and offer scenic views. 


Goliad State Park

Goliad is particularly unique in the annals of CCC work in the state. For six years Company 3822 labored to recreate a specific historical period with the structures within the park. They began in May 1935 by building an immense CCC camp. Men were housed in 40 self-built cottages, and nine larger buildings went up to accommodate the work, including fully functioning wood and metal shops. While most of the CCC camps were filled with very young men, 3822 consisted of older men — veterans of WWI, The Spanish American War, and even the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900. 



Spanish colonial mission architecture was studied extensively in both Texas and Mexico, and workers conducted archaeological digs on site in preparation for building replicas of the mission school, a granary and church at Mission Nuestra Señora de Espírtu Santo de Zúñiga. 

In addition, the men built a custodian’s complex as residence for the park’s caretaker. The house and its fixtures were built entirely by hand, and the structure served in part as an experimental studio. Creation methods to construct the replica mission buildings, such as kiln-fired tile and heavy metal hinges, were first tested before moving on to the mission complex.

Goose Island State Park

Prior to any building, Company 1801 cleared undergrowth and planted trees on 321 acres on Aransas Bay. They also cared for the majestic, 1000-year-old live oak known as Big Tree. The unique construction material “shell crete” was used to build walls and arches in the iconic concession building. They cast blocks by hand from a mixture of cement and oyster shells, then using the blocks for building. Picnic areas were thatched with palmetto leaves in a tropical style. 


Company 1801 was initially a mixed-race group, however on April 1, 1935, the camp became an all-Black camp. Communities in the area objected to the presence of the workers, and the company was transferred to Fort Sam Houston to work on other projects. Sadly, this led to overtly racist structural changes within the CCC, which thereafter required all Black workers to remain in their state of residence.

Today the shell crete recreation building still stands, although with damage received during Hurricane Harvey. It has thankfully received a preservation grant to restore it to its former grandeur.

Lockhart State Park

Although Company 3803 only worked on the grounds of the 264-acre park for three years, they got a lot done. Working from Camp Colp, named after the chair of the State Parks Board, the men constructed a stucco, stone and half-timbered park residence modeled after German architecture.  

A swimming pool was built by Plum Creek to utilize spring water, and a cedar-sided, hilltop refectory took pride of place on a bluff overlooking the countryside.  Other CCC structures included a concrete water storage tank, outdoor fireplace, picturesque stone bridges and a 9-hole golf course. 

Fun fact! The original golf course placed the first hole next to the refectory, allowing players to tee-off from atop the bluff.


Longhorn Cavern State Park

For almost the entirety of the CCC’s stay in Texas, Company 854 labored over and under this 639-acre park.  In initial stages of work, 2.5 tons of debris — including copious amounts of bat guano — were hauled out of the cavern, allowing for exploration of the underground wonder. CCC workers installed miles of lighting and improved surfaces for public access, and in the process mapped passageways through the cave system.

Above ground, workers built the imposing stone pavilion that served as an administration building, as well as park entrance portals, the dramatic cavern entrance, a prototype cabin, picnic areas, a caretaker’s cottage, and the observation/water tower.



Mission Tejas State Park

Company 888 worked on a long-forgotten 17th century Franciscan mission buried in the East Texas wilderness. The company, unlike others that worked solely or primarily on state parks, was assigned to reforestation in the area.  At the time, what became Mission Tejas State Park was in the hands of the Texas Forest Service, who developed it into a tourist attraction as San Francisco Mission State Forest.

Between 1933 and 1935, 888 — a company of landscape architects and foresters — were assigned the task of creating a vision of what the historic mission may have looked like. They did so by building a commemorative replica of logs with wood-shake roofing and a petrified wood fireplace. 


In keeping with their forestry directive, they also built fire towers, a dam and pond, and other water features. Some of these are no longer on site, and the mission building itself has been renovated, although the petrified wood fireplace remains. 

Mother Neff State Park

At Mother Neff, one of the oldest in the state park system, Company 817 used native limestone in the creation of the water and observation tower and steps. In addition to limestone, local hardwoods (oak, elm, juniper, and cottonwood) were used to form entrance portals, concession club house, caretaker’s building, pump and drainage systems, fences, picnic areas, and storage and auxiliary buildings. Terracing of the floodplain was included in the early on-site work.

The massive open-air pavilion, often called the rock tabernacle, was created by hand, entirely from materials harvested locally. Its presence is a lasting monument to the dedicated 4 years of work put in by the company.

Possum Kingdom State Park

A later addition happened in North Texas at the close of the CCC years. Over five years the Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District dammed the Brazos to create a reservoir brimming with recreational possibilities. Parkland waited only for the arrival of a CCC company to begin construction along both shorelines of the lake. 2888 was that company, arriving from Tyler State Park and setting up an extensive camp to work from. However, the reservoir filled in April 1941, much more quickly than anyone had anticipated, necessitating changes in plans as the available land for building was significantly reduced.


Still, Company 2888 was able to produce an amazing variety of features in just over a year from the plans that remained. This included roads, walkways, picnic tables, fireplaces, culverts, a caretaker’s cabin, a concession stand, and even a floating pier on the lake. Additional construction, such as a boat house, was abandoned as WWII loomed. 2888 was the final CCC company in Texas, and left their camp on July 13, 1942, bringing an end to the era of CCC construction of parks in the state.

To learn more about the about the history of our state parks, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Photos courtesy of The National Archives and Records Administration, Baylor University and TPWD.

Thursday

Celebrate Women's History Month with TPWD's Leaders

In 1987 Congress designated March as Women’s History Month to highlight the contributions of women to history and contemporary society. 

At Texas Parks and Wildlife women serve in every corner of the state as game wardens, biologists, technicians, accountants, educators and many other roles to fulfill our mission of outdoor recreation and conservation.

 

This year we introduce you to women on our leadership team. Each took a different path to get here but they all are strikingly similar in their advice on pursuing a career you love.

 

If you’re interested in being part of our team, check out our internship, job and volunteer opportunities. 


 

Andrea Lofye
Infrastructure Division Director

 

I love fishing and began volunteering with TPWD as an angler instructor purely for the fun of it. That experience ended up leading to my current job. 

 

Now I get to be part of a team that builds the infrastructure for our sites around the state, providing sustainable planning, design, construction and support services.

 

The world is full of people who view working for a living as a chore, so I am very fortunate. I found a lucky intersection where my work experience and favorite pastimes came together. I love going to work on Monday morning.

 

My advice for those looking to find a job they love is to volunteer. Volunteering is an easy, no pressure way of learning about an organization and building a network within a field.


 

Mischelle Diaz
Communications Director

 

I still remember the elementary school Career Day visitor that sparked my interest in journalism. Her name was Suzanne, and she was a news anchor and reporter at the local ABC affiliate in El Paso. I was in awe of her ability to be calm, articulate and amazingly pulled together, whether she was behind the anchor desk or reporting from the foot of the Franklin Mountains in a dust storm. 

 

Eventually, I earned my way to an unpaid internship at the same ABC affiliate where I made coffee, carried tripods, and edited lots of scripts. The lessons I learned about the value of accurate, timely and succinct communication are still with me today. 

How people connect with nature and the outdoors is a personal sojourn. I think it’s important to meet people where they are in their journey and then help guide them to other meaningful experiences that encourage a deeper respect for our natural world. 

Pursuing a career in conservation and recreation provides an opportunity to influence quality of life for future generations. Give your time, talent and treasure to groups that support environmental stewardship so you can be well-poised to make your career move. 

 

Whether it’s out in the field or behind a computer screen, there is a place for women who believe that the natural world is our heritage.


 

Patty David
Human Resources Director

 

My mom was a big inspiration in me choosing the field of Human Resources. She grew up in an orphanage and worked hard after graduating high school to build a life that she didn’t have growing up. 

 

Hearing about her experiences working in a personnel department always interested me so I enrolled in a personnel course to explore. I loved the course and felt like I had found my career path.

 

I love the range of jobs that Texas Parks and Wildlife offers. I tell everyone I meet that I have never felt like I am going to work, just getting to do what I love in a great agency.

 

I would encourage them to pursue what they love. It’s a great adventure when you love what you do.


 

Brandy Meeks
Internal Audit Director

 

I stumbled upon the internal audit profession when the reality of being an accounting manager for a plumbing company got a little too routine. The goal of internal auditing is simple: to help improve and bring value to an organization by evaluating its system of controls, risk management, and governance processes. 

 

To know that my team’s efforts play a role in in preserving the natural and cultural resources of Texas is very rewarding.

 

I love hanging out in nature. Growing up I spent summers and weekends visiting my dad, who lived on Lake Tawakoni. We swam, boated, skied and spent many days just chilling out by the lake. As an adult, I love to tag along with my husband and daughter when they go hunting. 

 

At TPWD, my love for the outdoors and my profession have come together. TPWD utilizes many diverse skills and disciplines in carrying out its mission, even those of auditors. 

 

I hope young women know that no matter what profession they choose, the true reward is finding a place to utilize their skills in supporting something they truly love. For me, being an auditor at TPWD is a perfect combination. 

 

 If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Friday

Yearning for a Spring Wildflower Drive? Hop in!

Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush ©Eric Pohl

After February’s grueling, frigid winter storm, will there be any Texas wildflowers to drive around and marvel at this year?

 

Our friends at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin assure us that our beloved bluebonnets will be on display this season, as well as many other favorites.

 

“Our Texas bluebonnets and many other native wildflowers are adapted to cold temperatures,” says Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the center.” “The 6 to 8 inches of snow the area received acted as a blanket to protect them against the many days of freezing temperatures.”

 

The bluebonnets were ahead of schedule before the freeze, and the cold probably reset them to bloom more in line with their regular schedule in early March, she says. Central Texas’ bluebonnet season typically peaks in early to mid-April.

 

Some evergreen plants, however, such as the early blooming Carolina jessamine vine suffered ice-burned foliage and may not have much of a presence this season, said DeLong-Amaya. Many first-to-flower trees were hardest hit, losing their buds due to multiple days of ice, such as redbuds, Texas mountain laurel and native plums. Some warmer microclimates throughout urban areas may have fared better.


Bluebonnets ©Al Braden

 

Whew, there will be wildflowers! 

Now, where can we go drive around and look at them on a gorgeous spring day? 

 

The Wildflower Center has a great collection at their “Honey, Stop the Car” webpage.

 

We took the plunge, too, and featured drives around the state in our April issue. Photo Editor Sonja Sommerfeld corralled some of your favorite photographers for their views on some great routes and the blooms you’ll spy on them.  

(Remember, if you stop for a photo, watch out for snakes.)


Bluebonnets ©RobGreebon/ImagesFromTexas


Blackland Prairie

Wild petunia, golden puccoon, rose vervain, bluebonnets

Where to go: Meadow View Nature Area near Ennis; U.S. 287; Texas Highway 31 near Corsicana; Ennis Bluebonnet Trail (April 1-30). More here.

 

Dogwoods ©Sean Fitzgerald

East Texas

Dogwoods, redbuds and yellow jessamine

Where to go: Loops near Palestine, Rusk, Nacogdoches. LOOP ONE: From Palestine, east on U.S. 84 to Rusk. Then south on U.S. 69 to Alto. Skirt border of Davy Crockett National Forest on Texas 21 to Crockett. Head back to Palestine on U.S. 287. LOOP TWO: Take Texas 21 west from Nacogdoches to Weches. Then FM 227 south to Ratcliff. Finish by taking Texas 7 back to Nacogdoches.

 

Spiderwort ©Sean Fitzgerald

Far East Texas

Spiderwort, phlox, milkweed

Where to go: From Marshall, go north along Texas 43 toward Karnack. Take a detour to visit Karnack, Uncertain and Caddo Lake State Park, then head back to Texas 43 north to Atlanta. Take U.S. 59 to Linden; Texas 155 to Avinger; Texas 49 to Jefferson, then U.S. 59 back to Marshall.

 

Woolly paper flower ©Kathy Adams Clark

Panhandle

Paperflower, blackfoot daisy, lemon horsemint

Where to go: Highways and roads between Caprock Canyons and Palo Duro Canyon state parks. More here. 

 

West Texas bluebonnets ©Sonja Sommerfeld/TPWD

West Texas

Big Bend bluebonnets, sand bells, yellow desert marigolds, scarlet bouvardia, silverleaf nightshade

Where to go: FM 170 from Presidio to Big Bend Ranch State Park to Terlingua and Texas 118 north to Alpine.

 

Bluebonnets ©Al Braden
Hill Country
Winecups, bluebonnets, evening primrose, scarlet sage, Indian paintbrush, coreopsis and firewheel

Where to go: From Mason take Texas 29 to FM 2768 to Castell, then FM 152 to Llano and Texas 16 south toward Fredericksburg (Wildseed Farms and Luckenbach). On the way to Fredericksburg, take FM 965 to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area or FM 1323 to the Willow City Loop. Take U.S. 87 back to Mason. More here

 

Highland Lakes

Bluebonnets

Where to go: Take U.S. 281 south from Marble Falls to FM 962 to Cypress Mill, then FM 301 to U.S. 281. From Marble Falls, take FM 1431 to Kingsland, then FM 2342 to Inks Lake State Park to Texas 29 and east to Burnet.


Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush ©Al Braden


Washington County

Bluebell, winecup, Indian blanket

Where to go: Along Texas 103, FM 390, FM 50; Burton to Brenham to Chappell Hill (the Bluebonnet Festival of Texas is in April in Chappell Hill). More here.

 

South Hill Country 

Rock daisies, prairie verbena, Texas skeleton plant, winecups, blue sage

Where to go: From Bandera, take FM 470 to Utopia, then FM 187 through Vanderpool to Texas 39 to Hunt. Bandera Loop: Head northwest from Bandera on Texas 16. In Medina go west on FM 337 to Vanderpool and Leakey. In Leakey turn south on U.S. 83 to Garner State Park. Go east on FM 1050 to Utopia. Then take FM 187 to FM 470 back to Bandera.

 

If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Wednesday

Favorite Park Already Filled for Spring Break? Think Outside the Box!

All photos @Heather Kuhlken/Families in Nature

Getting outside to feel the warmth of the sun and hear the birds sing has never been more alluring. Texans have mostly stayed at home for a year now and still shudder at the memory of the recent, seemingly endless winter storm that paralyzed us.

 

Spring Break — staggered mostly over the month of March — usually draws large crowds of young people to the most popular state/national parks, beaches and wild areas. Of course, that kind of scene isn’t what everyone is seeking for their nature getaway.

 

If your favorite Texas State Park is already booked up…. What now?

 

So. Many. Options. Get creative!



 

Parks are everywhere! Private, school, city, county, national — parks are run by all sorts of entities. Pocket parks can be found in many neighborhoods; you don’t even have to drive to enjoy nature. Dreaming bigger? Plan a national park getaway by playing with their Park Finder.

 

Find a lesser-known Texas State Park — truly the state’s hidden treasures. Several parks throughout the state have day-use and overnight reservations available for the upcoming spring and summer season, including Goose IslandSan AngeloLake Somerville and Sea Rim state parks.



Make new friends

 

You can join an outdoor group to enhance your opportunities and experiences outdoors, whether it’s a fly-fishing club, a mountain biking group or helpful organizations like Texas Children in Nature and Families in Nature. They can connect you to adventures and activities that satisfy your outdoor yearnings and expand your horizons and skills. 

 

Sarah Coles of Texas Children in Nature offers three great Spring Break ideas.

  • Take a family nature walk around your neighborhood. Check our Texas Children in Nature's Facebook and Instagram each day for a new thing to observe on your walk. Share photos from your walk on social media with #texaschildreninnature
  • Participate with the Texas Nature Challenge. Challenges range across the state and feature both challenges at parks and nature centers, but also lots of challenges you can do at home. Find challenges near you.
  • Check out a new wild place near you at Nature Rocks Texas

 

Heather Kuhlken of Families shares their planned Nature Spring Break events.

 


Choose your own adventure

 

Families in Nature put together this amazing list of ideas you can do on your own, with friends or family. You can put together an outdoor adventure that sparks your creativity, teaches you a new skill or makes you feel good about giving back.

 

  1. Creek and lake clean ups. Very few volunteer groups have been able to pick up trash along our waterways during the past year, so our creeks, parks and rivers are in need of cleaning. Take a bag out on your next socially distant park visit with friends or paddling adventure to pick up the trash you encounter. 
  2. Go for a hike on the greenbelts, city or state parks and explore a place you’ve never been before.
  3. Go camping. If you can't get a reservation over spring break at a state park, you can also check our LCRA and County parks for reservations. 
  4. Create art in a park. Take your watercolor or drawing pencils, paper and a clipboard or sketchbook out to your nearest nature space and draw spring. Notice the colors you see — the bright greens of new leaves emerging after the freeze. Or take your camera and photograph spring plants and wildlife. 
  5. Visit a swimming hole before it is warm enough to swim. Wade in the cold water. (Krause Springs, Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Pace Bend, Barton Springs, Hamilton Pool, Jessica Hollis park, etc...)
  6. Rent a canoe or kayak to paddle with your family. Or learn to stand-up paddleboard.
  7. Sleep outside at home. Set up a tent in your backyard to enjoy the perfect camping temperatures of spring in Texas
  8. Set up a backyard habitat. Create spaces for wildlife or birds to find shelter, get water, get food and raise young. This could include planting wildlife-friendly plants that attract hummingbirds and insects to replace any of the plants in your yard that froze in February’s snowstorm. 
  9. Plant a tree or two. Many trees in Texas froze or were badly damaged by our February snow. Plant a new tree to replace one that was frozen. You may even be able to do this in your local park. 
  10. Have a socially distanced picnic. Take your meal out to your front yard or meet up in a park with your friends or family.
  11. Build bird feeders out of your recycled stuff. Hang them in your yard to watch/photograph spring birds.
  12. Create an outdoor study space so that you can resume your zoom classes outdoors. Set up a table and chair outside next to an extension cord to power your laptop. Decorate the area with potted plants to make it feel like you are working in a cafe or a park. 
  13. Climb a tree. Hang out for a while and enjoy the new perspective. Say hello to your inner 8-year-old again. 
  14. Set up buddy hammocks in a park in a spot with three trees near each other. Invite a friend to set up a hammock next to yours. You can hang out together outside while still remaining socially distant. (Please, always use tree-friendly straps to attach your hammock to the tree.)
  15. Build elaborate rock cairns with your friends. (Outdoors is the safest place to gather with your friends, so make some temporary art together.) For inspiration, watch Andy Goldsworthy’s "Rivers and Tides" before you go outside. 
  16. Build or purchase a fire pit for your backyard or use one in a state park campsite. Learn to build a fire and cook a meal over the fire you build. (Be sure to put the fire out so that coals are cool to the touch before you leave the area.)
  17. Learn to build a shelter out of natural materials and then spend the night in your shelter. (Helpful tools: Learn a basic lashing knot and use sticks from introduced species such as ligustrum and bamboo to build your shelter.)
  18. Have a star party with your friends. Download a star-finding app on your phone to identify what you see in the sky at night or locate the space station when it passes overhead. It is easy to hang out with friends or family and stay socially distant by putting blankets on the ground and laying 6 feet apart to look up at the sky. 
  19. See critically endangered whooping cranes by boat in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport. 
  20. Watch some real “wild’ life at Brazos Bend State Park to see huge numbers of birds and the alligators waking up for spring. 
  21. Learn to fish. Hooked for life! 
  22. Try out shinrin yoku (forest bathing) by slowly walking through a park or preserve and noticing the sounds, smells, colors, textures and details surrounding you. Breathe deeply. (You can do this often to give your brain and body a break and counteract the hours and hours of Zoom time.)


If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

 

Monday

Restoring East Texas’ Wild Turkeys

On a recent February day after the winter storm, large cardboard boxes were popped open by giggling children who squealed as turkeys emerged and flapped their way to freedom, while biologists and parents smiled and watched with their own sense of delight. 


 Working with the National Wild Turkey Federation and private landowners, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is restocking wild turkeys in areas of the state where they’ve declined as part of an Eastern Wild Turkey Restoration Program. Eastern wild turkeys arrived at the Cooper Wildlife Management Area in February after long flights from Maine and North Carolina. The turkeys get general health check-ups and a drink of electrolytes to help them recover from their trip, then they were released at their new East Texas home. 


Eastern wild turkeys

  • TPWD staff wrapped up an eastern wild turkey Super Stocking effort in Titus County this winter. This restocking effort was initiated in 2020. In total, TPWD staff released 83 eastern wild turkeys originating from Maine, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia.
  • TPWD is still releasing eastern wild turkeys at our Franklin County release site. To date, TPWD staff has released 48 eastern wild turkeys from Maine, Missouri and North Carolina toward our 80-bird goal. This restocking effort should wrap up this winter; if not, trapping and restocking will resume in 2022.  

Rio Grande wild turkeys

  • Over the past few years, TPWD has been experimenting with Rio Grande wild turkey restockings along the Trinity River watershed. The Trinity River marks the historic interchange between Rio Grades and Easterns. 
  • This winter, TPWD staff released 198 Rio Grande wild turkeys at 4 sites in Kaufman, Navarro and Freestone counties along the Trinity River.     
  • Since 2016, TPWD staff have released 671 Rio Grande wild turkeys at seven sites within the Trinity River watershed, south of D/FW to just east of the Richland Chambers Reservoir. 

If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.