Austin’s Storied Natural History Museum Reopens with New Name, Fresh Look and Bright Future


The newly restored Texas Science & Natural History Museum added a tyrannosaur to its Great Hall, which also features a flying pterosaur. (Credit: Nolan Zunk, University of Texas)

By Dale Weisman
Museum-goers gather around the south entrance to the Texas Science & Natural History Museum (formerly known as the Texas Memorial Museum or TMM) on the University of Texas campus. Children cavort on the bronze statue of a snarling saber-tooth cat (Smilodon fatalis) while parents snap photos. The growing crowd waits eagerly for the museum’s bronze doors to open at 1 p.m. on this special Sunday, Sept. 17. It’s Austin Museum Day, an annual celebration of art, culture, science, nature, history and music at dozens of Austin-area museums. 

It’s also a very special day for TMM – the first time the museum has welcomed the public back in more than a year and half. Temporarily closed since March 2022, the museum used the downtime to complete extensive structural renovations, revitalize its Great Hall, refresh and add new exhibits, and secure its future with new programs and essential funding.

The doors open, and the crowd surges in to see and experience the rejuvenated TMM. Generations of children have visited the museum on school field trips and family outings, and some are returning years later today as parents with their own kids in tow. Sunlight streams through cleaned and resealed Art Deco glass-block windows, illuminating the expansive Great Hall and its gleaming walls of French rouge marble. The Great Hall echoes with murmuring excitement, sprinkled with overheard voices of approval: “It’s good to see the museum all gussied up,” a father says to his daughter. “They’ve obviously cleaned everything,” adds a visitor, pointing to the upper walls adorned with seals of six nations that ruled Texas. Another visitor beams: “The museum is amazing, and everyone loves it!”

Visitors gaze up at the museum’s perennial crowd pleaser: a pterosaur skeleton (Quetzalcoatlus northropi), the largest flying creature ever with a 33-foot wingspan, soaring over the Great Hall. A newly installed reconstructed skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex, also 33 feet long, strikes a fearsome midstride pose. UT researchers discovered the fossilized remains of both “Texas Titans,” including a T. rex maxilla (upper jaw), in Big Bend National Park. Along the hall’s western wall, a pair of bold, new murals depicts how these colorful prehistoric creatures might have looked in their habitats 67 million years ago.

The museum’s expanded gift store is abuzz with kids and families checking out the panoply of science- and nature-themed games, puzzles, toys, books, posters, jewelry and rocks. Across the Great Hall, an all-new exhibit, dubbed Texas Transformation, fills a space that previously housed staff cubicles and a mail/copy room. Visually stunning infographic wall panels chronicle a 600-million-year timeline of evolving plant and animal life in Texas spanning the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras and ending with the Anthropocene, our current geologic epoch dominated by human impact on global ecosystems and climate. A four-minute paleogeographic animation loop shows the dynamics of plate tectonics and Texas’ geographic position in the Earth’s ever-shifting continental landscape.

A modern longhorn skull resides next to a replica skull of an ancient bison that once lived in Texas. These are part of the museum's new Texas Transformation exhibit. (Credit: Nolan Zunk, UT).

Standing inside the Texas Transformation room, Pamela Owen, TMM’s associate director and a vertebrate paleontologist, marvels at the high visitor turnout, energy and excitement. “In the first 20 minutes of opening, more than 700 people came through our doors,” said Owen. “And this is just a dry run for our grand opening celebration on Saturday, September 23.”

The opening of the Texas Science & Natural History Museum is much more than a TMM 2.0 reboot. It’s the next phase of the museum’s evolution, doubling down on its deep roots in natural history. Conceived in the early 1930s as a state natural history museum and built as part of the 1936 Texas Centennial Celebrations, the Texas Memorial Museum opened in its current square-shaped, limestone-clad Art Deco edifice in 1939. Some of the original specimens and collections were previously housed in UT’s Main Building and displayed in Gregory Gymnasium during UT’s Texas Centennial Exposition.

Over the decades, TMM amassed an enormous collection of fossils, specimens, artifacts and other exhibits showcasing Texas history, culture, wildlife, geology and paleontology. The State of Texas transferred TMM ownership to the University of Texas in 1959, establishing the museum as a UT campus landmark that hosted many educational, university and community events. In 2003, believing that TMM’s holdings had grown too fragmented, the museum’s director transferred the eclectic cultural history items to other UT collections including the Briscoe Center for American History and the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. And TMM came full circle back to natural history.

In recent years, the TMM has endured financial woes that might have sunk other less resilient and beloved institutions. In 2013, the College of Natural Sciences cut 75 percent of TMM’s funding, and yet the doors remained open. Ten years later, the museum closed during the height of the Covid pandemic, and then reopened in 2021, only to close again in March 2022 due to funding cuts and staff departures.

Enter Carolyn Connerat, the museum’s new managing director, and Pamela Owen, a TMM employee for 23 years who also serves as a research associate at the Jackson School of Geosciences, specializing in Texas vertebrate paleontology. They formed the ideal “skeleton crew” to navigate the TMM through its dire straits while rethinking funding, programs, renovations, collections and exhibits.

“We are a great matched pair in terms of our relative strengths,” said Owen. “That’s how we pulled this off.” While new to the natural history scene, Connerat brought strengths in management, marketing, promotion and fund raising, honed through executive roles at UT’s Provost Office and more than 20 years of private-sector experience. Backed by a supportive advisory committee, the indefatigable duo worked a miracle – readying the TMM for its grand opening after 15 months of nonstop effort.

Connerat added, “Much of what we did was basic renovations that hadn’t been done in 85 years – things like roof repairs, electrical and plumbing updates, painting, new lighting and flooring. We cleaned every inch of the walls in the Great Hall. When we took down the draperies and saw the glass-block windows, everyone said WOW!” In place of the dusty old drapes, newly installed motorized shades can be lowered to shield the hall from late-afternoon sunlight and damaging UV radiation.

“We’re not done yet – we’ve just begun,” said Connerat, not quite ready to take a victory lap. “We’re still in the process of updating our downstairs and third-floor exhibits. We want everyone to come back in and enjoy what we have and bring back busloads of children.”

“The museum’s mission is to inspire and engage curious minds about science and the natural history of Texas,” added Connerat. “We think this is a wonderful place for the education of K-through-12 students, for STEM education, and for anyone wants to spend time studying science and natural history.”

Connerat and Owen plan to refresh the museum’s existing Paleontology Gallery on the first floor (anchored by the menacing Onion Creek Mosasaur, Shoal Creek Plesiosaur, armadillo-like Glyptodon and sail-backed Dimetrodon) and the Texas Wildlife Gallery on the third floor (with timeless wildlife dioramas and taxidermied megafauna including a mountain lion, bison and bear). “We will bring the color palette and energy of the Texas Transformation to each floor and gallery over time,” said Owen.

Forthcoming exhibits will include the third-floor Memorial Gallery exploring the TMM’s rich history and the fourth-floor Science Frontier showcasing UT Austin’s advanced research on topics ranging from biodiversity to sustainability to human health. With only 18,000 square feet of exhibit space (one-tenth the size of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas), Connerat and Owen plan to make the most of every bit of museum space to tell the story of natural history and natural sciences in Texas.

Funding and revenue are key to the museum’s long-term plans. To that end, the Texas Legislature threw TMM a generous lifeline this summer – a one-time $8 million funding infusion. TMM also plans to grow its own revenue. “Our goal is to be self-supporting over the next few years through admissions, a new membership program, special events and philanthropy,” said Connerat. “I’m confident we can do that.”

The museum's Art Deco exterior, on the University of Texas campus. (Credit: UT) 

The TMM building, with its restored, gleaming-white limestone façade, has “good bones” beyond its paleontological exhibits. The Art Deco landmark provides a stunning venue for private indoor and outdoor events ranging from weddings and receptions to seated dinners to tailgate parties. A large, permanent tented area for events shades TMM’s west patio, while a pollinator garden, created in collaboration with the Wildflower Center, has been installed near the main entrance.

“’Texas Memorial Museum’ is still carved on the outside of the building so that name will always be a part of this building’s history,” said Connerat. “TMM has been used for many decades, so we’re going to keep that acronym.”

The new name, Texas Science & Natural History Museum, clears up years of confusion over the museum’s exhibits and mission, which have nothing to do with war memorials or the nearby Texas Memorial Stadium. Connerat explains, “This museum is about life in the natural world, from the formation of our planet through the age of the dinosaurs and into our current time.”

“We are all part of the natural world,” adds Owen. “Coming here to the museum is a reminder that we are part of this wonderful history on a really special planet. How could that not be gratifying?”


Texas Wild’s Surprising Second Release Features a Creepy Killer at Possum Kingdom

The second single release from Texas Wild, an album celebrating 100 years of Texas State Parks, dropped July 6, further whetting appetites for the full release this fall. 

“Possum Kingdom” by Oscar/Grammy/Golden Globe award-winner Ryan Bingham (with backup band, The Texas Gentlemen) is now available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Considering the wholesome family fun happening along the 300 miles of lakeshore and coves of this state park west of Fort Worth, the edgy ‘90s alt-rock Toadies’ song is surprisingly creepy. 

To listen to the single, click here.

The April 30 drop of “Hey Baby, Que Paso?” by Fat Tony featuring Paul Wall sparked interest in Austin-based producer Walker Lukens’ pairings of classic Texas songs twisted into fresh takes by contemporary Texas artists. Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF), in partnership with Rambler Sparkling Water and Tecovas Boots, is sponsoring the digital and limited-edition vinyl albumProceeds benefit Texas’ wild things and wild places. 

The song

Frame from Toadie's "Possum Kingdom" video

No other popular record has a Texas State Park in the title, so the Toadies' 1994 “Possum Kingdom” is perhaps the most obvious choice for a Centennial music project despite its serial killer vibes. Think ghost stories around the campfire to set the mood — no real danger in its fiction, just a satisfying frisson of fear up your spine.

Toadies lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis’ lyrics have sparked Reddit threads and social media debates for decades, linking it to various real crimes and fanciful vampire legends as well as the lake’s submerged ghost town, Pickwick. In 2019, he finally told Texas Monthly writer Sean O’Neill in a Halloween article the truth behind his cryptic words.  

“I just made it up.”  

After reading all the interesting theories, he wonders with amusement if he should have concocted a better story. 

“Texans love that kind of storytelling, because it’s what we grew up with,” Lewis said. “The ghost stories—the metal hook on the car roof and all that. It’s just fun to sit around and scare each other.” 

The simple, repetitive lyrics put listeners uncomfortably inside the mind of a man who seems to have evil intent, trying to lure a woman to walk with him around the lake to the boathouse and promising “eternal beauty” in return.

The Possum Kingdom setting came from summers spent at a family fishing lodge on the lake. With feature names like Hell’s Gate and Devil’s Island, it seemed like the perfect setting for a frightful tale, especially at night.

“Lewis says he never really heard any chilling stories about Possum Kingdom, specifically,” O’Neill writes. “No one ever told him anything about the vampires or vengeful ghosts or secret cults supposedly hiding in the woods. To him, Possum Kingdom just seemed like the kind of place where something bad could happen. And because he put it in a song, many people have come to be convinced that it did.”  

Even the visual setting of Possum Kingdom can offer an aura of mystery and danger, attracting world cliff-diving events for daredevils.

 “I can see where folks can see the lake as creepy with its plateaus of live oak and juniper cedar, rattlesnakes, and hundreds of soaring vultures overhead,” Possum Kingdom historian Kevin VanDuser says in the same article. “I can still hear the howling of coyotes. I’ve seen a mountain lion cross the road.” 

The original

Fort Worth band Toadies

“Possum Kingdom” was released as the second single from the Toadies’ 1994 album Rubberneck, breaking Billboard’s Top 40 chart and soaring even higher on alt-rock charts. Lewis said he wrote it as a kind of followup to another song on the album, “I Burn.”

The song seems to have grown in popularity through the past quarter-century, perhaps due to the accompanying music video that today has garnered 41 million views on YouTube with 13,000 comments. In the video, the camera intercuts band performance scenes with a body bag floating in the lake. A surprise ending offers a more palatable storyline involving sculpture instead of murder, an icy twist that makes us wonder what is real and what is imagined. 

“Possum Kingdom” was even included in the setlist for the Xbox 360 edition of Guitar Hero II.

The new sound

Lukens with The Texas Gentlemen in the studio

Almost 30 years later, Lukens’ Texas Wild version aims to honor this fan-favorite while adding elements of blues, rock and country.

“Ryan Bingham wanting to do ‘Possum Kingdom’ is exactly what makes an album like this special; a big artist in one genre taking a chance by doing a popular song in another genre,” Lukens said. “Plus, Richard Bowden’s fiddle solo is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened at our studio.” 

The Texas Gentlemen, who cover Lyle Lovett’s “(That’s Right) You’re Not From Texas” on another track of Texas Wild, provide backup as Bingham's band for this song.

“Ryan Bingham and The Texas Gentleman bring their own style to the tune, imbuing it with a uniquely haunting touch,” said Toadies guitarist Clark Vogeler, who’s also fond of Bowden’s contribution to the sound. “A lurid and chaotic violin pairs with the guitars creating an original appeal. This is a great cover that takes the song to new places.”

Bingham’s rough-edged but authentic vocals add a haunting quality to the repetitive lyrics. Even in the earliest days of his career, critics commented on the “old” sound of his voice.

“I love how Ryan made the tune his own, really brought out the swampy, gritty vibe,” Lewis said. “Cool stuff.”

Ryan Bingham

Bingham found fame collaborating with producer T Bone Burnett on the soundtrack for the 2009 film Crazy Heart, cowriting and performing the film’s award-winning theme song, “The Weary Kind.” The title track earned Bingham an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Critics’ Choice Award in 2010, as well as a Grammy Award in 2011. He’s also been seen acting in the hit series Yellowstone.

The album

A third single release is slated for later this summer, culminating with the digital and limited-edition vinyl release of the entire work this fall. Plans are in the works for concerts in state parks celebrating the album. 

Texas illustrator Mishka Westell created unique block-print style art for each of the three single releases and the album. “Possum Kingdom” sports an aplomado falcon.

"Texas music has helped shape our inimitable spirit, just as the iconic landscapes of our Texas State Parks have inspired our last 100 years,” said Anne Brown, TPWF executive director. “In places like Garner State Park, music has inspired magical summer nights for decades; visitors have danced to Texas tunes beneath the stars at the historic pavilion since the 1940s.”


  • Fat Tony featuring Paul Wall “(Hey Baby) Que Paso”
    • Original Track: Sir Douglas Quintet 
  • The Texas Gentlemen "(That's Right) You're Not From Texas"
    • Original Track: Lyle Lovett
  • Shane Smith and The Saints featuring Hayes Carll - "Pancho and Lefty"
    • Original Track: Townes Van Zandt
  • Luna Luna - “Si Una Vez”
    • Original Track: Selena Quintanilla
  • Ryan Bingham - "Possum Kingdom"
    • Original Track: The Toadies
  • The Suffers - "My Maria"
    • Original Track: B.W. Stevenson
  • Shakey Graves featuring Jess Williamson - "True Love Will Find You In The End"
    • Original Track: Daniel Johnston
  • Sir Woman featuring Ray Wylie Hubbard - "Texas Sun"
    • Original Track: Khruangbin and Leon Bridges
  • Adrian Quesada featuring US and The Soul Supporters - "Say My Name"
    • Original Track: Destiny’s Child
  • Sarah Jaffe - "Flying Too Close To The Ground"
    • Original Track: Willie Nelson
  • The Toadies - "Since U Been Gone"
    • Original Track: Kelly Clarkson

Fun spoiler: This album is packed with full-circle moments, with many artists doing double duty. Kelly Clarkson was seen and heard singing along to “Possum Kingdom” in her dressing room during an episode of “The Voice.” Another cut from the upcoming Texas Wild album will feature the Toadies covering Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”


First Single Drops from State Park Album, Texas Wild

The celebration for 100 Years of Texas State Parks picks up the tempo today with the release of the first single from Texas Wild, a genre-bending album featuring Texas artists covering Texas classics, with all proceeds to benefit our wild things and wild places.

Produced by inventive Austin singer/songwriter Walker Lukens, Texas Wild blends the traditional Texas mix of blues, cumbia and country with unexpected modern flavors like hip-hop, R&B and electronica.


“Your average Texan can easily name 8–10 classic songs made by Texan artists from genres as diverse as country, blues, rock, Tejano, folk, hip hop and R&B,” Lukens said. “What other state can claim to have made significant contributions to so many genres? Texas Wild features fresh takes on classics from all these genres— it’s a funky and soulful best-of-Texas playlist for whenever you’re feeling state pride.” 

“(Hey Baby) Que Paso,” by Houston artists Fat Tony featuring Paul Wall, the first public taste of the highly anticipated album, is now available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. To listen to the single, click here.


Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF), in partnership with Rambler Sparkling Water, sponsored the album, to be released on vinyl this fall. 


"Texas music has helped shape our inimitable spirit, just as the iconic landscapes of our Texas State Parks have inspired our last 100 years,” said Anne Brown, executive director of TPWF, Texas Wild sponsors. “In places like Garner State Park, music has inspired magical summer nights for decades; visitors have danced to Texas tunes beneath the stars at the historic pavilion since the 1940s.”


The song


The simple lyrics of the 1983 song are a mashup of Spanish and English, sliding easily into the comfort zone of both audiences, no matter the level of bilingual ability. Augie Meyers (with Bill Sheffield) wrote lyrics and music, which was recorded in Spanish and the mixed “Spanglish,” with a few Spanish words mispronounced on purpose.


The rowdy singalong’s been claimed as “the national anthem of San Antonio” by some of its more enthusiastic fans, but generations of Texans of all musical tastes can sing every word — and do so with gusto. “Hey Baby” is a boisterous, rollicking romp, despite the melancholy of the underlying jilted lover story. 


The memorable first line — “Hey baby, que paso? I thought I was your only vato.” — sets the scene and resonates as a first reaction to just about any breakup that comes as a shock. Through the song’s two verses (that sound like choruses), the singer pleads for his love to turn around and give him a kiss. “My corazon is real.” 


On stage, Meyers often told a humorous story about the inspiration for “Hey Baby,” his final conversation with a soon-to-be-ex.


“Why are you always playing that Mexican music?” 

“I love it.”

“Well, I don’t.”  

“Well, honey, there’s the door.” 


The original 


The song was popularized by Meyers’ band, the Texas Tornados, a Tex-Mex supergroup that formed around 1990, touring out of San Antonio. 


Late country star Freddy Fender, a San Benito native who had international hits with “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Till the Last Teardrop Falls,” was probably the most famous member. Accordion legend Flaco Jimenez — he played with the Rolling Stones and practically invented conjunto — brought the crossover musical flavor that added a flash of habanero heat to the band’s signature sound.


The gig set list centered around the talents of band leaders Meyers and Doug Sahm (who died in 1999), already popular from their successful stint in The Sir Douglas Quintet in the 1960s, with hits like “Mendocino” and “She’s About a Mover.” “Hey Baby (Que Paso)” was a show-stopper, guaranteed to get the crowd on their feet.


The band lasted about a decade altogether (including breaks) until the death of founding member Doug Sahm but released an earlier Austin City Limits performance as an album in 2005. The surviving members (Fender died in 2006) reformed the group with Sahm’s son Shawn and put out another record in 2010.


The new sound


For the 2023 arrangement of “Hey Baby,” Lukens — who wasn’t born when the song was written — collaborated with members of Grupo Fantasma, the Texas Gentlemen and Sir Woman, who take their own creative turns on other tracks of Texas Wild as well. 

Walker Lukens, Texas Wild producer


Lukens begins the track with stripped-down bass and drums, harder driving than the original. Soon after, the Song Confessional podcaster begins to layer in steel guitar and other instruments to build the full sound but — sorry, conjunto fans — said adîos to Jimenez' trademark accordion of the original. You won’t miss it for long, though, because when the beat drops, Paul Wall’s inventive rap adds a whole new element of storytelling that’s sure to make you hit repeat until you catch every word to sing along.


The result could be described as “San Antonio meets Houston, decides to stick around and have some fun.” The marriage is harmonious but still full of surprises. “Hey Baby” loses none of its infectious spirit as it gets pleasantly stuck in your head for the rest of the day.


The album

“(Hey Baby) Que Paso” is just the first of several single releases slated for Texas Wild, with a second single scheduled for release in June and a third in July, culminating with the digital and limited-edition vinyl release of the entire work this fall. 

Texas illustrator Mishka Westell created unique block-print style art for each of the three single releases and the album. The album cover art features Texas native wildlife, including a screech owl, a mockingbird and other Texas critters. Sales from the album will benefit TPWF.


“The two best things about Texas are its physical beauty and its music,” Lukens said. “This record, which was made by some of the finest musicians in our state, benefits Texas State Parks and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, who take care of our public lands. What’s cooler than that?”


A full track listing will be available closer to the album release, but to date, the tracks include:

Fat Tony featuring Paul Wall "(Hey Baby) Que Paso”

Original Track: Sir Douglas Quintet 

The Texas Gentlemen "(That's Right) You're Not From Texas"

Original Track: Lyle Lovett

Shane Smith and The Saints featuring Hayes Carll "Pancho and Lefty"

Original Track: Townes Van Zandt

LUNA LUNA  “Si Una Vez”

Original Track: Selena Quintanilla

Ryan Bingham "Possum Kingdom"

Original Track: The Toadies

The Suffers "My Maria"

Original Track: B.W. Stevenson

Shakey Graves featuring Jess Williamson "True Love Will Find You In The End"

Original Track: Daniel Johnston

Sir Woman featuring Ray Wylie Hubbard "Texas Sun"

Original Track: Khruangbin and Leon Bridges

Adrian Quesada featuring US and The Soul Supporters "Say My Name"

Original Track: Destiny’s Child

Sarah Jaffe "Flying Too Close To The Ground"

Original Track: Willie Nelson

The Toadies "Since You've Been Gone"

Original Track: Kelly Clarkson


Additional live events celebrating Texas Wild will be announced soon. To keep up with album news, visit to sign up for updates, or follow TPWF on Instagram, @texasparkswildlifefoundation.




Women Getting Stuff Done

“A woman's place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight.” - Bess Truman

Don’t tell that to the women at Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Meet some of our colleagues who are working to conserve Texas’ wild things and wild places. Whether they’re wrangling bighorn sheep or wrestling with a Purchase Order, these women get stuff done -- even if their hats aren’t always straight.

If you know someone who might be interested in being part of our team, check out our internship, job and volunteer opportunities. 

Dr. Sara Wyckoff, Wildlife Veterinarian

What she does: As one of two very busy veterinarians at Texas Parks and Wildlife, Sara monitors Texas native wildlife for disease and develops strategies to stop sickness from spreading. She works closely with biologists, landowners and other government agencies, assisting with research, veterinary protocols and training.


Career highlights: Getting to crawl into a bat cave during monitoring for white-nose syndrome and assisting with examining bighorn sheep in west Texas as part of TPWD’s native bighorn sheep restoration program. 


Pagie Reeves, Administrative Technician for the Perry R. Bass Marine Fisheries Research Center

What she does: Pagie may spend most of her work day indoors, but she serves as the heart of a team whose research impacts coastal fisheries management. Providing the administrative support to keep things running smoothly, she strives to create a helpful, positive and professional work environment.

Career highlight: Helping plan and decorate the new San Antonio Bay field office in Port O’ Connor. 

Maegan Lanham, Photographer for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine

What she does: Inspire people to get outside through pictures. Maegan captures everything from hunting, fishing, hiking and kayaking to the incredible variety of Texas wildlife and landscapes. 

Career highlight: Photographing the 113-million-year-old dinosaur tracks that were recently uncovered during a drought at Dinosaur Valley State Park. 

Angela England, Conservation Biologist

What she does: Angela works to manage riparian (streamside) areas to support healthy habitat for fish and the food web of plants, insects, and other organisms that sustain them.  She helps landowners learn about land management methods that improve water quality and quantity while enhancing native biodiversity. 

Career highlights: Serving as the project manager for the Healthy Creeks Initiative. This project manages invasive Arundo (giant reed) in five Native Fish Conservation Areas of the Hill Country, in support of ongoing conservation projects such as restoring habitat for our state fish, the Guadalupe Bass. 


Niki Lambrou, Design Project Manager – Civil Engineer

What she does: As a civil engineer, Niki designs anything to be built anywhere in Texas. One day she’s designing roads at a new State Natural Area and the next she’s in the bottom of a pond at the A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery. Every TPWD facility involves infrastructure such as utilities, roads and parking, bridges or dams, or buildings. And everywhere there is infrastructure, a civil engineer is involved. 

Career highlight: In her previous job with a civil engineering consulting firm, Niki had the opportunity to serve as a hydraulic engineer on a project at Devils River State Natural Area. That fueled a growing passion for the state park system and inspired her to forge a career with TPWD.

Anzhi Chen, Java Programmer - Application Development Team

What she does: Anzhi designs, builds and supports custom web application solutions to serve TPWD’s internal and external customers.

Career highlight: Being part of the core team that designs, implements and provides customer support for agency’s Online Permitting system.


Jessica Burke, ADA Coordinator

What she does: Jessica manages TPWD’s Americans with Disabilities Act office, which works to ensure that people with disabilities have access to TPWD facilities and programs. 

Career highlight: Making a difference in the lives of others by partnering with communities to make spaces more accessible. 


Patty Cardoza, Staff Services Officer at Sea Center Texas

What she does: Patty works to ensure the efficient operation of three saltwater fish hatcheries, doing everything from providing training to ordering supplies while providing ongoing support to her colleagues.

Career highlight: Helping secure equipment for Sea Center Texas’ new Flounder Building.


Dee Halliburton, Executive Assistant

What she does: Dee supports the Executive Office team and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners. She began her TPWD career as Warehouse Clerk, and over her 35-year tenure has worked for four Executive Directors and 54 Commissioners.

Career highlight: A quote from former Executive Director Carter Smith, “’No’ is not in Dee’s vocabulary. When somebody calls, they want to talk to Dee because they know it's going to get done and they know it's going to get done promptly. She solves every problem.”


Nicole Feldman, Veteran Liaison & Internship Coordinator

What she does: Nicole works with TPWD veterans to provide resources, opportunities and a way to connect to each other. She also helps students connect with our agency through the internship program.

Career highlight: The opportunities for networking all over the state of Texas. Nicole enjoys meeting new people and learning from them. She says, “Everyone comes with a different story, and it is amazing to see how we were all brought together by one agency.”


Chelsea Bailey, Texas Game Warden

What she does: Chelsea began her career as an intern, and then became a licensed peace officer as a Texas Game Warden. After working on the coast for several years, Chelsea now serves as a game warden recruiter.

Career highlight: Chelsea started the Texas Game Warden Women’s Conference, a leadership conference for female Texas Game Wardens and State Park Police Officers, which will come to fruition in June of 2023.



Galveston Island State Park Celebrates Grand Re-opening

  • Two-day celebration at park on March 31 and April 1.
  • Beachside reopens after repairing hurricane damages.
  • New headquarters, remodeled nature center and more.

Galveston Island State Park invites the public to a Grand Re-opening event with two days of festivities on March 31 and April 1, as part of the ongoing, yearlong Texas State Parks Centennial. The beach side of the park opened back up last summer following the completion of a three-year major redevelopment project, sparked by damages from historic Hurricane Ike.

The first day of the festivities will feature speeches from local, statewide and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) dignitaries, as well as interpretive activities, refreshments and self-guided tours. Day Two is an extravaganza of fun, with activities every hour including prairie hikes, fishing and kayaking at Horseshoe Pond, beach walks and bay exploration at Lake Como.


“We’re excited to invite everyone to come celebrate with us and see the results,” says Park Superintendent Steven Kimbley. “It’s a small way to thank everyone for supporting us through hurricane and recovery. Galveston Island State Park is now fully open — the park’s staff is excited to welcome all Texans to come experience the Third Coast.”

Improvements to the park include a new headquarters building, 95 new campsites, two new restrooms (and renovations to an existing restroom), new roads, two new changing areas and rinse-off showers, 20 new shade shelters in the day-use area and a seasonal equestrian day-use area. 

Visitors to the park will find more than five miles of hiking trails, a newly remodeled nature center on the bay side, two observation towers, two boardwalks, three kayak launch locations on the bay side with more than 11 miles of paddling trails, a new vendor area and three new group-use pavilions on the beach side. 


Of course, reconstruction plans included accommodations for the threat of future hurricanes. 


“The new headquarters, campsites and day-use area are more elevated now,” Kimbley says. “Structures are built to flex with the landscape and be more resistant to future extreme weather.” 

The Galveston Island State Park Beach Redevelopment project was brought to fruition with $10.6 million in Deepwater Horizon Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Phase III Early Restoration funds from the Texas Trustees (TPWD, Texas General Land Office and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). These funds leveraged Sporting Good Sales Tax dollars to provide the improvements Texans will enjoy for generations. 

Galveston Island State Park has 2,000 acres of park land in two sections, bayside and beachside. The park first opened in 1975, but early humans used the bountiful area for gathering resources such as oysters. The property was later used as a cattle ranch until the state acquired it in 1969.

Today, the park’s interpretive programming reaches thousands of children annually through educational field trips to the park and, conversely, park rangers and volunteers in classrooms. The recently renovated Nature Center provides new opportunities for education and activities including starting new fishing programs, connecting art to the park with plein air watercolor sessions, expanding guided hikes and offering new skills-based learning, such as kayaking. Concessionaires offer opportunities for park visitors to rent camping gear, kayaks, beach umbrellas and chairs. Popular activities include fishing, crabbing, paddling, wildlife watching and more.


Galveston Island State Park provides refuge and supports ongoing research for listed species such as the eastern black rail and piping plover. Last year, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (endangered) nest with 107 eggs was discovered in the park’s beachside dunes, the first in a decade. With the help of passionate volunteers, the park works to restore and protect coastal prairie habitat and educate the next generation about its importance. 

Hurricane Ike crippled the upper Texas coast in 2008, devastating Galveston Island and Sea Rim state parks. The Friends of Galveston Island State Park and countless other volunteers came from across the state and the nation to help the park clean up and reopen with temporary facilities only six months later.

“If it wasn’t for our selfless Texans, and the countless volunteers over the years, we couldn’t have done it,” Kimbley says. “We all seek to connect. It’s important to all of us. We have seen that connection here through friends, families and the community. Thank you all for gifting us with a park that we can share with pride.”

For updated information, see the park’s Facebook page

Texas State Park reservations may now be made online anytime on the TPWD website or by calling the Texas State Park Reservation Center at 512-389-8900 on weekdays during normal business hours. Overnight reservations can be made up to five months in advance, and day passes can be reserved up to 30 days in advance. If your plans change, please modify or cancel your reservation as soon as possible to allow someone else to enjoy the park as we do expect the park to reach capacity limits.


For more information about ongoing restoration efforts in Texas, visit the Gulf Spill Restoration website.


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