State Parks Getaways E-newsletter: Spring Edition

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State Parks Getaways Spring 2012
In this issue: Time for Texas Springtime Road Trips | 636 Reasons to Go Birding in Texas | Brazos Bend New Wildlife Viewing Platform | New Exhibit at Seminole Canyon | Horseback Riding Through State Parks | Find Yourself in an East Texas Forest | Get Started Camping | Come Volunteer at a State Park

Time for Texas Springtime Road Trips

bluebonnets Meridian SP
Hit the road, folks, for some great times in the Texas outdoors. For proof that “life’s better outside,” read about 25 outdoor delights chosen by TPWD staff in “The Best of Texas (Naturally)" from the March Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

Then find more inspiration from this descriptive list of Texans' favorite spring activities. If wildflower viewing drives your ambition, here’s a recent news update on where to find them in state parks. (At left is a mobile phone photo taken by TPWD's Earl Nottingham at Meridian State park.) You can check TXDOT's Wildflower Finder too.

Every visit you make to a Texas state park is a win-win for you and for the parks. You and your family enjoy some of the best outdoor recreation Texas has to offer. And since visitor fees pay for about half of all park operating costs, every visit helps keep your state parks open.
Whole Earth advertisement
    Thanks to Whole Earth Provision Co. for stepping up to help state parks.

636 Reasons to Go Birding in Texas

migration screen shot
636!  That’s the number of bird species that travel through or visit our state, making Texas the #26 hot spot worldwide for birding, and it’s most exciting in springtime. Watch this video about the magnificent and often mysterious migration.
Before you go, read up on the “hows and wheres” of birding in state parks.

Check the parks events calendar for birding walks and talks. Most state parks have a local bird checklist that you can bring with you and while away a morning as a bird sleuth.

Brazos Bend New Wildlife Viewing Platform

viewing platform over lake
Talk about a deck with a view! Gaze out to spot some great Texas birds. Look down to see 10-foot alligators in the wild.  That’s the fascinating scene from the new wheelchair-accessible Elm Lake Wildlife Viewing Platform at Brazos Bend State Park near Houston.

There’s plenty of other wildlife to see and learn about too.  A nearby picnic area doubles as an outdoor classroom. Most any weekend you can find park rangers or trained volunteers on the platform with spotting scopes, nature-related activities, park displays or even a live animal for visitors to learn about. There are few other places where you can view alligators in their natural habitat and also touch a baby ‘gator hatchling! (P.S. - Don’t try this at home.)

New Exhibit at Seminole Canyon

Seminole scout
Friendships forged between runaway slaves and Florida Seminole tribes 300 years ago helped protect the west Texas frontier for 40 years. That’s why Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site has unveiled a new exhibit, “Namesake for a Canyon: The Story of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts."

Plan a trip to the park to check out the new exhibit and learn more about the scouts who gave the park its name. And of course be sure to see other park highlights including its renown rock art.

Can you find the name of the main Seminole Canyon cave shelter that contains some of the oldest Native American pictographs in North America?

Horseback Riding Through State Parks

two riders crossing a creek
Feeling like hitting the trail? Try riding one! Seeing a state park from horseback can give you a whole new perspective on nature, Texas history and the world in general. Many state parks have equestrian-friendly trails and facilities, and some have horse rentals nearby where you can sign up for a trail ride.

One of the best places to channel the Old West is in the rugged unchanging beauty of the Hill Country State Natural Area as you can see in this park video. This getaway on the edge of Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, may be only 45 miles from San Antonio, but among its rolling vistas, civilization seems far away.

Join a special Hill Country State Natural Area Calendar Event: Benefit Trail Ride for Brighter Days Horse Refuge, May 5-6. This unique ride will trail through the scenic Hill Country State Natural Area and neighboring Dude Ranches.

Read about almost 30 parks with day use and overnight equestrian facilities, including detailed information about horseback trails, trail conditions and camping facilities including water and horse-friendly areas.

Five parks have horse rentals available in or near the park:

If you have questions, call your park destination directly.

Find Yourself in an East Texas Forest

Village Creek birds on the bank
Welcome to the heart of the legendary Big Thicket. Within its 1,090 heavily forested acres, Village Creek State Park is a place to move quietly and look closely. Located in Hardin County north of Beaumont, the park’s cypress swamps are rich with plant life and abundant wildlife. Birding enthusiasts will enjoy wood ducks, egrets, and herons, just to name a few from over 200 species of birds native to the Big Thicket.

The Village Creek Paddling Trail is a popular 21-mile flat water stream in what remains as the heart and soul of the Old Texas Big Thicket. Watch a video about the paddling trail. With boat rentals nearby, it offers multiple access sites, including one in the park, to help you create your ideal float time, whether you are looking for an easy one-hour paddle or an all day outdoors experience.
With beautiful white sandy beaches and sandbars, amazing wildlife diversity and tall East Texas trees, this beautiful trail is not to be missed. It’s also a great place to fish for catfish, bass, perch, and panfish.

Take a look at the park map and  make your reservations today. To help plan your visit, check out the Village Creek Facebook page and calendar of park events.

Get Started Camping

camping video
Is camping on your “Bucket List”? There’s no better time to get started than springtime in a Texas State Park. Texas Outdoor Family park ranger Lindsey Davis provides a video review of the types of camping (including air conditioned cabins) available, teaches a quick lesson in making reservations and demonstrates some tips for a successful tenting experience.

Want more mentoring than a video? Remember to check out the Texas Outdoor Family workshop opportunities this spring for family camping skills-building weekends led by TPWD staff and volunteers. Just $65 for the whole family. No experience necessary.

Come Volunteer at a State Park

kids with boater ed volunteer
April is National Volunteer Month, and with our new online volunteer system, it's easy to find opportunities that are close to home, matched to your interests, and aligned with your schedule. 

Popular ways to volunteer in state parks include assisting with Texas Outdoor Family workshops, participating in park cleanup events, helping kids and families at “Go Fish!” Learn-to-Fish events, supporting other ranger-led programs, or even serving as park hosts! 

To many people who like to show and share their passion for the outdoors in Texas, volunteering means a closer connection to nature.  “I work inside in a cubicle, five days a week,” explains Jeanette, of Arlington.  “I come outside on the weekends, or in the middle of the week, if I can.  Volunteering is important to me because that’s what gives me my peace of mind, and I can share it with others.”

It also can be a great activity for the family to do together. Listen to this Passport to Texas radio program about volunteering.

Families, groups, and other friends of natural places are encouraged to sign up to volunteer to help care for their parks and wildlife.  Current volunteers are invited to share their stories, photos, feedback, and outdoor interests on the TPWD Facebook page, TPWD Volunteer Group on Flickr and on Twitter using @tpwdparks .

Thanks for all you do.


Win A Stay in McAllen's Bird's Nest B&B

green jay  
Win a week-long birding stay in McAllen, located in the center of the Rio Grande Valley, the nation's most productive and popular birding destination. You will stay for 5 nights in McAllen's Bird's Nest B&B and have a day's worth of guiding from one of the area's most expert birders. Plus, you'll receive maps, brochures and other info about the area's best birding hot-spots. Register here!