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April 24, 2006
Texas State Parks Damaged by Rita Making a Comeback
AUSTIN, Texas — For the first time since Hurricane Rita ripped through east Texas last September, destroying much in its path and forcing several state parks to shut down, one site is welcoming campers again and another is planning to open soon.
Martin Dies Jr. State Park near Jasper welcomed back hundreds of visitors over the Easter holiday weekend after being closed for repairs, maintenance and cleanup for more than six months. A partial reopening of Village Creek State Park near Lumberton about 60 miles to the south is expected by summer.
The majority of campsites at Martin Dies Jr.’s Hen House Ridge unit, one of three park units on O. A. Steinhagen Reservoir, were occupied over the busy holiday weekend, according to park manager Dan Odom. The swimming beach, too, saw plenty of action.
Odom said 31 water-and-electric campsites, 19 screened shelters, a mini-cabin and 35 water-only campsites in the Hen House Ridge unit are available for overnight camping.
“We did about $6,000 worth of business over the Easter weekend,” he said.
Much of the money for repairs thus far have come from the sale of timber salvaged from the park’s numerous old growth pines and hardwoods felled by the hurricane-force winds and torrential rains. Odom estimates the state park lost about 30 percent of its timber and suffered $500,000 worth of damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to reimburse 75 percent of the cost to repair the park.
Hardest hit was the Walnut Unit just across U. S. Highway 190, where 75 water-and-electric sites remain unusable, 20 screen shelters were smashed and a mini-cabin was crushed by fallen timber. In all, Martin Dies Jr. State Park has 227 campsites. Odom said he hopes to have the Walnut Unit’s group dining hall, boat ramp and fishing pier back in operation by May, though campsites will remain closed until repairs can be made.
For more information, contact Martin Dies Jr. State Park at (409) 384-5231.
At Village Creek State Park, park officials are shooting for a May 1 opening of 19 of its 25 water-and-electric campsites, as well as the children’s playground, cabin, group picnic pavilion, 4 out of 15 picnic sites and 2 of its 8 miles of trails. The Customer Service Center in Austin (512-389-8900) is accepting camping reservations at Village Creek for June 1 and after.
“We were lucky structure-wise,” said park manager Jerry Rashall, “but we lost about 50 percent of our trees. Three tornadoes touched down, one 25 yards from the park residence.”
Rashall said he hopes to have the rest of the picnic area, the walk-in campground and remainder of the trails open before the end of the summer. For the latest information, contact the park at (409) 755-7322.
Farther south along the Gulf Coast, Sea Rim State Park and Sabine Pass State Historic Site, both of which suffered serious damage to their facilities, remain closed until funds for repairs can be identified, said Jerry Hopkins, director of state parks for southeast Texas.
Martin Dies Jr.’s Odom summed it up best for state parks in east Texas: “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
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