September 2006 Park of
San Angelo State Park
Ranchlike San Angelo State Park teeming with wildlife
San Angelo State Park holds tight to the reins of West Texas' frontier ranching heritage to provide today's urbanites with a special place to get in touch with their rural roots.
The park's wide open spaces teem with wildlife and its pastures echo with the sounds of bawling longhorn cattle and a rambunctious bison herd. The cattle are part of the official Texas State Longhorn Herd dispersed among only a few Texas State Parks.
Occasional group tours to see the two herds is just one way to enjoy Concho Country, which derives its name from the Spanish word for "shell." Plentiful freshwater mussels found in the area's rivers and streams produce beautiful, purplish pearls coveted by collectors.
Bill Guffey, the park's lead ranger, says children and adults alike delight at seeing the majestic longhorn and bison herds. Many, he notes, have never been on a ranch or been around large animals before. Guided tours in a high-paneled trailer allow visitors to get up close without endangering themselves or the animals. Sure to make an appearance is the park's one-eyed park mascot, Little Chief, a shaggy, 19-year-old bison.
"It’s kind of neat if you’re from the city and you can come to this park that is more like a ranch," Guffey said. "When we call the herds up close to the tour trailer, the kids go nuts. The animals, which are right across the fence, are so close you can smell them, which opens up a whole new topic for discussion."
Park staff are working to acquire federal funding that would allow them to thin out some of the mesquite and other brush, allowing the beasts to be pastured closer to the entrance where they could be more readily observed.
Other wildlife is readily spotted in both units of San Angelo State Park, which sits at the junction of four ecological zones: the High Plains, the Texas Hill Country, the Rolling Plains and Trans-Pecos. The state park, located on the edge of the Tom Green county seat of almost 100,000 people, encompasses almost 8,000 acres of diverse habitat, including thick upland mesquite chaparral, lush Concho River pecan bottomlands, open shoreline and shortgrass lake bottom.
During a recent visit, I was greeted at the park entrance by five jackrabbits that loped away nonchalantly. Later that morning, I crossed paths with half a dozen white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbits, and a small flock of wild turkey, ducks, blue heron and several skittish prairie dogs. In all, the park's natural diversity supports some 350 bird species and 50 species of mammals. Two new bird blinds are in the planning stages to supplement the one South Shore bird blind house that draws a variety of bird species, including colorful, migrating neo-tropical species.
San Angelo State Park was created primarily to serve as a recreational oasis for West Texans. In the last decade, it has lived up to its purpose exceedingly well, offering everything from orienteering (finding one's way with a map and compass) and geocacheing (using a Global Positioning System to locate hidden objects) to camping and horseback riding.
Equestrians, hikers, bikers and others share some 60 miles of multiuse trails that snake through the park. The North Concho River trail leads backpackers to the River Bend Camping Area, located atop a well-vegetated, scenic river overlook. It is here, too, in the park's North Shore unit of that are found the equestrian campground (closed to overnight camping from Nov. 1 to March 1), Bald Eagle Camping Area and restroom with showers.
The South Shore unit offers a variety of overnight options, including six air-conditioned and heated mini-cabins that can accommodate six persons each. Tent sites, as well as trailer and RV sites, are found in the Red Arroyo and Lakeview camping areas. Park visitors also can access a children's playground and day use area here. There are two boat ramps located on the South Shore, though the lake has been suffering from years of drought and currently stands at only seven percent of capacity. Nonetheless, park Superintendent Kurt Kemp says anglers have had pretty good luck catching catfish, and a few bass and crappie stocked by Texas Parks & Wildlife two years ago.
San Angelo State Park enjoys a stellar reputation among the state’s mountain biking community. More than 60 miles of trails cross rocky stream beds, wind up and down hills and skirt cliff faces, offering challenges for cyclists of all skills. The park hosts a number of mountain biking and road cycling competitions each year, and is home to the Sidewinder Challenge Triathlon.
On most Saturdays during the busy seasons and upon request from groups of 10 or more, park rangers conduct interpretive tours to ancient Permian Era track beds, Indian petroglyph sites and Macy’s Gravesite, a burial plot marking the resting place of an early 19th century pioneer killed by Indians.
The park also is used for a variety of community events, including a celebration of the American cowboy, star parties and even a dog race. Some 40 wiener dogs, or dachshunds, participated in last year's inaugural race, which will be held this year on Nov. 3.
San Angelo State Park has a South Shore and North Shore unit open to visitors. To reach the South Shore entrance from San Angelo, take U.S. Highway 67 south to FM 2288 approximately two miles. To reach the North Shore entrance, take U.S. Highway 87 north to FM 2288 south to the entrance. San Angelo State Park is one of 115 state parks that make up the Texas State Park system. For more information visit the San Angelo State Park web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle