by Steve Alexander
Beginning in spring, many visitors to Galveston take the quickest route to the beach, making a right on 61st Street and heading straight to the seawall. From there, they disperse along the seawall’s 10-mile length to find a spot for a day at the beach.
But may I suggest an alternative?
Travel west beyond the seawall to Galveston Island State Park. It’s one of 89 state parks in Texas. Together, these parks now encompass 640,000 acres and welcome 10 million visitors each year.
Galveston Island State Park opened in 1975 after the state purchased 2,000 acres of the Stewart family ranch. This West End acreage is a natural gem, an undeveloped landscape of sandy beaches, swales, coastal prairies, salt marshes and shallow seagrass beds stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to West Bay.
The park experienced a setback in 2008 when Hurricane Ike delivered a beating to its beachfront (see photo). But now, 15 years later, the beachfront is back and welcoming visitors (see photo). In addition to beaches, the day-use area now offers parking, beach walkovers, rinse showers, covered picnic tables and restrooms. The overnight area offers RV and tent camping.
On the bayside, Hurricane Ike’s receding storm surge deposited a massive amount of debris in salt marsh and coastal prairie habitats. But now there’s RV and tent camping, restrooms, a completely revamped Nature Center and newly paved roads. For the adventurous, there are hiking trails, kayak launches, wade fishing, crabbing, great birding and views from observation towers (see photo).
Be sure to visit the sculpture of the Eskimo curlew on the bayside Clapper Rail Trail (see photo). The last known sighting of the now extinct bird was on Galveston’s west end. (see The Lost Bird Project by Todd McGrain).
Like Galveston Island itself, the state park suffered through the devastation of Hurricane Ike but has recovered and is ready to welcome visitors and residents alike.
Steve Alexander teaches wetlands management at Texas A&M University at Galveston and is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council. He is the author of Exploring Galveston: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Island.