Back from the ashes: Our family's first visit to a new Bastrop State Park
May 3, 2012 | 7:00 pm
Bastrop State Park has emerged from the ashes: The park is open once again after the raging wildfires of September 2011. The park spans almost 8,000 acres, and during last Fall's fires, nearly 95 percent of that was burned; it's a hard statistic to swallow.
It's been a long road to recovery, and it is far from over. Thanks to the Texas Parks and Wildlife — and countless volunteers — the park is able to welcome faithful visitors and newcomers who are curious to see what the fires wrath left behind.
I feel lucky to have been among the first to visit the area this year, because Bastrop State Park has a tie to my family: We've been sneaking away from Austin (and reality) and heading south to the park's calmer, cooler refuge for years. Our reservation to stay in the cabins again this year had been put on hold until the Texas Parks and Wildlife could ensure it was safe to return.
I feel lucky to have been among the first to visit the area this year, because Bastrop State Park has a tie to my family: We've been sneaking away from Austin (and reality) and heading south to the park's calmer, cooler refuge for years.
We drove in on a late April night, in the cover of darkness, so it was hard to immediately decipher what had changed. The cabin area looked the same, the warm glow coming from the familiar log cabins, standing since the 1930s. It felt good to be back.
By morning, the anticipation was building — we weren't sure what to expect. We wandered outside and a few glances around showed us just how lucky we were to be back.
Evidence of just how close the flames were to the cabins were on almost every tree, just feet from the weathered wooden structures.
Firefighter Dan Alexander, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, was one of those hunkered down around the cabins. We ran into him on our first morning at the park. We listened to his tales, asked a lot of questions and were amazed at what he and his fellow firefighters were able to accomplish.
Back in September, during the first hours of the blaze, firefighters made an all out effort to save the cabins. About 10 firefighters originally began the battle, while others dealt with scattered fires throughout the park. There was no way to stop the flames, but their hope was to keep the sparks out of the tops of the trees surrounding the cabins and keep the fire low.
So many of the green tall pine trees that swayed in the wind had been replaced with dead pines or stumps. But recovery is evident.
After hearing the firefighter's stories, we were ready to take in the rest of the park. Our tradition is to bike what we call the "loop"; Park Road 1A is about four miles in length, a challenging, hill-filled run that takes your breath away on the uphill's for the sheer climb and on the downhill's for the sheer beauty.
We begin our ride and our eyes focused on the devastation. One of our kids compared the scene of the park to the movie The Lion King, when Scar has taken over and the Pride Lands are desolate. So many of the green tall pine trees that swayed in the wind had been replaced with dead pines or stumps.
But recovery is evident. Hundreds of acres have been sprayed with hydromulch in an effort to stop erosion, and planting of more drought resistant pine trees begins in 2013.
The overlook where Park Road 1A and Park Road 1C meet gave us an incredible sense of the fire's path. The scene didn't bring sadness, as I had feared; I felt more happiness the park was saved — it has taken on a strange beauty, one that felt familiar because I was back in a place that has created so many memories for our family. As my husband said, it is our "new Bastrop."
We rode that loop several times throughout the weekend, we grilled hamburgers, we slid down hills covered with dry pine needles but mostly we enjoyed being together back in our little spot.
Our next reservation is already booked.