During a meeting of the board of directors of The Friends of Galveston Island State Park in October, Rick Becker proposed a Beach and Bay Come Out and Play Day at the park.

He envisioned as many as 500 people turning out to be introduced to what was available for them there, and he had a rough outline of what activities might be organized.

I’ll admit that I was a silent skeptic.

After all, The Friends of Galveston Island State Park had some special events in the past and only a maximum of maybe 40 or 50 of the “usual suspects” showed up, and the iffiness of the weather on a March 29 date might be discouraging.

Nonetheless, I voted “aye” along with the rest of the board. Rick and his committee plunged ahead with their planning and promotional projects, including almost a half page spread in The Daily News complete with several large photos of representative habitats in the park.

My skepticism seemed justified when the morning of March 29 dawned with cold overcast skies that threatened rain and high wind. However, despite the dreary morning, at 10 a.m., cars started to trickle into the day-use parking lot by the beach entry, and in the first hour, 150 people had registered.

It was then I started mentally to prepare my “crow” lunch. The weather cleared by noon, the sun came out, and the temperature rose into the 70s.

At the end of the day, at least 450 had registered, but there were many more who didn’t bother to register, and I had completely digested the crow I had eaten.

My grudging admiration for the committee’s organizational and logistical accomplishment grew as I rode the shuttle buses that transported people between the five activity sites.

Site No. 1 was the beach right across the road from the day-use parking lot. Guides explained the life in the freshwater swale surrounding the entry to the beach and in the dunes through which they entered the beach.

The beach Site No. 1 station displayed live critters seined from the surf, and a second simulated the obstacle course mama turtles run as they waddle through the vegetation high on to the sand to dig a nest for her eggs.

Kids imitated a turtle as they crawled and pushed their way up the beach to the nest area. There was even a miniature Turtle Excluding Device through which turtle kids crawled to escape the shrimper’s net.

Site No. 2 was the Nature Center. Inside nature displays were explained; an indoor bee hive under glass allowed watching the bees at work building the hive; a large sand table permitted touching seashells, sea beans and other items scavenged from the beach; and a large LED TV continuously showed the way Hurricane Ike destroyed almost everything and how The Friends of Galveston Island State Park and The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recovered and reopened the park.

Outside, everyone learned about the lives of crabs, and the kids drew their own versions of crabs.

Site No. 3 was at the old amphitheater tidal pond picnic area where kids learned rod and reel lore and directional casting after plastic fish. Families got to paddle our tandem kayaks around the pond under the eye of skilled attendants.

Site No. 4 was at the end of the peninsula between Dana Cove to the west and Como Lake to the east. Displayed there were the fiddler crab boring mounds in the broad mud flats, salt grass at the mud flat edges, cordgrass marsh lining the shorelines and tiny marine creatures collected in the long seining net.

Site No. 5 began in the parking lot at the entry to Clapper Rail Trail. A group of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts greeted us with a display and discourse on “leave no trace camping.”

Then, a park ranger led us on the trail toward the tall observation tower. He was in the middle of talking about the plants and animals found in this typical coastal prairie when he stopped and told us to move away from the edge of the trail.

We heard the buzzing of a diamondback rattlesnake that we saw curled up in the grass, enjoying the heat of the sun about 2 feet from the trail. I was thankful for the zoom lens that got me a close-up without being close.

Although the viewing from the tower of an Osprey resting on a post after a good fish lunch and continuing along the trail across the bayou footbridges was exciting, anything would be anticlimactic after experiencing a rattler so near but far enough away.

If you missed this great day at the park, I urge you to come on out and experience it on your own or join a beach walk at 10 a.m. Saturdays, a bay walk at 10 a.m. Sundays or join me on a kayak tour any day at a time determined by the high tide.

Guest column

Frank Bowser is a member of The Friends of Galveston Island State Park.

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