River Rats Pass The Baton

Frank May stands at the Lost Pines Nature Trails, on the banks of the Colorado River, musing about the difference between dreams and realities. Hope, optimism, vision, persistence, struggle . . . they all have contributing parts to play. The shadow of a hawk flits over swiftly, touching the trickling water, touching him. He was always a man who wanted to reach the end of things.  Now, it seems, he finally has.

Riverfront access to the Colorado River has been an important part of life in Bastrop as long as people have lived here. In the affairs of man, the first tragedy unleashed by the demon neglect is abuse of a natural resource without concern for the future.  The acres we now know as the Lost Pines Nature Trails (LPNT) and the Colorado River Refuge (CRR) have struggled to maintain legitimacy as a place for decent folks to be seen. While they have always provided access to the life-affirming magic of the river, they have also been a wooded sanctuary for off-roaders, vagrants, vandals and drug dealers. The tide of history has finally turned.

2004 was the year that then Pines and Prairies Land Trust (PPLT) board member Joan Russell negotiated acquisition of a derelict 60-acre parcel from the Bastrop Water Control and Improvement District (BWCID). While originally searching for a fire wise demonstration area for Tahitian Village residents, the land was destined to become a major part of what we know today as the CRR—a PPLT protected nature preserve, one of five such preserves directly owned by the non-profit land trust. The remaining 24 acres of BWCID property, known as the LPNT, remained under foster parentage—until July 17th of this year.

From 2004 on, our chapter has been the primary caretaker of the CRR, although many other organizations have contributed money and other resources to develop it. Formalized adoption of the CRR as a chapter responsibility really began in 2009 after chapter member Dale Morrison accepted the designation as “Trail Master” of the CRR.  Dale was an experienced outdoorsman and naturalist with a lifetime of primitive trail building from the High Sierras to the magnificent canyons of Nevada and Utah and he quickly became the architect of a great web of hiking trails throughout the CRR and LPNT.  Dale was the inspiration for what would later become the Bridge Maniacs.

During this time, the LPNT was maintained by a non-profit organization called Environmental Stewardship; however, volunteer labor of any significance relied on LPMN. Grants were obtained to establish a wetlands area adjacent to the river and the public use area was built out with picnic areas, an outdoor classroom and other improvements. In those early days, there was no real distinction made by our chapter between the two properties, even though they had different owners and different priorities. Shared property lines and environmental need provided a rich source of volunteer hours and our chapter responded accordingly.

Eventually, entity leadership would change and LPMN’s involvement with CRR/LPNT changed too. The Bridge Maniacs continued to spend time maintaining the CRR—even as other clients were added to the rotation—but the position of PPLT trail steward went unfilled. Environmental Stewardship moved on and, in so doing, also left a void in oversight—no one was responsible for overseeing the environmental health of LPNT. Soon thereafter, chapter member Frank May stepped up to oversee activities at both areas with emphasis on LPNT.

Frank moved the needle significantly at LPNT. He formed the River Rats, a group of chapter stalwarts and committed community volunteers who meet weekly to take care of the LPNT. Trash removal, clean-up, mowing and light trail maintenance are among their regular chores. The Bridge Maniacs are called on periodically for environmental projects and major trail work.  Frank was instrumental in bringing in neighborhood help from nearby Tahitian Village and support from local law enforcement, establishing rules of use and posting signage.  He also organized entry gate opening and closing teams from a roster of willing volunteers.  Unlike the adjoining CRR, which is a nature preserve, the LPNT began looking more and more like a public park with each passing month.

Frank realized that if the LPNT was ever to break the past cycle of neglect it needed a responsible owner—an organization that could care for the property on a full-time basis. A number of possibilities were considered. Frank brought the issue to chapter leadership, who secured legal assistance and discussed the pros and cons with state leadership. The decision was made to attempt to persuade Bastrop County to become that organization, with ongoing support from LPMN. Frank devoted all his energy to that end.

But it was neither easy nor quick. There were conditions to be met, money to be raised, agreements to be worked out and time for the wheels of the political process to grind out consensus. Working with county government, BWCID and Tahitian Village Homeowners Association members, over the course of two years LPNT was made into a clean and attractive public recreation area. Frank attended Bastrop County Commissioners’ meetings and stayed close to the public debate.  On July 17th, 2017, the Commissioners’ Court voted to take responsibility for the LPNT as its third county park.

The new park provides 3/4 miles of riverfront access to Bastrop County citizens, an entry and take-out point on the El Camino Real Paddling Trail, a public pavilion and picnic area, riverside beachfront and connecting trails to the larger CRR property. “It is a good investment for us,” County Judge Paul Pape says. “That river is one of our greatest resources. I wanted to be sure that this access point was available and developed to its potential so that people can continue to use the river.” Bastrop County General Services Director Shawn Harris will be responsible for coordinating the county’s oversight of the park and Bastrop County General Services Maintenance Lead Travis Ely will oversee execution of county maintenance.  Among the responsibilities of the county are mowing the picnic area, keeping the riverfront beach clean, emptying trash cans twice weekly, and maintaining the 1.8 miles of trails.

 

Our chapter has committed to continuing support of the LPNT, much as it has done for the past decade. The role of the River Rats going forward will likely include: removal of invasives, re-introduction of native plants, flood response assistance and litter control along unpaved areas of the park.  There has been some discussion concerning creation of a park advisory board which would include stakeholders from the community, like Keep Bastrop County Beautiful, Tahitian Village residents, local businesses, law enforcement and, of course, Lost Pines Master Naturalists.  What the future holds for this newest county park is unknown.  What we do know is that there is now a government mandate to keep the park clean, attractive, safe and accessible to the public—a huge step forward from what existed previously.

Frank May

 

This is an example of what the power of service, perseverance, education and outreach can achieve. While Frank May provided the inspiration and motivation to bring the project to fruition . . . many players over many years collectively made it possible. To all of you, past and present—a heartfelt “thank you” and a hearty congratulations!

3 Responses to River Rats Pass The Baton

  1. Steve Box says:

    Environmental Stewardship is pleased to see the park under the stewardship of Bastrop County. The history of our involvement in developing the park can be found on our website at http://environmental-stewardship.org/2012/04/21/lost-pines-nature-trails-and-river-access-tahitian-village/. Master Trail Steward Dale Morrison was an inspiration to all and his expertise was critical in laying out the trails so that they are durable and walkable … even in wet weather.

    Working with BCWCID#2 we obtained TPWD and LCRA grants to build out the park as a river access point. Working with TPWD we were able to get the river segments associated with the park and Bastrop officially recognized as The El Camino Real Paddling Trail (Fisherman’s Park to LPNT) and the Wilbarger Paddling Trail (969 bridge to Fisherman’s park).

    We are please to see the community step up and claim this wonderful and unique natural area as an important natural feature of the area that can serve the people and the environment for decades to come.

  2. Dorothy Skarnulis says:

    Larry,a beautifully written article and a wonderful tribute to Frank May.

  3. Kim Iberg says:

    Thanks for getting this historically signifigant story into the record, Larry. LPMN, you and Frank Rock!!

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