Our chapter leads interpretative hikes each spring and fall in all three state parks in Bastrop and Caldwell counties: Buescher State Park, Bastrop State Park and Lockhart State Park. These hikes are offered for the benefit of park patrons and supplement the regularly scheduled interpretative programs at each location. In the springtime, these guided hikes run from early March through early June. In the fall, they start in early October and run through mid-December. All hikes start at 10 a.m. and they are a wonderful way to get introduced to the unique landscapes of each of our parks. Each location has its own meeting place, so the best advice is to inquire at the respective headquarters building for directions.
Buescher State Park
Significantly enhanced in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the 1,017 acre park originally started as the Smithville City Park. One of the least known attractions of the park is Park Road 1C, a 12-mile stretch of narrow but beautiful road that connects to Bastrop State Park and is sure to delight every lover of nature. Buescher State Park has a self-contained 15-acre lake that is stocked with largemouth bass, sunfish and catfish. You can fish for rainbow trout in the winter months. Kayak and canoe rentals are available for a nominal fee. There is an extended system of trails at Buescher, both new and old, that wind through miles of loblolly pines, post and black jack oaks and eastern red cedars. The trail system is open to mountain biking. Wildlife native to the park includes many insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals: white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums, bobcats and armadillos. Cottontail rabbits, squirrels and small rodents also abound. Buescher is also prime habitat for the endangered Houston toad. While still considered part of the Lost Pines area, Buescher State Park is located within the greater ecosystem known as the Post Oak Savannah. Buescher was spared from the wildfires of 2011, leaving it the only Lost Pines state park still in unspoiled condition.
Bastrop State Park
6,600 acres make Bastrop State Park the largest of the three. The Bastrop County Complex Fires of 2011 decimated the park. This wildfire was the most severe kind, not typically seen but every 500-1,000 years! Over 1.5 million loblolly pines were killed in that fire, with 96 percent of the park affected. Fortunately, most of the Civilian Conservation Corps structures, which gained the park national historic landmark status in 1997, were saved. The park was the heart of the Lost Pines ecotone and one of the last major refuges of the endangered Houston toad. A vigorous reforestation program has been underway since virtually months after the fire. Two million loblolly pine seedlings are set to be planted over time, native grasses and erosion control measures have been reintroduced, and a regimen of planned periodic prescribed burns has been instituted to reduce and manage heavy fuel loads in the park to lower the likelihood of another such destructive fire. Today, the park remains a popular destination for campers, hikers and tourists because the trail system is intact and extensive. Wildlife native to the park is slowly returning to what it was before the fire. Bastrop State Park is somewhat on display as a test of man’s ability to manage successional issues to ensure that a pine forest, once again, becomes the climax condition—to prevent the fabled Lost Pines from becoming truly lost.
Lockhart State Park
This park, although the smallest of the three at around 264 acres, is one of the best kept secrets in the state park system. Lush and green, it sports a variety of wildlife, birds and plant species. It is located within the Blackland Prairie ecoregion and is just a few short miles from the historic Chisolm Trail that once was one of the busiest cattle transport corridors in Texas. The Battle of Plum Creek, a collision of 600 Comanche and Kiowa warriors with early settlers, led in part by Ed Burleson and Mathew Caldwell, came to a bloody conclusion just outside the park’s front gate. Although built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, the park was originally used as a country club and did not open to the public until 1948. You can still find remnants of the foundations of old CCC barracks buildings across the road from the entrance gate. The 9-hole golf course and swimming pool are big draws through the warm months and the park has a running creek, miles of well-maintained trails and attractive camping sites. Crowds are comparatively small here, making Lockhart State Park a beautiful, quiet weekend refuge with plenty of ranger and master naturalist led activities to hold everyone’s interest.
Other Interpretative Hiking Opportunities
A new program of interpretative hikes has been reestablished at McKinney Roughs Nature Park, an LCRA showplace park west of Bastrop on State Highway 71. Schedules will change as the program matures. Additionally, wildflower hikes have recently been reintroduced at Bastrop State Park. These hikes run two hours, cover terrain ordinarily off-limits to the public, and are theme specific (wildflowers), therefore, are typically only done in the spring months.