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Legendary Garner State Park Dancing to the Beat of Restoration
CONCAN — Whether they go to float the cool Frio waters, hike the rugged terrain, watch the abundant wildlife or dance the night away at the iconic riverside pavilion, generations of Texans have endowed Garner State Park with an iconic status as the perfect getaway.
"Historically we have had the most overnight visitation in the Texas State Park system," says Assistant Park Superintendent David Allen. "It’s one of the most beautiful locations in Texas. We are a bit of a long drive, but that’s one of the things people like about us."
Texas Parks and Wildlife is now at work ensuring that favored status extends to future generations with projects that include restoring and renovating Garner’s historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) cabins, built in 1938-39, and repairing all the park’s screen shelters.
Thanks to bond funding authorized by the Texas Legislature and approved by statewide voters, TPWD has started on four of the park’s 17 cabins, with the rest to follow until all are done. Work is already completed on 15 of the park’s 47 screen shelters. After the summer season, work will resume on the screen shelters and begin on the replacement of a Rock Beach comfort station.
In all, about $4 million in improvements are planned for Garner, adding another checkmark to a long list of major Texas State Parks rejuvenation projects underway this year, all aimed at keeping the parks fun, safe and customer friendly. Texas State Parks general obligation bonds have been sold to fund more than $44 million in repairs and renovations to park cabins, bathrooms, electrical and water systems, and other state park infrastructure. Along with fixing up more than 40 state parks, the bonds provide an additional $25 million to dry berth the Battleship Texas.
For decades, countless Texas young people have formed fond Garner memories out of hot days floating in tubes on the Frio River, nervous evenings flirting with a new summer sweetheart at the jukebox dance, and wonderfully quiet nights sleeping with their families in a rustic Garner cabin or a screen shelter.
"The cabins are booked solid," says Park Superintendent Rick Meyers. "The CCC cabins have fireplaces. They rent up from right after Thanksgiving to the end of February."
Of the 17 cabins, 13 are original CCC-built structures of native Texas rock and local hardwoods. Crews have already started on the four non-CCC cabins. Region 3 program manager Jeff Johnson says all the cabins are to be completed by mid-summer, 2011.
The four non-CCC cabins, built much later, were in bad condition, Meyers says. "Rotten wood, thousands of bats in the attic, a bad odor, a lot of rock squirrel damage, slabs cracked, pipes stopped up, electrical systems that still had old cloth wrappings around them. We haven’t gotten into the CCC buildings yet, so we don’t know what we’re faced with."
The CCC cabins are being renovated with great respect for their history. "We’re saving or reusing as much of the architectural fabric as possible, and seeing that new materials are appropriate to the era," Johnson says. "A lot of renovation happened between the 1930s and now. We are trying to remove those mistakes and take the cabins back to a state respectful of their 1930s condition."
In a concurrent but separately-funded project, the cabin contents also are getting a major makeover. "They have found historical photos from inside the cabins," Johnson says. "The TPWD wood shop is currently building completely new period furnishings and interior treatments to go in those cabins as soon as we are done. They’re going to be magnificent."
When done, two of the cabins will be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. The screen shelters are simple rectangles with wood and screen sides and a picnic table inside. They can be significantly altered, so 11 will be reworked to ADA standards. The cabins and five of the shelters are located in the park’s original section, known as Old Garner, near the Oakmont Camp Loop. The rest of the shelters are in the River Crossing camp area along the Frio River.
Work on the new comfort station (TPWD’s name for a restroom without showers) also is to begin after the summer season. It will be located in the popular Rock Beach area of Old Garner. The all new structure will replace a station that was beyond repair. It will have much-needed changing rooms and, since it is located in a flood plain, it will be built on concrete piers.
Another project, the repair and upgrading of electrical and water systems in Live Oak Campground, has already been completed.
As the park website points out, Garner is a place of "deep canyons, crystal-clear streams, high mesas, and carved limestone cliffs". Since the park is consistently busy, it is fortunate also to be large. A Feb. 24 acquisition of 177 acres (including Old Baldy, a bluff most visitors assumed was already part of Garner), increased the park to almost 1,600 acres of gorgeous Edwards Escarpment land.
"We probably use 700-800 acres for just our camping area, so people are not stacked up on top of each other," says Allen. "We’ve got excellent hiking trails that can get you back and away from everything. You don’t have airplanes flying over every day. You don’t see a lot of people on the roads. We just don’t have the hustle and bustle of a lot of places."
While the Frio is the major summer attraction, drawing vacationing families and college students, spring and fall brings a different crowd for hiking, biking, birding and wildlife watching.
Garner is located 8 miles north of Concan and 90 miles west of San Antonio.
For more information on the park, call 830/232-6132. Or visit the Garner State Park website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/garner
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