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August 2009 cover image Franklin Mountains

Park Pick: Snakes, Knots and Survival

Education and entertainment abound at Tyler State Park.

By Sheryl Smith-Rogers

Facial expressions vary from curiosity to fear whenever interpreter Joe Roach introduces children to Roscoe, a prairie kingsnake that co-stars in a weekly program at Tyler State Park. Then Roach offers the slithery reptile a live mouse, which quickly gets gulped. Ewww!

“I explain that snakes have to eat, too, and if we didn’t have them in our environment, we’d be overrun with rodents,” Roach says. “We use live snakes to teach kids that not all snakes are venomous, which ones to avoid, and what to do if you are bitten.”

Looking for some kid-friendly things to do before school starts? This popular East Texas park caters to families with a variety of weekend programs — don’t miss Snake Feeding Saturdays from 2 to 3 p.m. — that both teach and entertain.

During Knotty-time for Kids, Roach shows youngsters how to tie a bowline knot, square knot and other basic camp knots. While working his rope, he also sneaks in some cultural history. “Knots were originally created to solve problems,” Roach says. “Different cultures had different problems so they developed and shared different knots. Cultures often clashed, but knots ultimately tied them together.”

Kids’ Wilderness Survival, another fun program, teaches children how to make a cool survival guide with hidden messages. “While they’re making the pocket guide, we talk about what to do if they get lost in the woods,” Roach says. “I also tell them how to use a CD as a reflector and what to put in a survival backpack.”

When the program’s done, round up the kids and explore the 985.5-acre haven, nestled among the pines and oaks. Tip: Pack swimsuits and fishing gear. The park’s spring-fed lake is a great place to splash around and hook crappie, perch, catfish and bass. Seasonal rentals of kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and jon boats are also available.

More than 14 miles of hiking, biking and nature trails wind around the lake and through scenic pineywood and hardwood forests. Camping areas offer sites with water only, RV sites with water and electricity or full hookups, and screened shelters. Other facilities include three fishing piers, a dining hall, a covered group picnic area and two open-air group picnic areas.

Knotty-time for Kids, Aug. 8 and 22, 10-11 a.m. Kids’ Wilderness Survival, Aug. 8 and 22, 3-4 p.m. Check the park’s online calendar for more activities. Interpretive programs free; regular park entrance fees apply. Tyler State Park is located 2 miles north of Interstate 20 on FM 14, just north of Tyler on Park Road 16. For more information, call 903-597-5338 or visit (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/tyler).

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