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December 2009 cover image Birdwatching at San Bernard River National Wildlife refuge

Park Pick: Santa’s in the Park

Get into the holiday spirit at Stephen F. Austin State Park.

By Sheryl Smith-Rogers

The first time Rebecca Presley and Joni Baxley met, they posed together as babies on Santa’s lap at Stephen F. Austin State Park. Thirteen years later, the Sealy eighth graders (and best friends) still get their picture taken with Santa in December at the park.

“Lots of local families as well as people from Houston and Katy come every year for our holiday breakfast,” says Anne Presley, assistant park superintendent (and Rebecca’s mom). “It’s gotten to be a big community event.”

Everyone’s welcome, so bring the kids and get in line at the dining hall for pancakes, homemade syrup, sausage, juice and coffee. Then comes the best part: visits with Santa. “The little ones have stars in their eyes and are as sweet as they can be,” says Hollis Wilkinson, a park host who portrays the jolly gent every year.

 More fun’s in store that evening when pickup-drawn hayrides — another annual holiday event — meander through the park.

“We sing carols along the way, then afterward everyone enjoys cookies and hot chocolate,” Presley explains. “Instead of charging a fee, we ask that people give canned goods, which we give to food pantries in Sealy.” 

Year-round, Texas history buffs can tour Stephen F. Austin State Park, located on a wooded bend of the Brazos River. The 480-acre getaway marks part of the original town site of San Felipe de Austin, founded by the park’s namesake who brought the first colonists to Texas in 1824. (Tip: At nearby San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, visitors can tour a replica of Austin’s dogtrot log cabin.)

Hikers and bikers rave about the park’s well-developed system of 14 marked trails that range from easy 30-minute strolls to half-day excursions. Anglers can cast their line in the river, and there’s even an 18-hole public golf course next door.

Camping facilities include RV sites with utilities, tent sites, screened shelters, a group dining hall and recreation hall. Bullinger Creek Lodge, a brand new facility with bunk beds, restrooms, showers and air/heat, comfortably sleeps 26 people.

Breakfast with Santa runs 8 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, December 19. Fee: $4 per person. Christmas caroling hayride, 6 to 8 p.m., also December 19. Fee: one canned good per person.

Directions: From Houston, go west on I-10 to FM 1458 (just before Sealy). Turn right (north) on FM 1458, then left on Park Road 38. For more information, call 979-885-3613 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/stephenfaustin.

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