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October 2009 cover image lesser prairie-chicken

Park Pick: Parker Paddle

New Trail opens at Fort Parker State Park.

By Sheryl Smith-Rogers

High limestone ridges and thick hardwood forests shade a still stretch of the Navasota River, just before it empties into the lake at Fort Parker State Park. Last May, the 5.3-mile corridor opened to the public as one of 18 designated state paddling trails.

“The water’s fairly deep, and the scenery’s beautiful,” says park manager Tom Fisher, who sometimes floats the Limestone Bluffs Paddling Trail with his family. “Birdwatching’s great, too. You can often see belted kingfishers, great blue herons, wood ducks and egrets.”

Paddlers who make a morning voyage will have plenty of time to explore the 758-acre park, named for the nearby stockade fort where Comanches abducted Cynthia Ann Parker in 1836. More history lies within the park, where the town of Springfield — Limestone County’s first county seat — once stood.

Trips start at the nearby Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site (operated by the Texas Historical Commission) and end at the state park. “It usually takes us less than two hours to paddle the trail,” Fisher says. “Average float times run three to four hours.”

But it’s the fun of meeting friends and family in the outdoors that seems to draw most visitors to Fort Parker State Park, a convenient place to meet coming from Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin.

“Because the park’s small and quiet, families love to come here,” Fisher says. “Our facilities and the dam across the river were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, which adds to the park’s charm. The recreation hall, which seats up to 50, is rented most weekends because we have so many reunions. Our group barracks, which accommodate 96 people, host descendants of the Parker family every July.”

The lake’s also great for canoeing, swimming and fishing. “Anglers catch white bass, largemouth bass and crappie,” Fisher says.

Hiking and mountain biking are popular on the park’s two trails, a 1.5-mile loop and a 2.5-mile one-way trek.

Sharp eyes may spot some of the park’s native wildlife, such as beaver, white-tailed deer and raccoons. Near the campgrounds, a pair of bald eagles tends a nest high in some towering oak trees.

The park offers canoe rentals for $25 per day, and a shuttle service from park to reunion grounds (canoes only) is $5 per canoe. Fort Parker State Park is located 7 miles south of Mexia on Texas 14. Call (254) 562-5751 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fortparker.

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