Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Rising from the Ashes

Bastrop State Park celebrates its 75th anniversary and wildfire recovery.

By Louie Bond

If it’s true that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” then Bastrop State Park should be as powerful as Hercules these days. One year after devastating wildfires swept through the majestic Lost Pines and threatened the lifeblood of the area, hope springs up like the bold pine seedlings that have begun to thrust their tufty green heads toward the sun.

That Labor Day weekend inferno will long be remembered for the 1,600 homes lost in the Bastrop area and for the scorched park, but also for the heroic measures and generous offerings from near and far. Park employees performed remarkable feats as they fought to save the iconic Civilian Conservation Corps cabins and other structures. Sadly, for some, the insatiable flames demolished their own homes nearby.

“They’re a very tough bunch,” says Bastrop State Park Manager Roger Dolle. “I’m so proud of all of them and the way they mustered through. It’s a big punch to the stomach to lose everything you have. To meet them, you’d never know what they’ve been through.”

Bastrop State Park after the wildfires.

In fact, park employees have done much more than muster through. With the help of volunteers from every walk of life, they turned the park back around for an April reopening. They even tempted fate by opening the park on Friday the 13th. At that point, it would take more than superstition to faze Bastrop folks.

April was an important target date, as it marked the 75th anniversary of Bastrop State Park. The architect of Bastrop State Park, Arthur Fehr, followed National Park Service design principles that suggested harmony with the surrounding landscape of rolling hills and pine forests and use of native materials for construction. The CCC-built stone cabins at Bastrop appear to grow out of the ground like a natural outcrop. Two other Depression-era groups, the National Youth Administration and the Works Progress Administration, contributed to the park’s many features and structures.

American YouthWorks, a modern program patterned after these programs, has sent teams of young people out to help put Bastrop back to rights. Under the supervision of natural resource specialists, young people have been building bridges over creeks (dry in 2011, but now flowing) and clearing trails.

“What’s amazing is how fast they work,” Dolle says. “They really bust their tails. We ask them to do something and then it’s done. We pull them in 10 different directions every day.”

The park provided lodging to the youth in the form of FEMA trailers. AYW provided equipment and supplies for the job, coming with its own budget and tools like hammers and chainsaws.

“These kids have been outstanding, beyond our expectations,” Dolle says. “The younger generation gets a bad rap, but these kids are out there learning life skills and dedicating their time to help the environment.”

Repairing cabin roof 

Replacing cabin roof.

On Labor Day weekend this year, the park will be the scene of a happier gathering. As the 75th anniversary celebration continues, the ironically named Burning Pine 5K-10K will be held, a cooperative effort between the local YMCA and the Friends of the Lost Pines. There will be live music and barbecue at the rodeo grounds across the street from the park. Interpretive stations and CCC exhibits will help tell the story of the fire to visitors.

The festivities offer a way for TPWD employees and their community in Bastrop to celebrate their literal rise from the ashes in one year.

“People are coming back. Things are starting to green up,” Dolle says. “Everyone’s thrilled to enjoy the park again. Every employee who lost a home has one now. That’s a good feeling.”

It’s a feeling that is shared by many across the state as visitors flock back to the Lost Pines, the lake and the iconic paths and structures that give Bastrop a place in Texans’ hearts.
“TPWD employees always shine the brightest during our darkest hours,” says TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. “Their indomitable spirit and deep resolve to restore the state park in the fire’s aftermath have been the stuff of legends. Rarely have I been so proud of a group of colleagues in my entire career.”

For reservations and more information, call 512-389-8900 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/bastrop.

Related stories

Bastrop wildfire photos (and other weather photos in 2011)

At Issue December 2011: Includes comments about Bastrop wildfires


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