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Wetlands and woodlands in Weslaco Estero Llano Grande State Park is a gem

 
Wetlands and woodlands in Weslaco Estero Llano Grande State Park is a gem
With its black bandit’s mask and distinctive yellow belly, the boisterous great kiskadee — a variety of flycatcher — enchants visitors to Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Estero Llano Grande State Park, located just outside of Weslaco, Texas, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, includes the largest wetland area within the World Birding Center Network. The diverse habitats are not only wetlands and marshes, but also woodlands, a thorn forest, and even an alligator lake, each attracting different species of wildlife.

Birth of a park

This park was created in 2000 by bringing together several adjacent parcels of land. One section was a part of the Llano Grande Land Grant that Juan José Hinojosa, chief justice of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, applied for in 1776, and finally was granted to his family in 1790 by King Charles IV of Spain.

The Visitors Center sits on what was previously farmland, and an old dried-up lakebed was restored and is now thriving as Alligator Lake. The Lakeview Trailer Park and numerous nature trails, acquired from the city of Weslaco, became the Tropical Area and Green Jay Nature Trail. Some parcels of land were donated and others were purchased.

In 2010, the park acquired the Methodist Camp Thicket, a group retreat facility with prime thorn-scrub habitat, bringing the size of the park to 230 acres.

Get acquainted

Located within the Visitors Center is the park store, named Humedales Alegres (translates to Happy Wetlands), where visitors can find a wide variety of brochures, guides, as well as butterfly, bird, and other wildlife merchandise, and T-shirts, caps, pins, magnets, books, and food items.

Just outside the Visitors Center is a large shaded viewing deck overlooking the Isis Pond, a shallow watershed. From this deck guests can observe a wide variety of birds and waterfowl. In fact, the record of sightings from the deck is 115 bird species in one day.

Be sure to walk through the Butterfly Garden adjacent to the viewing deck. Naturalists or Park Rangers are happy to answer questions and help visitors identify wildlife.

To-do list

Estero Llano offers a wide array of tours, talks, and activities for the entire family: bird, butterfly and dragonfly walks, nature programs, Art in the Park, and photo safaris. For those who cannot or may not want to walk the numerous trails, there is a tour for you -- a two-hour ranger-driven guided tour in a quiet electric tram that transports guests to most areas of the park. The Tram Tour is offered on Sundays at 2 p.m. There is no additional charge for this tour, but reservations are required.

If you are in the area during the full or new moon, consider the Night Hike. All programs and tours are free with your paid admission to the park and there is something for all ages and skill levels.

Geocaching is alive and well at Estero Llano Grande State Park. In fact, you can rent a GPS at the Visitor’s Center for $3 per day. You can also rent binoculars for $3 per day

Won’t you stay?

Unlike most Texas State Parks, Estero Llano does not offer any individual camping facilities. There are, however, two large-group facilities that can accommodate between 58 and 85 people for meetings, seminars, and overnight retreats. The facilities include bunkhouses, kitchen and dining areas, and meeting rooms.

One exception to the individual camping is the weekend of April 11-12, when the park will offer a Texas Outdoor Family Workshop designed to help families discover the joys of camping. It includes a camping space, a six-man tent, and air mattresses, along with workshops on how to pitch a tent, building a fire, camp cooking, and how to leave no trace when you depart the park. Of course, there will be scheduled tours, walks, bird watching and activities for everyone. The price for this weekend event is $65 per family up to six persons. Reservations are required.

There are more than 90 State Parks across Texas. Estero Llano Grande is one not to be missed.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Find out more

•Estero Llano Grande State Park, 3301 S. International Blvd. (FM 1015), Weslaco, TX 78596; 956-565-3919

•www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/estero-llano-grande

•Open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., from November through June; closed on Monday and Tuesday from July through October.

•Admission: Adults $5.00 Children under 12-Free

•For guests who are veterans or over 65, be sure to pick up a Texas Parkland Passport. It is free and will save you 50 percent on entrance fees to all Texas State Parks.

 
 
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