Nature prevails in preserve
Human impact on the Charlie's Pasture Nature Preserve got scaled back somewhat by the Port Aransas Parks and Recreation Board on Monday, April 7, when the board approved reducing the trail footage in the first phase of the preserve and saw a proposed building changed from a multiuse center to a shelter.
The workshop, with consultant Brent Luck, of Land Design Planners in Austin, drew opponents of suggestions that the preserve might include structures suitable for public gatherings or weddings and that it should have crushed granite-paved trails.
However, Luck redrew the plans after a morning hike through the preserve with members of the board.
He said the plans the board saw on Monday were about 30 percent complete. Planners are still working on the first phase, he said, although the company is "moving ahead on construction documents" and he expects to be ready to send out bids in three to four months.
Specifically under discussion Monday were what are called nodes 8 and 10 of the preserve. Land Design Planners has laid out the acreage with several nodes, or activity centers, connected by trails. Node 8 would be the major activity center, near the preserve's entrance; node 10 is on Salt Island, an interior area of the preserve.
Luck said planners expect three levels of use for the preserve. He identified the first level and simply visiting the entrance; the second level as taking a walk along some of the boardwalks or trails for a view of the environment; and the third level as becoming more involved with the preserve itself.
"After a year or so of use, you're going to have feedback on what your users want," he said.
Part of the reduction in trail length dealt with views; one part was moved to give a better view of the environ- ment. Another part considered visitor comfort: "A quarter of a mile across those flats with their reflected heat wouldn't be very comfortable," Luck said.
He said planning standards call for some kind of rest area every quartermile of trail, giving visitors a chance to decide whether to stop there for views, to continue on or to return to the starting point.
Board member John Fucik called the workshop a good summary. He said he liked the idea of elevating trails on boardwalks so visitors could see "without actually tromping through there."
But board member Lyndon Holcomb wanted to be sure. He aside what trails would be made of as they crossed the flats.
"Boardwalk, except actually on (Salt) Island," Luck said. The boardwalks will be elevated, getting them away from the surface of the preserve.
"The people who wanted me on this board wanted it more primitive than crushed granite (trails) and boardwalks," Holcomb said.
Luck said visitors are already excited about Port Aransas' reputation for birding. "I think they'll be disappointed with a primitive experience," he said.
"From the first day (former City Manager) Tom Brooks walked in, we talked about having trails," board Chairman Charlie Zahn said.
Luck said trails such as boardwalks wouldn't have that much impact on the preserve, which totals more than 1,000 acres north of Mustang Beach Airport and between State Hwy. 361 and the
He also touted boardwalks as a means of controlling access to environmentally sensitive areas of the preserve.
"It takes some effort to get off the boardwalk and into the (nature) center," he said.
Board member Scott Holt said even if trails are laid, visitors would have to be told to stay on the trail - or allowed to go wherever they want.
"If you only have markers, it will just get tromped down and muckier and muckier," Holt said. "I think we have to make a choice (between) doing marked trails or saying, 'stay out'."
Board member Don Anz compared the preserve to a restaurant: "You can serve steak, but you have to have something to get (people) there. In our case, I think that's a boardwalk."
Chopping some of the trails by an estimated 1,300 feet would save about $90,000, Luck figured.
The board also approved moving a proposed roadway that would parallel the ship channel bulkhead away from the bulkhead, giving anglers more room to park vehicles and fish at the shoreline.
Luck said planners would spend more time in Port Aransas in the near future as plans for the first phase draw closer to completion.