City to study preserve rules
The city's parks and recreation advisory board and the city council will consider a set of rules that prohibit several activities that have traditionally occurred in the 1,800-acre area that includes wetlands and other natural habitat that lies on the west side of the island.
Campfires, dumping trash, hunting, off-road driving, motocross, dogs running at large, setting off fireworks and late night tailgate drinking parties could soon be prohibited if the city council approves a new ordinance regarding the preserve.
The board will consider recommending the rules at its meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, at city hall, 710 W. Avenue A. The city council's next meeting will be at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, where it will consider the first of three readings of the ordinance.
"The new rules are necessary for two reasons," said Charlie Zahn, chairman of the parks and recreation advisory board.
"We're developing a major attraction for the City of Port Aransas, and we've got to ensure the safety and public interest of those who use that facility," Zahn said.
"Certain rules are a requirement of the city's lease agreement with the General Land Office. The GLO does not allow hunting in there, and discharging a firearm is against the law," he said.
Zahn said another important rule that will be a major change in how the property has traditionally been used is a prohibition against vehicular traffic. The GLO lease also requires that traffic in the 1,000- acre area it leases to the city be restricted.
"We're going to put up bollards and cables to prevent traffic and only allow hike and bike trails," Zahn said.
Zahn also said the parks board has worked on developing the new rules for Charlie's Pasture for the past six years.
Recent police blotter reports demonstrate the necessity for controlling access and activities in Charlie's Pasture.
A woman was arrested Saturday, Oct. 25, after her vehicle ran over another woman when a nocturnal drinking episode in the area went sour, and police were called to the scene.
A man was confronted by Texas Parks & Wildlife game wardens on Wednesday, Nov. 5, after he allegedly discharged a shotgun and killed a pintail duck in violation of the hunting prohibition in the area.
Birding enthusiast Lyndon Holcomb said he was with several people on the boardwalk at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center when shots were fired that day.
"Somebody on the birding tower could have been sprinkled by shotgun pellets. If you're anywhere out there you can't go hunting," Holcomb, who also serves on the parks and recreation department's advisory board, said.
"People are used to riding dirt bikes and tearing it up for years," Holcomb said regarding the island's "long-abused" natural area.
He also said a final cleanup of all of the junk and other trash in the pasture is in the planning stage. Previous efforts have removed junk cars and other discarded items after the area served as an unofficial dumping ground for decades.
Another example of the necessity of new rules is an incident where the Port Aransas Volunteer Fire Department had to extinguish a brush fire in the early morning hours on Saturday, Nov. 8.
A group of campers apparently used a creosote log for a campfire, and it spread into the vegetation about a quarter mile from where Port Street intersects the ship channel bulkhead.
The city's parks and recreation department's gently worded general rule regarding the nature preserve is to "take only pictures, leave only footprints."
Federal, state and city regulations, including setting off fireworks and other explosives, will henceforth be enforced.
According to a parks department brochure, the unlicensed possession of a firearm or discharge of a firearm is prohibited.
Glass containers are not allowed in Charlie's Pasture.
Alcohol is not allowed in the nature preserve.
Fishing and bait catching are allowed only in areas along the bulkhead or in Piper Channel, and hunting or trapping is prohibited - sound equipment or taped calls to attract wildlife are not allowed.
Fires, gathering firewood and smoking are not permitted in the preserve, and wildlife is protected from injury or harm.
The city council in September approved issuing $2 million in certificates of obligation to fund improvements in the Charlie's Pasture Nature Preserve. The city also was recently approved for a $315,000 habitat conservation grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
New features include the bollards and cables to prevent vehicular access to the preserve (from Piper Channel to a point near Port Street), new hiking and biking trails, a pavilion near the terminus of the concrete bulkhead alongside the ship channel and an observation tower on Salt Island.
City Planner David Parsons said the no hunting and other rules have been on the books, but the city currently is putting the conditions of the city's lease with GLO into practice.
"We agree. We're not letting vehicles out there," Parsons said.
Parsons said the overall plan is for a total build-out of nature parks, observation towers and other features that will transform Charlie's Pasture into a crown jewel for birding and world-class ecotourism on Mustang Island.
The total cost for transforming the former dumping ground and outdoor pastime site will be about $4.5 million, to be paid for through bonds and various grants.
"We will award the bid for phase one construction in December, and we want to break ground the first week of January," Parsons said.
The construction of phase one will take about eight to 10 months because of the sensitivity of the wetlands, which will require small footprints of construction equipment used for the project.
City Manager Michael Kovacs said the comprehensive plan for converting Charlie's Pasture into a system of hike and bike trails and birding facilities will be "great for winter and year round tourism.
"This will be good for our own public health," he said.