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Isla Blanca boat ramp is now open

he Isla Blanca Park amphitheater isn’t finished, but the popular boat ramp with extra parking adjacent to the construction site is open and ready for holiday launches.

The boat ramp parking area was brought in a week ahead of initial projections and is part of the $6.5 million overhaul of Isla Blanca that adds the amphitheater and a multi-purpose building.

“We did an overlay on the boat ramp parking area and also on the areas where we have RV sites, the nine partial-hookup RV sites,” Joe E. Vega, county parks director, said yesterday. “We re-striped everything and we maximized the parking area for whenever we have events.

“We have 28 spaces for trucks with boat trailers,” he added. “For single vehicles, at the boat ramp area, there are going to be 22 single vehicles spaces and that’s an increase in that area.”

Isla Blanca Park, with its mile-long beach, fishing jetty, pavilions and more than 600 RV sites, attracts more than a million visitors a year. Construction is continuing in the area and Vega urges those using the boat ramp and parking lot to exercise caution.

“People are not allowed to go inside the fencing area, it’s fenced and it’s secured,” Vega said. “We just ask people to be very careful and to take safety precautions when they’re going into the area where the construction is continuing.”

Vega said the additional nine RV spots will be partial hookups and will be ready by June and July.

The 4,000-seat amphitheater and multi-purpose building will be located just to the east of the current boat launching site, with the amphitheater right on the water overlooking Brazos Santiago Pass.

Officials have said the multi-purpose building will be available for special events including weddings, meetings and conferences, and the amphitheater would host concerts and other events, and also will be used to view SpaceX space launches from Boca Chica Beach.

Funding for the Isla Blanca renovations was raised via the hotel-motel venue tax, officials have said.

Isla Blanca Park facts

- Located on South Padre Island’s southern tip

- More than a mile of sandy beach

- Two beachfront pavilions

- Food and rental concessions

- Walking trail and shaded picnic areas

- Daily vehicle entrance fee is $10

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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New reservation process at Isla Blanca RV park

Winter visitors to the Isla Blanca RV Park on South Padre Island will now have to follow a much different reservation method in order to get an RV space at the park.

For years, people who rented out RV spaces were able to reserve a spot for the upcoming season right after checking-in with their RV. Now, spots are renewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

"You stayed in the park, you could pay a deposit for the following season,” said Cameron County Parks and Recreation Director Joe Vega. “Now, it gives everybody an opportunity, an equal chance."

Rolando Flores is happy his family is finally able to get a spot for their RV at Isla Blanca RV Park on South Padre Island.

"We've lived […] all our lives in Cameron County and it was kind of an ‘if and when you can get a spot," Flores said.

Those wishing to have space for their recreational vehicle at Isla Blanca Park between October and December must make reservations starting this Sunday, June 10, at the park's office either in person or over the phone until spaces run out.

On June 16, the park will begin reservations for January through March.

Flores says people should come prepared— spaces are first-come, first-served.

By late August 2019, park officials say there will be even more amenities, including a new amphitheater and event center on Isla Blanca.

The event center and amphitheater will be able host concerts and large gatherings. The project was passed by a referendum vote in Cameron County for a total cost of $6.6 million using mostly venue taxes.

by CBS 4 News

Saturday, June 9th 2018


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Infusion of Cash Reef project for snapper receives major donation

RGV Reef, an artificial reefing project to dramatically increase red snapper and other fish populations off South Padre Island, has gotten a big boost of its own from a major pipeline company.

At a May 31 ceremony at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Island, Friends of RGV Reef and the Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies were presented with a $350,000 donation from Valley Crossing Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Enbridge Inc., which is nearing completion of a $1.5 billion natural gas pipeline running through the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Cameron County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides, who was among the many elected officials and local leaders attending the ceremony, was responsible for getting the two sides together.

“When Valley Crossing first came, probably about 18 months ago, they wanted me to know about what they were doing in the area, and also they were looking to give back to the community,” she said.

One day, VCP representatives happened to be in her office the same time as Friends of RGV Reef Vice President Daniel Bryant, Benavides said.

“It was perfect timing,” she said. “From then on we struck up a very good relationship, and this is the outcome.”

RGV Reef is 1,650 acres of self-sustaining, artificial reef composed of high, medium and low-relief elements designed to provide habitat for fish from the juvenile stage through adulthood. So far, it includes 4,000 tons of concrete materials of various sizes and two sunken vessels. The reef is located eight nautical miles off the coast and 14 nautical miles north of the Brazos Santiago Pass jetties.

By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer


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STAR Tournament 2018

 - $1 million in prizes are being offered during the 29th annual Coastal Conservation Association State of Texas Anglers Rodeo or STAR Tournament that runs from May 26 thru September 3.

60 tagged redfish were recently released statewide, and nine of the prize reds were turned loose right here in the Lower Laguna Madre.
 
Dylan Sassman, Assistant Director CCA STAR Tournament says, "On these redfish the first five winners will each receive a brand new Ford F-150, towing a 23-foot Haynie Bigfoot, Mercury motor on the back and a coastline trailer. The next five winners will have to provide their own truck, but I think pretty much anybody can find a buddy to tow home their new prize boat and take them fishing a couple of times a year."
 
In addition to the chance of catching a tagged redfish and winning a truck, boat, motor and trailer worth $85,000, there are also prizes and scholarships for the largest trout, flounder and many other bay and offshore species.
 
Sassman, "Last year, the past year we had 19 total tagged redfish caught with only nine claiming prizes because they weren't entered. Get entered, get your fishing insurance or like I said you will be eating $85,000 filets."

If you would like to register for this year's tournament then all Academy stores can help you out or go to www.startournament.org

Sassman, "We are about to put about $85,000 in the water. Just one little fish…Got to get entered and sign up for STAR.  Get your CCA membership for $35 and your STAR entry for $25 and turn one of these little redfish, that little bitty red tag coming out the back into $85,000 worth of truck and boat." 


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Council updated on Second Causeway, airport expansion

Presentations on Brownsville-South Padre Island Airport expansion, the Second Causeway project, and the Master Thoroughfare Plan highlighted the SPI City Council meeting of Wednesday, May 16.

Council heard an update on the Second Causeway presented by Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA) Executive Director Pete Sepulveda. He stated that since his last visit before City Council back in October, they have done some changes at the staff level to try and complete the final phase involving the environmental documents.

Reviewing the history of the project, Sepulveda explained that the CCRMA took over the project about eight years ago from TxDOT. “Originally TxDOT, the Texas Department of Transportation, was developing the project, and then they got to a standstill and advised the County Judge at that time that they would no longer develop the project,” he said. “The only caveat was that we would have to get a loan from TxDOT in order to develop the environmental traits of the document.”

Sepulveda emphasized that they have submitted a draft environmental impact statement and have revised it once to address comments from the Federal agencies reviewing the document. “After I was here the last time, we made a recommendation to the Board. We felt that we needed to change the direction that we were going in with the consultant we had at that time,” he announced, adding that a new firm was selected to help close out this phase of the project.

By KEVIN RICH
 


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Isla Blanca boat ramp is now open

 The Isla Blanca Park amphitheater isn’t finished, but the popular boat ramp with extra parking adjacent to the construction site is open and ready for holiday launches.

The boat ramp parking area was brought in a week ahead of initial projections and is part of the $6.5 million overhaul of Isla Blanca that adds the amphitheater and a multi-purpose building.

“We did an overlay on the boat ramp parking area and also on the areas where we have RV sites, the nine partial-hookup RV sites,” Joe E. Vega, county parks director, said yesterday. “We re-striped everything and we maximized the parking area for whenever we have events.

“We have 28 spaces for trucks with boat trailers,” he added. “For single vehicles, at the boat ramp area, there are going to be 22 single vehicles spaces and that’s an increase in that area.”

Isla Blanca Park, with its mile-long beach, fishing jetty, pavilions and more than 600 RV sites, attracts more than a million visitors a year. Construction is continuing in the area and Vega urges those using the boat ramp and parking lot to exercise caution.

“People are not allowed to go inside the fencing area, it’s fenced and it’s secured,” Vega said. “We just ask people to be very careful and to take safety precautions when they’re going into the area where the construction is continuing.”

Vega said the additional nine RV spots will be partial hookups and will be ready by June and July.

The 4,000-seat amphitheater and multi-purpose building will be located just to the east of the current boat launching site, with the amphitheater right on the water overlooking Brazos Santiago Pass.

Officials have said the multi-purpose building will be available for special events including weddings, meetings and conferences, and the amphitheater would host concerts and other events, and also will be used to view SpaceX space launches from Boca Chica Beach.

Funding for the Isla Blanca renovations was raised via the hotel-motel venue tax, officials have said.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Local man bikes more than 500 miles for PTSD awareness

 As the sun beats down on his face, drying up his skin and giving him sunburn, Joseph De la Garza just views this as a sacrifice he has to make to get the word out. 

Staying in bed and breakfasts, hotels and camp grounds, De la Garza is on a mission to bring awareness to mental health in the military and break the stigma around PTSD through a very long bike ride.

The Harlingen native, who now resides on South Padre Island, served in both the Army and Navy between the years 1993 and 1996 and then again in 2004 and 2005.

After dealing with his own mental health issues, the cause is one that hits close to home for De la Garza.

In February, the 53-year-old retired from the Harlingen Fire Department after 20 years of service.

Following his retirement, De la Garza said it was time to do something with all his free time and use it to raise awareness.

“I’m going to make the effort and I’m going to go out there and put some skin in the game,” De la Garza said.

The goal of his ride is to spark a conversation among people about the mental health battles that a lot of veterans face.

Waiting for his train to arrive to take him back west to Sedalia, Missouri, De la Garza is cycling across the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri.

The park is one of the longest trails in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, an organization that works to preserve unused train rail corridors and turn them into rail trails for biking and walking.

More than 200 miles long, De la Garza is using the trail as a starting point for his mission.

Often he records his rides and skits on the trail for Youtube and links to organizations that raise money to benefit veterans suffering from mental illness such as Pedal for PTSD and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Every day, he dedicates his ride to a veteran who is either currently living or has passed away.

“It’s not about me,” De la Garza said.

His ride is about bringing awareness to the mental health issues military veterans face every day and rid the stigma.

De la Garza said he would regularly make donations to charities, but since he has retired he decided it was time to do more.

Averaging 30 miles a day on bike, De la Garza has already biked more than 500 miles since beginning on May 1.

He will continue his ride and drive to Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois to bike his goal of 30 miles a day before heading home to finish his last 30 miles of the month-long journey.

By ALEXIS AGUIRRE Staff Writer


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Chicago service added, Brownsville to O’Hare

On Nov. 3, United Airlines will begin providing nonstop service from Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. 

United is already taking reservations for the once-a-week flights, which will last through March. Airport Director Bryan Walker said the carrier is targeting the leisure traveler, though he thinks Brownsville-Chicago service will also appeal to business flyers connected with Mexico’s auto manufacturing industry, and believes reservations will reflect that.

Walker said the airport will market the seasonal route aggressively to fill seats and show United how much demand there is. He said the South Padre Island mayor’s office and SPI Convention and Visitors Bureau have also pledged marketing dollars.

“The airline sees that as a big incentive because they don’t have to put their money toward that,” Walker said.

He said the carrier has already talked about adding extra flights around high-travel dates, while emphasizing that the new service is a trial run. The current flights are scheduled for Saturdays.

“If it does well, then it definitely would be back next year,” Walker said. “If it does amazingly well, we’ll have year-round (service) or increased frequency.”

He said airport officials had been talking with United about the new route since October, and visited the company’s Chicago headquarters in January to discuss details and address questions. A number of conference calls followed that visit, Walker said.

The airport relied on consultant Air Service Development for the data used to convince United that the route was worth a try, he said. Credit card information shows the story of where ticket buyers reside, their destinations and other factors that can point to viable new markets, Walker said.

He admitted there was some skepticism that Brownsville would be able to land even a trail route to Chicago.

“I was told that we couldn’t do that, but we set it up and made our meetings,” Walker said. “It’s been a long time in planning but we managed to pull it off.”

A nonstop air route between Chicago and Brownsville helps simplify traveling north to south during the winter, meanwhile, when bad weather often snarls the best laid travel plans, he said.

“If you can get on the plane, get it de-iced and in the air, you’ll arrive at an island retreat,” Walker said.

By STEVE CLARK STAFF WRITER


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For the birds: After busy migration, Island bird guide needs his own spring break

Most of us haven’t considered it, but migration isn’t just rough for birds, it’s draining for birding guides as well.

“Migration is kind of on the down slope now,” said Javier “Javi” Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. “I’m tired now. It always leaves me like this.”

Gonzalez and the volunteers working for him at the nonprofit birding center deliver three tours a week, which are free to visitors after they pay the entrance fee. Tour times and dates can be found on the center’s website.

“We start here on our back deck and then we have about 50 acres of wetlands here, coastal wetlands,” Gonzalez said. “We have a really unique habitat because we have salt water next to freshwater wetlands so that attracts a huge diversity here.

“We start down the boardwalk to the salt marsh and talk about the habitat, the mangroves, black mangroves, and then we talk about the birds that we see down at the salt marsh, a lot of herons and a lot of shorebirds out on the mud flats, terns, egrets,” he said.

“Then we head over to bird blind No. 3 that’s right over the Laguna Madre, so we’re right over the water and we watch the gulls and the terns fly by or dive into the water for food, for fish.

“The returning leg is the freshwater habitat so you stop seeing mangroves and saltwater plants and start to see cattails and freshwater plants,” Gonzalez said. “So the habitat totally changes and you see a different diversity of birds over there, the least bitterns are over there, the soras, the common gallinules and the gators like to be on that side.”

Gonzalez has a degree in biology but not in ornithology, the study of birds. He said he’s picked up his avian knowledge by observation and hanging around more experienced birders, learning on the fly.

“I started birding pretty much on the Island coming out here fishing and watching the black skimmers, the pelicans, and the great blues, the roseate spoonbills,” he said.

“I was a kayaking tour guide on the Rio Grande for two years up in the Mission area, by Anzalduas Park,” he said. “That’s where I got to know the green jays, the blue grosbeaks, Altamira orioles, gray hawks. It all snowballed from there.”

As the spring bird migration winds down, Gonzalez said the best bird seen at the birding center was a rare visitor, a yellow-green vireo.

“That is mainly a tropical species of vireo and during the summer a few will cross the border and wander into the United States and only here in South Texas,” he said. “That one showed up here for a few days and that’s a species that is pretty sought after by birders, and that one attracted a lot of people to come look for it, so that was a good one to come here for our site.”

Gonzalez said more than 30 species of warblers were identified in the center’s black mangroves alone. As they have grown over the past decade, he said the shore-hugging mangroves are providing cover for “tons” of insects on which the warblers feed.

“You can hear the little warblers, their bills, clicking in there going after bugs,” he said.

Gonzalez has been at the center for two years, he said. Perhaps the biggest satisfaction from the job is working with young people.

“My favorite part of my job would probably be exposing the youth to nature, getting young people into nature — I think that’s valuable,” he said. “And just to see them excited about nature or amazed by something they’re seeing out there … I feel pretty proud when they leave here and they can tell me three or four different species, that feels good.”

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Looking Ahead South Padre Island seeks input on comprehensive plan

The City of South Padre Island is revising its comprehensive plan, and it wants locals to have a say.

Residents can share their input on what should be included in the city’s long-term vision through an online survey or by taking part in a public meeting on the plan June 19. The survey is available at theislandway.myspi.org.

“It really is a roadmap for the future,” City Manager Susan Guthrie said.

It informs how the city approaches economic development, land use, tourism and transportation, she said. Other important issues include how the barrier island will tackle drainage and its streets, Guthrie added.

South Padre Island last released a comprehensive plan in 2008. While there was an updated one drafted in 2013, Mayor Dennis Stahl said there is a “need to do it on a more regular basis.”

“It is the citizens’ community,” he said, “and before we go writing a path forward, we want to know their likes and dislikes. We’re very pleased with the feedback so far.”

Stahl said a huge change the city has experienced since the last comprehensive plan is the “explosion of social media” and its effect on how people choose restaurants and get around this Island.

“In 2008, there was no vision of that,” he said.

Stahl said the city is now working on a way-finding system, likely a Smartphone app, to help visitors connect with unique locations and attractions on the Island. That’s the kind of issue public input and the comprehensive plan can help the city improve, he said.

The Island has a unique economy, Guthrie said, because it relies heavily on tourism. The growing offering of Spring Break events has visitors spread out across the Island more than in the past, she said, which has administrators thinking about how they will safely cross the road.

Also, the city must consider how it will be impacted by the surrounding area, Guthrie explained, like demand for venues to watch SpaceX launches or an influx of highly paid employees that could come to the area as a result of the Port of Brownsville’s efforts to attract a steel mill.

By NADIA TAMEZ-ROBLEDO | Staff Writer


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