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As Halloween continues to draw near, a few local nonprofits plan to incorporate the holiday spirit into their educational facilities this weekend. The South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary will host a Hallowings Monarch Migration Celebration Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A variety of activities such as guided walks and sandcastle lessons will be offered throughout the celebration. Additionally, the event will have face painting, crafts, a food truck, vendors, an art show and a plant sale. 1 of 2 Courtesy photo The SPI Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary is gearing up for its Hallowings Monarch Migration Celebration, which will be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Courtesy photo Sea Turtle, Inc. patient Hurley Mac opens its mouth wide to get a taste of a squid tentacle ice block, which is part of the facility’s animal enrichment feeding strategies. Sunday, the nonprofit will feed Halloween-themed enrichments to patients during its Trick or Treat with the Turtles event. According to SPI Birding Center representatives, the fall season is a fantastic time to view the migration of monarch butterflies. “South Padre Island is an important resting area for thousands of fall monarchs migrating on the coastal flyway to wintering grounds in Mexico,” said SPI Birding and Nature Center Naturalist Educator Javier Gonzalez. “Join us as we greet their arrival and enjoy a day full of wonder, educational presentations, activities and more.” Halloween with the sea turtles Sunday, Sea Turtle, Inc. will host a Trick or Treat with the Turtles celebration from 1 to 3 p.m. Attendees will be given candy, snacks and prizes. Additionally, they will be able to witness Sea Turtle, Inc. personnel give Halloween-themed enrichments to their sea turtle patients. Attendees are encouraged to wear family friendly costumes, but they are not required. Social pets that are kept on a leash are able to visit the event. “This is our second year hosting a Halloween event at Sea Turtle, Inc. since the opening of our new education center,” said Sea Turtle, Inc. Marketing and Public Relations Manager Sanjuana Zavala. “This family-friendly event is one of many we host year-round and we hope to continue doing these every year.” ahernandez@yahoo.com SCHEDULE OF EVENTS Hallowings Festival and Monarch Migration Celebration WHEN — Saturday, Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PANCAKE BREAKFAST AND GUIDED BIRD WALK — 9 a.m. SANDCASTLE LESSONS AND BUTTERFLY TALK — 10 a.m. PLANTING NATIVE HABITAT — 11a.m. TRASHION SHOW — 11:30 a.m. LIVE MUSIC WITH LESLIE — Noon BUTTERFLY WALK — 1 p.m. BUTTERFLY COSTUME CONTEST — 2 p.m. LIVE REPTILE EXPERIENCE — 2:30 p.m. WHERE — South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary, 6801 Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island ADMISSION — $5 WEBSITE — spibirding.com Trick or Treat with the Turtles WHEN — Sunday, Oct. 27 from 1 to 3 p.m. WHERE — Sea Turtle, Inc., 6617 Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island ADMISSION — Adults $6, ages 62 and older, military $5 and $4 for children ages five through 17.

Alana Hernandez

From its scenic views to its easy access to fishing, the city aims to transform this frequently visited area into its first coastal park.

This week Port Isabel City officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the park, which will be named in honor of the late Arturo Galvan, a former city mayor.

“This park is a continuation of his legacy of service to the City of Port Isabel,” City Manager Jared Hockema said during the ceremony. “It’s a great honor that we’re here today with many members of the Galvan family to name this park, which will be a permanent symbol of Mr. Galvan’s service to the city.”

According to Hockema, construction of the $2 million park is entering its second phase of the project and is estimated to be completed within seven to eight months.

The coastal park will include a lighted parking lot, walking trail, bird-watching blinds, restrooms, a playground, volleyball court and native landscaping.

According to Hockema, either in 2013 or 2014, the city received “some funds” from the General Land Office to restore the area, which was once covered with rubble.

Additionally, he said the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation and the Parks and Wildlife Department each gave the city $500,000 for the project.

Hockema said one of the aims city officials have is to create a park that’s accessible to the public, but won’t look artificial.

“We purposely did not put lighting along the trail to make sure people will be able to see the stars at night and so they can see the view of the bay without any obstructions from lights,” Hockema said during the ceremony. “So, the whole park, even the roofs, have been designed to blend in with the natural environment.”

Hockema describes the park as being a reflection of the coastal city, the focus of its culture and its economy with the natural environment.

“This fits in with the city’s character, its vision and the direction that it’s going,” Hockema said. “So, we’re really proud of this facility.”

According to Hockema, the location of the park is the only coastal public access to the bay in Cameron County and the only public access to the bay in Port Isabel.

“As anyone from this area knows, Port Isabel despite being on the coast, had no public access to the water in the city until the park was built,” Hockema said. “It’s all privately owned except for this park.”

Debbie Camacho, a daughter of Arturo, said she feels proud to see the project coming together.

“My father was always for the good of the people and in the time he was mayor did a lot of good things,” she said while wiping away tears. “I can’t wait to see the park when it’s finished.”

Alana Hernandez

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, an area that was once bare and described as being as flat as a pancake has transformed into a flourishing artificial reef created from deployed boats, vessels, concrete rail ties and massive cinder blocks.

For the past several years, Friends of RGV Reef has been creating graduating stepping stones of reef habitat to provide shelter and aid to fish populations along their lifecycle.

Yesterday morning, Friends of RGV Reef members traveled to the Brownsville ship channel to track progress being made at their 1,650-acre reef site that was donated by the Port of Brownsville.

RGV Reef members were at sea for about six hours surveying the reefs’ fish populations by using sonar devices and dropping a few lines to see the size of the fish in the area.

Curtis Hayungs, an RGV Reef board member, said RGV Reef is the largest reef off the Texas Coast and contains the first industrial scale reef in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I’m the one that does all of the diving so I’ve really been able to see the progress over the past couple of years,” Hayungs said.

When Friends of RGV Reef sunk their first boat a few years ago, 10 cameras were mounted on it.

“I went back to retrieve the cameras and counted more than 15 species of fish and probably more than 20,000 fish in just two weeks,” he recalled. “Prior to that, there was nothing in sight and the reason for that is from where everybody hangs out on the beach, to about 60 miles straight out into the middle of the ocean, it’s basically an underwater dessert.”

Hayungs said the artificial reef provides a safe haven for fish, especially small ones that are frequently hunted by larger predators.

“The reason it’s been so successful and unique is that we’re basically creating an industrial scale reef,” Hayungs explained. “And what that means is, we’re creating small, medium and large reefs for each sized fish. So, when the fish get larger, they’ll graduate to the larger reef.”

According to Hayungs, once the fish reach a certain size, they start moving up the current north toward Port Mansfield, Corpus Christi and surrounding Gulf Coast areas.

Looking ahead

Hayungs said RGV Reef plans to start phase II of their project next year.

“We’re creating a 500-foot-long, 40-foot-tall ridge along the ocean floor,” Hayungs explained. “That’s going to create an upwelling of nutrients and food, which is basically the beginning of the whole food chain.”

The nonprofit plans to deploy more than 9 million pounds of donated concrete railroad ties.

“When you bring in these little nutrients, you bring in the small bait fish,” Hayungs said. “Then when you bring in the bait fish, you can bring in bigger fish that attract predatory pelagic fish and reef fish. So, that’s the beginning of the life cycle and that’s what we’re really going to focus on next year.”

What is Friends of RGV Reef?

Friends of RGV Reef is a nonprofit comprised of recreational, commercial and charter fishermen, scuba divers and marine biologists with contractors, businessmen and ranchers who strive to create a self-sustaining artificial reef 13 miles northeast of the South Padre Island jetties that will help increase fish populations.

Alana Hernandez

Cameron and Hidalgo counties’ biggest cities showed strong gains in state sales tax reimbursements for August, the Texas Office of the Comptroller reports.

Brownsville posted a 10.66 percent gain, among the biggest in the county. Harlingen posted its second positive month in a row after a string of negative sales tax numbers earlier in the year, and was up 3.85 percent for the month. For the year, the city is 1.71 percent above last year.

Elsewhere in Cameron, the included gainers were Rio Hondo (34.48 percent), San Benito (15.14 percent), South Padre Island (9.89 percent), Port Isabel (6.88 percent) and La Feria (4.50 percent).

The only city in Cameron County which posted negative numbers was Los Fresnos, down 3.77 percent, but still up 12.91 percent for the year.

The monthly state sales tax reimbursements are a rough indicator of the health of a city’s retail sector. Economic development experts consider a 2 percent increase the point of a positive result for a city over the course of a year.

In Willacy County, both Raymondville (down 29.13 percent) and Lyford (down 8.40 percent) posted negative numbers for August, but both remain in the plus column for the year. Raymondville is up 4.12 percent and Lyford up 47.62 percent.

In Hidalgo County, Edinburg led the way in August, up 13.73 percent over the same month a year ago.

Mission was up 8.75 percent, McAllen was up 3.30 percent, Weslaco improved by 3.17 percent and Pharr was up 3.04 percent. Mercedes was static at 0.0 percent.

Annual gains in Hidalgo County are even more impressive. Pharr is up 13.92 percent over last year, Edinburg is up 13.78 percent, McAllen has shown a gain of 9.72 percent, Mission is up 8.84 percent and Weslaco is up 5.84 percent.

Mercedes, heavily dependent on its outlet mall and the dollar-peso exchange rate, has been reversing its trend over the past two to three years and is up 2.31 percent for 2019.

Statewide, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced $773.1 million in sales tax allocations to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts would be distributed for the month of August.

That is a 5.1 percent increase from a year ago.

Monthly percent Annual percent

Cameron County

HARLINGEN Up 3.85 Up 1.71

SAN BENITO Up 15.14 Up 8.47

RIO HONDO Up 34.48 Up 28.79

LA FERIA Up 4.50 Up 5.44

S. PADRE ISL Up 9.89 Up 7.28

PORT ISABEL Up 6.88 Up 6.52

LOS FRESNOS Down 3.77 Up 12.91

BROWNSVILLE Up 10.66 Up 4.33

Willacy County

RAYMONDVILLE Down 29.13 Up 4.12

LYFORD Down 8.40 Up 47.62

Hidalgo County

MCALLEN Up 3.30 Up 9.72

MERCEDES Even 0.00 Up 2.31

EDINBURG Up 13.73 Up 13.78

PHARR Up 3.04 Up 13.92

MISSION Up 8.75 Up 8.84

WESLACO Up 3.17 Up 5.84

Source: Office of the Texas Comptroller. Allocations are based on sales made in August by businesses that report tax monthly.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Heavy clouds loomed over the Laguna Madre area Friday morning pounding some cities with rain while creating scattered power outages.

But miraculously, the storm never reached the Island during one of its most visual outdoor events of the year.

A dozen master sand sculptors from around the country and world have been competing in the Island’s 32nd Annual Sandcastle Days contest held at Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill this week.

From dragons to sea turtles and even a haunted house, each artist has been preparing, designing, carving and perfecting their sand sculptures since Wednesday.

“These sandcastles are created by very talented people and we just love this event,” Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill owner Clayton Brashear said. “There’s so much exciting family-friendly fun for everybody.”

Attendees will be able to take free sandcastle lessons today at 8 a.m. and tomorrow at 10 a.m. Additionally, visitors will be able to compete for prizes such as gift certificates in the event’s amateur sand sculpture contest that will be held today from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The founders

Sandcastle Days was created by local sand sculptors Walter “Amazin’ Walter” McDonald and Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga to educate people about the importance of protecting coastal shores and to showcase the Island’s ability to create such large and intricate sandcastles.

“We competed in different contests around the country and world,” Wierenga said. “So, we thought South Padre Island should also have them because it’s a beautiful location and there’s such great sand.”

Florida sand sculptor Andy Daily’s contest entry in progress yesterday at the 32nd annual 5-day Sandcastle Days event on South Padre Island.

Wierenga said the competition has two more competitors this year and hopes Sandcastle Days continues growing.

“These people are my friends, but they’re also some of the best sand sculptors in the world,” Wierenga said. “So, it’s fun to be able to bring them here and put on a show that people come from miles around to see.”

Like father, like daughter

Taking after her father, Amazin’ Walter, Christy McDonald Atkinson is one of the 12 artists competing in the Sandcastle Days competition this year.

Christy and Amazin’ Walter decided to compete solo this year, but their choice of design showcased their similar style of artwork.

At one corner of the competition, Amazin’ Walter was meticulously creating arcs for his castle.

While at the other corner, Christy was chiseling scales on her large dragon she named Saphria.

“I love doing solo work, but I also really love working with my dad during competitions,” she said. “We always have so much fun together.”

Together, the duo has competed in several master level contests around the United States and Canada.

Amazin’ Walter McDonald, one of the Sandcastle Days founders, puts his skills to work as he creates his entry in the 32nd Annual Sandcastle Days event on South Padre Island yesterday.

“When I moved here around 2001, he started doing a few pieces and I had already started dabbling,” Christy recalled. “He took me to the world championship as his partner and that was my first master’s competition.”

After having moved away from the Island, Christy says she is excited to be participating this year.

“I’ve been competing in this on-and-off since the 90s and think it’s such an incredible event,” she said. “There’s a lot of work behind the scenes so I would like to give it two giant thumbs up and thank everyone involved.”

Alana Hernandez

From bubblegum pink to magenta, there will be seas of people on the Island next weekend sporting the colors and showing their support for those affected by breast cancer.

SPI Walk for Women, a nonprofit that provides financial, prosthetic and diagnostic support to women with breast cancer, will host its annual weekend of fundraisers on the Island starting Friday, Oct. 11.

A Roaring 20s Casino Night and Auction will be held Friday, Oct. 11, at Louie’s Backyard from 7 to 11 p.m.

A $40 entry donation includes appetizers and $500 in gaming chips.

Winnings at the end of the night will be exchanged for raffle tickets that winners can enter in drawings for prize packages.

Registration for the nonprofit’s bay fishing tournament costs $70 per angler and will be held at Louie’s Backyard Oct. 11 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The tournament begins the following day at 7 a.m. and a weigh-in will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Lunch will be served to anglers in the afternoon followed by an awards ceremony.

The fundraising weekend will end with an awareness walk on Oct. 13.

Registration is free and will be held from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. at the SPI Convention Centre.

The walk will start at the Convention Centre and end at Louie’s Backyard.

Transportation to the Convention Centre after the walk will be provided by Walk for Women.

According to Walk for Women representatives, the organization has contributed more than $300,000 to more than 65 women with breast cancer and their families in the past 15 years.

According to Walk for Women member Rees Langston, the organization hopes to expand their presence and get more participants from cities such as Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen.

“We do have groups that come from those cities, but we’re hoping this year we can get more interest,” she said. “We service Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties so we would like more people from the upper Valley to come walk with us.”

Langston says the most rewarding part of being a part of the organization is being able to help those in need.

“We get thank you notes saying Walk for Women came along at the exact time they needed help,” she explained. “So, it’s very gratifying to hear back from the people we’ve helped.”

Visit www.spiwalkforwomen.org to donate or seek assistance from Walk for Women.



WHEN — Friday, Oct. 11 from 7 to 11 p.m.

WHERE — Louie’s Backyard, 2305 Laguna Boulevard, South Padre Island

COST — A $40 entry donation includes $500 in gaming chips and appetizers

For table sponsorships, email Donna Eymard at deymard@portofbrownsville.com or call (956) 454-2700.


WHEN — Saturday, Oct. 12 from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

WEIGH IN — 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

WHERE — Louie’s Backyard

COST — $70

REGISTRATION — https://tinyurl.com/y5kfpjnq


WHEN — Sunday, Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to noon

ONLINE REGISTRATION — https://tinyurl.com/y2ca86kb

ONSITE REGISTRATION — 8:30 to 9:45 a.m.

STARTS — 10 a.m., South Padre Island Convention Centre, 7355 Padre Boulevard

ENDS — Louie’s Backyard

COST — Free

Alana Hernandez