Closing off part of the E.K. Atwood Park beach to vehicles is among the planned improvements to Cameron County parks on South Padre Island. The park, located at County Beach Access No. 5, marks the point that separates the pedestrian-only beach south of the entryway from the north part of the Island, where vehicles are allowed. The county’s Coastal Parks Master Plan describes AtwoodPark as the “most popular automobile beach entry point on the island” and the park with the least facilities of any of the Island’s two other major county parks: AndyBowiePark and Isla Blanca Park, by far the largest. The master plan, drafted by Halff Associates Inc. of McAllen, notes that Atwood’s shade pavilion, entry gate and parking lot are in various stages of deterioration and in need of repair. The pavilion’s restrooms, for instance, have been out of order since Hurricane Dolly in 2008.
With no restrooms and few tables or seating areas, the pavilion — currently closed due to structural issues — largely fails to serve its intended purpose, according to the plan’s authors. The existing pavilion will be replaced with four small pavilions and one large one, according to Joe E. Vega, county parks and recreation director. The park also will get new restrooms, a community rinse station and two new beach boardwalks, he said. Vega said the county also will improve the dunes in front of the new pavilions to help protect the structures. The parking lot will be redone with permeable pavers to alleviate storm water runoff, while featuring five handicap-accessible spaces and four spaces dedicated to food trucks, he said.
Environmentally sensitive LED lighting will be installed in the lot. Additional parking will be located across State Park Road 100, Vega said. The county is waiting for approval from the Texas General Land Office before putting the $4.2 million project out to bid, he said.
AndyBowiePark’s two pavilions, restrooms, showers and boardwalk also are slated for a makeover. The 301-space parking lot will be expanded by up to 200 spaces, and LED lighting will be installed, Vega said. CountyBeach Access No. 3, which is part of the BowiePark tract, will be upgraded as well with the addition of a pavilion, restrooms and rinse stations, and improvements to the parking lot, he said.
The largest and most expensive of the planned projects involves 200-acre Isla Blanca Park, described by the master plan as the “crown jewel” of the county’s park system. Isla Blanca is heavily used year round and, while its facilities are adequate, many are showing their age and in need of renovation and upgrades, according to the plan’s authors. The work will include new water lines, sewer and electrical lines, replacement of at least some of the park’s nine restrooms and improvements to the beach boardwalk. Plans also call for upgrades to Isla Blanca’s D.J. Lermas and Sandpiper pavilions, and construction of a new boardwalk connecting them, Vega said. Lighting will be upgraded as will concession areas, he said.
Vega said plans also include an amphitheater at Dolphin Cove, improvements to trails and sidewalks leading to the beach and reconfiguring parking so visitors will no longer have to cross a road to get to the beach. The county also will look at the possibility of moving Isla Blanca’s entryway, he said.
The Coastal Parks Master Plan can be viewed at www.cameroncountyparks.com.
By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer