Cameron County’s new Sandpiper Pavilion at Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island is open to the public starting today.

The pavilion, named for the ubiquitous shorebirds inhabiting the Island, features new picnic tables, concessions, restrooms, rinse stations, barbecue areas, a lighted beachfront boardwalk with shade structure, and additional parking. It also features an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant dune walkover. The project broke ground in April 2018.

The new facility was built 200 feet inland from the old one and is protected by a “conservation dune system” to help it last longer, said County Parks Director Joe Vega.

“The dunes are the first line of defense when we have high tide and storms,” he said.

The old pavilion dated back to the early 1990s, he said, noting that the elements had taken their toll on the structure’s old hardware.

The boardwalk will connect the Sandpiper Pavilion with the new D.J. Lerma Pavilion, which is still under construction and could be complete in late June, Vega said. Each pavilion is designed to accommodate around 600 people, he said.

The total cost of the park’s gulf-side improvements is about $19 million, financed through certificates of obligation, a type of bond that does not require voter approval.

The county is using revenue from park user fees, which it increased from $5 to $10 in January 2016, to service the bond debt. Two other projects, the Cameron County Events Center and amphitheater, located in the Dolphin Cove area of Isla Blanca, may be finished by October, Vega said. Those projects broke ground in February 2017, the $6.2 million cost of construction being paid for through hotel-motel and vehicle rental taxes.

County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said he’s happy the Sandpiper Pavilion is complete just in time for summer break, noting that it’s “one of many premier improvements” being made at the park.

“Once all improvements are completed, Isla Blanca Park will be one of the best coastal parks, not only on the Texas Coast but on the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

Trevino thanked visitors to the park for their patience as improvements continue.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides said county commissioners were compelled to improve the pavilions because they’re so popular with visitors.

“The goal was to have families enjoy them for generations to come,” she said. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done to ensure the county reached our intended goal.”

Benavides said the county will keep looking into ways to upgrade services and facilities at its parks. User fee revenue has also gone to pay for improvements at Beach Access No. 3, Andy Bowie Park and E.K. Atwood Park, which in February 2018 held a grand opening for a $3.75 million makeover.

Vega said that although some landscaping and other minor chores remain, the Sandpiper Pavilion is functional and ready for the public. He noted that the boardwalk features multiple beach access points, with a rinse station at each point.

“It’s going to look beautiful after all the improvements are done,” Vega said. “Once all the parts are completed, it’s going to be a beautiful park.”

Steve Clark