A lot has changed in the 13 years that Joe Vega has worked as deputy director of Cameron County Parks and Recreation.
“When I first started working as a deputy parks director, we had about 10 parks,” said Vega, now the interim director of county parks. “Now we have 17 parks that we are overseeing, a lifeguard beach patrol program, three splash parks and we’ve been very instrumental in working on the restoration efforts at the Bahia Grande.
“There’s been quite a bit of changes.”
In many ways, the changes have mirrored population growth in the Rio GrandeValley, and more are on the way as the county puts together a master plan for its coastal parks, which are some of the most popular in the system.
Vega said the master planning process should allow the county to evaluate its existing park infrastructure on the coast while determining how best to improve public access while generating economic development.
He said commissioners should have a draft plan in front of them sometime within the next couple months.
Besides Andy Bowie and E.K. Atwood parks, the latter of which is also known as Beach Access No. 5, the new plan being prepared by consultants will envision future improvements at beach accesses Nos. 3, 4 and 6, as well as the park system’s crown jewel: Isla Blanca Park on the southern tip of South Padre Island.
For decades, its jetties, surf and recreational vehicle parking have made Isla Blanca a revenue generator, but Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides said the new master plan will allow the county to maximize usage of the county’s coastal parks.
The timing is perfect, Vega said, noting the area’s newest attraction, which is currently under construction across the ship channel from Isla Blanca.
“With SpaceX coming around the corner (Isla Blanca) will be an ideal location to witness that,” Vega said, envisioning crowds packed into the park all looking south toward the spot where Elon Musk and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has begun work on the world’s first commercial rocket launch pad.
Benavides, whose precinct includes all of the coastal parks involved in the master planning process, said she personally wants to see a facility at Isla Blanca that would offer visitors a venue to watch rocket launches, which would be just a few short miles south of the ship channel.
Already published security procedures indicate that while the rockets will take off from the end of State Highway 4, there will be limited access at BocaChicaBeach, with visitors anticipated to be stopped at the Border Patrol substation, which lies a few miles to the west of the launch pad.

Ty Johnson