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Mother Neff State Park Plans For Future

Aug. 11, 2011

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It's a hot and dry day at Mother Neff State Park, and early on a workday, the only sounds beyond ones footsteps are those of the insects, the breeze in the trees, and the occasional passing car. That's a far cry from the fall of 2007. Four years ago, rushing waters from the Leon River overspilled their banks amidst a heavy downpour. By the time the now tranquil river had exhausted its fury, the entrance to the park was buried under 18 feet of water. And it stayed there longer than anyone expected, says park superintendent Leah Huth.

It took 3 months for the water to recede, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the closure of the park for a time, desperate care for the plant-life, re-furbishing of the buildings, and re-building of amenities and facilities. In fact, it wasn't until last month that the full-service restrooms in the park were re-opened, finally closing a chapter of restoration in the park that took nearly four years. The flooding prompted Huth and administrators in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to ask questions about how to best utilize the 259 acre state park, the first in the Texas system. And they decided that a master plan to re-tool the park was in order, preserving and improving the homestead of the governor who founded the state park system.

And with the blueprints for those plans complete, you can look through Mother Neff State Park and envision what the changes will mean. When you enter the park from Waco, you're actually skirting along its borders on highway 236 before you even realize it. Around a curve, you're greeted by park's entrance, on a plot of land bordering a bend in the Leon River. It's the lowest-lying area of the grounds, and therefore, the area that gets flooded when it rains.

A new entrance will be the biggest change when the four-master plan is complete. When the river does flood again after re-development, it will essentially be contained to the park's basement, rather than cutting off all access to everything else. Re-development will mean you enter the park through the upper floors instead.

And as with most any re-development plan, new facilities are in the works for a park that features many buildings built by President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. Those new facilities include cabins and completely modern campsites and restrooms. The headquarters will move from the river to the prairie, and there will be halls for family reunions and picnics as well. But beyond the facilities, Leah Huth is excited about a particular educational aspect of the changes if the Leon River decides to rise again. With the flooded areas now accessible from above, visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about the impact of flood--both good and bad--because they can see it up close.

So with the four-year restoration in the books, the next four year chapter of Mother Neff State Park begins. And sometime around 2015, eight years after the park faced it's biggest challenge, it hopes to say that that a negative was turned into a positive for the next generation of park-goers. You can hear yesterday's story online at kwbu.org. For KWBU News, I'm Derek Smith.

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