This article first appeared in the March 2014 ATRA Newsletter.
By Rob Goyen
Hidden from the hustle, bustle and concrete and located just 28 miles southwest of Houston, lies Brazos Bend State Park. The park will host two ultramarathons this year put on by Brazos Bend Trail Races (www.brazosbendtrailraces.com) on April 26 and December 13-14. The park covers roughly 5,000 acres with the eastern boundary lining the Brazos River in Fort Bend County. This area is considered to have been the first anglo society in Texas and was purchased by the state in 1976-77 and opened in 1984. Brazos Bend is the flat Texas Gulf Coastal Plan and falls within the Coastal prairie vegetation plan. The Brazos river bottom land supports mixed hardwood vegetations that includes pecan, elm, hackberry and numerous shrubs and vines.
In addition to the Brazos River, the major water course is Big Creek, which meanders diagonally across the park and is associated with sloughs, bayous and cutoff meanders called oxbows. Two of these meanders form natural oxbow lakes, and two other oxbows are manmade by the channeling of Big Creek. Other lakes, such as Elm and 40-Acre, have been created by levees, dissecting the main channel of the ancient Brazos River. Pilant Lake, a shallow, freshwater marsh, is shared by the park and private landowners. Wildlife is diverse and abundant. The whitetailed deer is the largest of more than 25 different species of mammals present, which also include bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, gray and red foxes, river otters, feral hogs and several species of rodents. Approximately 21 species of reptiles and amphibians have been recorded, and the smaller turtles, lizards, snakes and frogs are overshadowed in general interest by the American alligator, which is present mainly in the wetland areas of Elm, 40-Acre and Pilant lakes. Birds of 290 species have been sighted in and around the park. The diverse habitat is a haven for migratory waterfowl, a variety of shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds and raptors.
The George Observatory opens up for the gateway to the galaxy. Operated by the Houston Museum of Natural Science and located in the park, it features three domed telescopes. The telescopes and Challenger Learning Center help to educate and maintain the passageway to the sky.
Brazos Bend has over 30 miles of trails which spans the approximate 5,000 acres. The trails start just to the east of the entrance and course around a 40-acre lake. This spot has an Observation Deck which provides vistas over the vast wetlands and lakes that are below. The spillway trail also leads into Elm Lake which is the main body of water in the park and also had a 1.7-mile trail that runs around the lake.
There is a mixture of surfaces on the trails throughout the park. Most of the trails in the western section of the park are crushed rock. The northern trails have a dual purpose as equestrian and hiking/running trails. The trails become soft under the cover of the canopy and this is where most of the hogs are seen in the park. With the abundance of trails to be enjoyed, there is no surprise that the park is full on any given day. Join us in April or December this year to race in Brazos Bend State Park.