Friday, April 22, 2011

A First Look at Davis Mountains State Park

Rock Shelter on Skyline Drive remains undamaged by fire

Temporary tent dining hall for firefighters

The Indian Lodge remains completely untouched by fire, here's a view of Skyline Drive from one of the Lodge's porches.  Clearly visible is the difference between burned and unburned portions of the park

The untouched Indian Lodge will reopen for visitors on May 1

Flowers blooming at the Park Interpretive Center, only a few yards from the burnlines

2,000 of the park's 2,700 acres remains unburned and untouched, including the lovely Indian Lodge and primitive areas.  Clearly visible is the difference between the burned and unburned sections of the park
Every campsite in the park was saved by the efforts of firefighters and park staff, in some cases fire burned just across the road from campsites
View of burned and unburned portions of the park's mountain biking trail; can be used by visitors when the park opens May 1
Taken along Skyline Drive where the most damage was done
The only picnic table to burn in the entire park, on Skyline Drive with a view of the burned land below

A full slideshow of 59 images is here.

When visitors enter Davis Mountains State Park again on May 1, they'll see a story of tenacity in the burn lines around the park buildings and campsites.  The bravery of the staff and firefighters is evident, for in some cases the burn lines are feet--not yards--from structures.

Their proudest achievement:  every park visitor got out safely.  As the Rock House fire of April 9 roared close to Fort Davis, park personnel were already evacuating visitors as the official evacuation order was issued.  In fact, every visitor left before flames reached Skyline Drive, where the worst of the burning took place. 

We received permission to be in the park yesterday, to take photographs to share with all of you.  We're happy to report that every campsite was saved, as was the lovely, historic Indian Lodge and restaurant.  While 700 acres of the 2700 acre park burned, Davis Mountains State Park remains because of brave individuals working with hand pumps and hoses for 24 hours straight. 

Also helping matters was the practice of earlier prescribed burns, and the less exciting mowing of grasses and regular maintenance to remove excess brush and vegetation--those efforts gave the fire less to burn.  We saw this in the burn lines; fire skipped areas that had obviously been mowed and tended.  It was also clear to see where a 2008 prescribed burn took place; the land treated to a controlled, planned burn was left a dark brown, rather than the charred black left by the hottest, most destructive fires.  Park personnel told us that 2008 prescribed burn helped their efforts to save the park this month.

Two structures burned, a communications building atop Skyline Drive and a CCC compost toilet, as did one trail bridge.  One picnic table had a single seat burned.  Trails were burned in places, sometimes dramatically so, including the connecting hiking trail to Fort Davis National Historic Site, and portions of the mountain biking trail.  The damage ranges from lightly singed, to deeply charred swaths of land.  We had no difficulty hiking the sections we tried yesterday.  Most of the park is completely intact, including the Primitive Area across the road from the park's entrance.

All the park needs is one rain to start the greening process, for nitrogen left by the fire will fuel a quick and verdant regrowth.  In fact, evidence of that process is already starting to pop up, in blades of grass emerging from blackened soil.  Flowers are blooming at the park interpretive center's garden, just a few yards from the burn line.  Yesterday, birds were plentiful, we saw butterflies, and park staff heard a coyote earlier in the day. Most of the park remains completely untouched, and is ready for visitors to return.

Today the park remains a staging area and tent city for firefighters still combating small areas of fire in the region and preventing hot spots from reigniting.  When the park reopens on May 1 to visitors, you'll still be able to see the burn lines and how close the fires came to taking this lovely place.  We're sure the staff would appreciate visitors taking a few moments to thank them for saving the park.

Please put June 2 on your calendar to attend a bird walk and launch party at Davis Mountains State Park's Indian Lodge.  We'll be launching the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail Map, a great resource for birders and wildlife enthusiasts.  We'll share more details as they develop!

Our thanks to Davis Mountains State Park and TPWD for allowing us to visit and be the "eyes and ears" for our audience of visitors!

Updated 4/26/11:  Because of continuing operations in the area, the park and lodge are closed until further notice.  We'll post here as soon as we hear they are reopening to the public.  The rest of Fort Davis and Far West Texas IS open and ready for your visit!!


Cindy said...

When we are in the area we always visit Fort Davis State Park and have a picnic along Skyline Drive..........the one picnic table that burned is the table we always gather at!

roze said...

Thank you, thank you, thank all who fought the fire so valiantly. I love this place, and drive many hours to see it every couple of years. I hope to see the regrowth of the habitat when I next return. It's a testament to the hard work and wisdom of all involved that everyone got out safely, and virtually all the buildings were saved. Just had to tell ya'll how much I appreciate it. Rose Burke