Friday, February 1, 2013

Bastrop State Park

We recently spent January 24th-28th at Bastrop State Park, site of a massive wild fire in September, 2011. We spent about a week at the park in May, 2010, so we thought it would be interesting to return and see how the area had changed.

I don't possess the words to describe how different the area looks now. Burned trees still stand; they just don’t have any foliage, so you essentially have a leafless, branchless forest. The trees are dead, and they snap and break regularly under high winds. The underbrush, of course, was thoroughly burned, so now erosion from rain is a great risk. The after affect is that now you can see the land. Prior to the fire, you could not see anything except various types of foliage. Now you can see the swales and curves of the landscape. I had no idea just how hilly the park was.

This hill is near the new trail parking area just north of the Copperas Creek Camping area. You can see the new trail slanting across the hill at lower center. All underbrush is gone. All trees have been burned and are dead. In the past, you would have never seen the line of the hill due to trees and underbrush.
Charred trees along a re-routed trail. These are typical of the burned pines throughout the area. They still stand, waiting for a strong wind to snap them over or continued rains to dislodge them.
This is what happens to those burned trees after a while -- they snap over. Park literature warns hikers to stay on trails and be alert to falling trees. Some places look like play areas for giants playing pick up sticks.
Several trees, especially oak, have shed their burned bark.

For example, we camped in the same area we camped before. In fact, we camped right across from our previous campsite. We did not recognize the area. On our previous trip, the land looked fairly level. Trees and undergrowth just outside campsites disguised the true shape and contours of the land. On our visit now, we see that our campground is actually a ridge jutting out. Just outside our campsite, there are steep drop offs. Previously, the underbrush prevented anyone from seeing the drop offs or venturing out. Since the fire, a fence has been erected to prevent folks from wandering beyond their campsites.

View from our campsite -- #8 -- in Piney Hill Campground. In the past, we would not have been able to see those rigs in the distance due to pine trees and underbrush.
The fire has provided an opportunity for a good deal of work within the park. A new parking area for hikers, for example, has been put in near the Copperas Creek camping area. In fact, much of the Copperas Creek camping area itself has been upgraded with fresh pavement and some redesigned sites. Some hiking trails have been rerouted, and hikers are cautioned to be alert to falling trees.

Some of the Copperas Creek Campground escaped the fire. New pavement has been poured. This might be the best place for RV camping right now.

Even though much of Copperas Creek escaped the fire, the area surrounding it did not. This picture is taken from the exact spot of the picture above. I turned left 90 degrees to take this picture. You can see the line of Highway 71 through the burned trees. Previously, I had never seen the highway from any place in the park. Now it is visible from several places, including our campsite.
Some parts of the park escaped the fire, so you can still find very small islands of green here and there. The Piney Hill Campground, where we camped, still has a few tall pine trees along the paved road, which has been resurfaced. The area around the pool also escaped the fire, including the group barracks nearby. But the majority of the park did suffer, and suffer greatly.

The pool area survived the fire. Notice the living trees as well as the resurfaced parking area.
The Group Barracks area near the pool also survived the fire.

It is depressing to see this beautiful pine forest decimated. But fire is a natural act, and the area will recover in time. We saw signs of new life as we hiked around the park.

Hope for the future. These pine saplings are in contrast to the charred trees in the background and the charred brush around them.

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