By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
It’s kind of out of the way. It’s not something you’d accidentally find while on your way to somewhere else, because there is nowhere else around it.
Nestled up against the bay north of Laguna Vista along FM 510, and spanning all the way to the mouth of the Arroyo Colorado east of Arroyo City, it is literally at the end of the road. What is it? One of the Valley’s most underappreciated treasures: the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s 97,000 acres of federally protected land that forms just one small part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which itself stretches from the natural salt lake that is Sal Del Rey 20 miles north of Edinburg, to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on the banks of the Rio Grande, to Laguna Atascosa along the coast, to numerous other public and private tracts of land in between.
It’s home to the endangered ocelot, the aplomado falcon, and dozens of species of birds, mammals, insects and other wildlife and plants.
I’ve only been there once. That’s something I plan to change, and now is the perfect time to join me. The park has recently announced its summer schedule, which includes tram tours along the road that rings the park, as well as guided kayak tours of the Laguna Madre.
It was one of those kayak tours that first introduced me to the park several years ago. Myself and a colleague joined a mother and her two tween children as park rangers led us out onto the bay in brightly colored kayaks one Saturday morning.
The memories of that tour are still vivid in my mind. We stopped on the way to the launch point to carefully help a tortoise across the park road. The shallows of the bay were so clear, making it easy to see the different sea grasses and algaes the rangers taught us about. Back on shore, we took a respite at a viewing area to refresh ourselves with chilled bottles of water while the summer breeze cooled our sun-warmed skin.
It was peaceful, and educational and fun. I’d never been kayaking before, but whatever apprehensions I may have had to begin with were soon allayed by the quiet confidence of our guides. It was definitely a morning well spent.
We’re lucky to have five state parks, seven world birding centers, two national refuges and various other types of parkland at our disposal here in the Valley. They’re great places to get outside and get active. They’re great for adults and kids. They’re great for walkers, runners and cyclists. And best of all? They’re affordable. Entrance to Laguna Atascosa is only $3 per vehicle. The summer kayak tours are $30 for adults, $25 for kids ages 8 – 12, and occur Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June through August.
Our Valley is a beautiful and diverse place. In fact, it’s one of the most biodiverse places in the country. Our parks are here, waiting for us to notice. So, come and join me outside. Let’s take notice. And as always, visit us online at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com.
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