wanting to tour the state parks of
Texas beginning with the first one has to start at Mother Neff
State Park because that is where the Texas state park system was started.
It started when former Governor Pat Neff named the park in honor of
his mother, who donated the first six acres for the park in 1915 and
died in 1921, the year Neff took office. As head of the state parks
board in the 1930s, Neff donated the rest of the land the park sits
The Civilian Conservation Corps, part of Franklin Roosevelt's New
Deal program, built the park from 1934-38. The park and the adjacent
River Road were added to the National Register of Historic Places
For more than 80 years now, the park has survived the vagaries of
weather, politics and state budgets. It's especially popular with
couples who want to say "I do" amid the oak, elm, juniper and cottonwood
trees near the banks of the Leon River. The park is the setting for
about 30 weddings a year.
Baylor University science students have been taking advantage of the
park's unique geography for years. Mother Neff sits at a geographic
confluence of four distinct eco-systems: Leon river bottom, limestone
escarpment, and sections of the Cross Timbers and Grand Prairie regions.
The students' work helped make possible publication of a Texas Parks
and Wildlife pamphlet, the "Mother Neff State Park Tree Guide."
The park is also on the flyway for migratory birds and is popular
in late fall and early spring with bird watchers.
Beyond the prairie, like a cool, blue mirage, sit the foothills of
the Texas Hill Country.
are other surprises: a Tonkawa Indian Cave, a stone water tower with
a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, a water hole known
as the Wash Pond because it is believed that Indians and pioneers
used it to wash clothes.
The history of the park is the subject of the book "Guided With A
Steady Hand" by Dan K. Utley and James W. Steely. The authors focus
on work done at the park as a microcosm of the CCC Texas projects
in the 1930s.
Rumors in the
early 90s that the park would close because of damage from a flood
and state budget cuts proved to be untrue, but an austerity program
has reduced the number of employees and number of guided tours.
A $2 admission fee was instituted in 1991.
Swimming is discouraged at the park because of submerged debris
and the unpredictability of the Leon River currents. Fishing is
good for white bass in the spring and catfish in the summer. The
chance to see wildlife in a natural setting is good any time of
the year, especially early in the morning or late in the evening.
Deer, raccoons, possums, skunks and both gray and red foxes make
up part of the park's year-round residents.
"Letters from Central Texas"
December 8 , 2006 Column