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Mother Neff State Park:
Texas' First

by Clay Coppedge
Anyone 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 on today.

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 in 1990.

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.
There 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.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
December 8 , 2006 Column

Mother Neff State Park Information

1680 SH 236
Moody TX 76557-3317
254/853-2389

Nearby Towns: Temple | Gatesville
More Texas State Parks

Mother Neff State Park Area Hotels :

Temple Hotels | Gatesville Hotels | More Hotels
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