Day Trips

Pace Bend Park on Lake Travis is a park in danger of being loved to death. The popular swimming, camping, and picnic spot about 30 miles from Austin in western Travis County hosts an estimated 105,000 visitors a year with their pets and toys. That can cause a lot of damage to the fragile shoreline if it is not properly managed.

Over the last four years, the Travis County Parks Department has been working to protect and preserve the park from and for the people who love and enjoy it so much. "The most noticeable change has been a lot of boulders popping up around the park," said Dave Fowler, restoration project manager.

The boulders were put in place to block haphazard roads and trails cut by unrestricted driving through the park that is destroying the thin layer of soil and grass which led to severe erosion in some places, according to Fowler. Soil erosion is the largest single source of non-point pollution in the Highland Lakes.

Last summer's drought was actually a blessing in disguise for the county parks department. While the lake level was down, they dredged sediment from several of the coves to fill ruts and gullies in the park. A decrease in the number of visitors gave the improvements time to take hold. The result is a park that is much more healthy and scenic.

The 1,368-acre park is the largest of 21 county parks. With nine miles of shoreline wrapped around a bend in the Colorado River, access to the water ranges from gentle sloping banks on one side to sheer cliffs on the other. Picnic and camping areas are shaded by thick stands of trees.

Originally called Paleface Park after the cattle ranch that once covered the area, the name was changed to Pace Bend in 1983 when the county began charging an entrance fee. Fowler says that the 15 coves around the shoreline are named after former area landowners.

The main road loops around the park, giving access to the popular shoreline areas and surrounding a wildlife preserve in the center. In the center of the park, a 3.5-mile hiking trail through a natural area leads to two peaks with commanding views of the lake and the surrounding Hill Country. The tip of the peninsula is owned by two private camps and is not open to the public.

While much remains the same at the park, much has been changed. Begun in 1993, the restoration project has rebuilt approximately 41 acres. The project was funded using grant money as well as 15% of the $5 per car entry fee. Part of the money spent was used to measure the changes to the water quality of the lake.

Fowler said that not only is the goal of the project to restore the environment of Pace Bend Park, but also to act as a model for managing park land. Not everything they have tried has worked, but he hopes that other park departments will learn from their successes and failures. "We want to show others how to do it and set an example," he said.

Not all of the changes to the park have been restrictive. A new swimming platform was added to Mudd Cove and a jet ski concession rents water craft on the weekends. A local jet ski club has also built a course on the east side of the park.

New terracing along Kidd's Cliff on the east side of the park makes it more attractive and controls erosion. Visitors can still drive their cars to the water's edge on that side and dogs are allowed off their leashes as long as they are under control.

Park ranger Kirk Nielsen said that they have cracked down on the noise level and alcohol abuse at the park, making it a more enjoyable place for all visitors.

Unfortunately, the popular northeast corner of the park has been closed to allow it time to recover from heavy use and to give the department time to raise additional funds. The county hopes to eventually build a first-class campground in the area. Plans are also underway to extend the hiking trails in the natural area.

Visitors to Pace Bend Park might not notice all of the subtle improvements made over the last few years, but they might take a little more pride in the area, Fowler believes. The park also has a small RV campground and playground. The boat ramps in the park are some of the best on the upper end of Lake Travis. The area next to the park is named Camp Chautauqua and rents screened shelters, group camping areas, and sport courts.

Recreation area planner Wendy Scaperotta said the next area to receive extensive renovations will be the park at Mansfield Dam. Other projects will be implemented if a $5 million bond package is approved by voters this fall.

The Travis County Parks Department has published a beautiful and informative brochure on the county parks. For more information on county parks or to make reservations, call 473-9437. For reservations at Pace Bend Park, call 264-1482.

Coming up this weekend...

Springfest is a great time to visit Marble Falls for music, shopping, carnival, and food, May 9-11. 888/TEXASFUN or http://www.lcra.org/.

Volkswagen Rallye at Kendalia Halle in Kendalia shows off all kinds of bugs and ends with an evening of country music in the old dance hall, May 9-10. 888/262-2609.

Crayfish Festival outside of Bandera at the Flying L Guest Ranch features all kinds of music and lots of Cajun food, May 11. 800/364-3833.

Coming up...

Cherokee Rose Festival in Gilmer around the Upshur County courthouse includes something for everyone, May 17. 903/843-2413.

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