Lake Somerville lies hidden off the beaten path south of Bryan, preserving a wilderness cross section of Blackland Prairie and post-oak savannah. Relatively few modern-day explorers have discovered the tranquil beauty of the lake's seven parks. Construction of the dam on Yegua Creek, 20 miles upstream from its confluence with the Brazos River, began in 1962 to control flooding in the valley and provide a reliable municipal water supply. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still controls the 11,640-acre lake and three parks on the southeast end of the lake.
In 1970, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department opened three sections it leases from the Corps. The Nails Creek Unit and the Birch Creek Unit are scenic parks with all the amenities. The two parks are on opposite sides of the lake; one mile by boat or 23 miles by county roads. The third, Somerville Wildlife Management Area, is open only for controlled hunts.The park encompasses more than 5,970 acres of wildlife habitat and recreation area.
Teeming with wildlife and buena vistas at every turn, the two state park units have long been accessed by fishermen and their families who use the campgrounds, swimming beaches, and picnic areas on a regular basis. There are three picnic pavilions in the parks, one which is enclosed with a fireplace for winter use. At the Birch Creek Unit there is a 150-foot rock jetty that juts out into the lake.
The parks' real jewel is a trail system that winds through the thick woods. It is one of the longest trails in the state park system and one of only 17 open to horses. Used by horseback riders, bicyclists, and hikers, the 37 miles of trails loop around the parks from scenic overlooks to meadows filled with wildflowers. The trails are rated for beginner to intermediate bike riders with some rough spots. There are portions of the trails that are handicapped-accessible.
The main 13.5-mile trail that links the two parks has five primitive campgrounds along the route. Horseback riding clubs visit the park regularly to take advantage of the network of trails covering a variety of terrain and campsites at either end of the main trail. There are corrals for the mounts as well as water and electricity.
Jim Shepard, a ranger at the park, says his favorite part of the Somerville Trailway is around Flag Pond about 2.5 miles from the Nails Creek Unit. He says it has high ground with great views and lots of wildlife.
On the north side of the lake, Big Creek Marina and Campground is a full-service recreation park with a convenience store and a covered fishing house. The campground covers more than 150 acres with 120 RV sites and 90 tent sites. The park also has cabins (no pets) for rent with waterfront views. This year the marina has leased the Corps of Engineers' park on the peninsula which is one of the best swimming spots on the lake.
The city of Somerville leases the Welch Park on the east end of the lake from the Corps. The park on the edge of town is favored by the local high school students. It does offer camping and picnicking and a boat ramp.
The scenic overlook in Overlook Park at the south end of the dam outside of Somerville is a great place to watch the sunset reflecting off the lake. A combination of Corps of Engineers and privately run facilities, the park has a full-service marina as well as camping and picnicking areas.
Of the two parks operated by the Corps of Engineers on the south side of the lake off of FM1948, Yegua Creek is the largest and Rocky Creek has the most shoreline. Both have well-maintained campgrounds and boat ramps.
Lake Somerville is 108 miles from Austin off US290. To get to the state parks on the west end of the lake turn north on FM180. The Corps of Engineers parks are accessible from FM1948 off of US290 in Burton. To get to the other parks, take FM1948 from Burton to TX36 into Somerville and FM60 west.
The town of Somerville was first settled in1883 where two railroad branches met. At one time it was an important and busy junction on the Texas railroad grid. The number of passengers and the headquarters of the railroad made it a prime location for one of the first Harvey Houses, a chain of diners in railroad depots around the country. The town persuaded the railroad to build a railroad tie plant in town in the late 1800s. Railroad ties and recreation are the town's two major industries.
For information, call the Nails Creek State Park at 409/289-2392 or the Birch Creek Unit at 409/535-7763. The central park information number is 389-8950 (800/792-1112 outside of Austin) or http://www.twpd.state.tx.us.
Big Creek Marina and Campground charges a $4 entry fee. The fishing house and marina are open Sun-Thu, 6am-10pm, Fri, 6am-midnight, and Sat, 6am-1am. For information or reservations, call 409/596-1616. The facilities at the other parks on the lake are first-come, first-served. The local Corps of Engineers' number is 409/596-1622.
Coming up this weekend...
Mud Dauber Festival in Luckenbach honors those pesky bugs that build their mud dwellings on any surface, Mar. 14. 210/997-3224.
Herb Days and Spring Bazaar in Navasota features how to use, grow, and eat herbs and native plants of every kind, 119 Railroad St., Mar. 14, 9am-6pm. 800/252-6642.
Alamo Irish Festival celebrates St. Patrick at La Villita in downtown San Antonio, Mar. 13-15. On Sunday they dye the San Antonio River green and have a parade. 210/699-8632.
The King's Orchard opens on Mar. 21 with pick-your-own strawberries. Call to find out what fruits are in season at the 50-acre orchard. 409/894-2766 or http://www.kingsorchard.com.
The Contemporary Art Museum of Houston becomes the Steel Lounge, where visitors can relax with a quiet drink and live music while exploring the museum's exhibits on the last Friday of the month (Mar. 27), 5:30-9pm, 5216 Montrose Blvd. 713/284-8250.