Cameron County to update parks master plan

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Cameron County Commissioners Court has authorized a five-year update to its Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan.

The plan, first approved in 2018, has seen tens of millions of dollars in additions and improvements to the county’s parks and recreation system, including dune restoration and beach nourishment efforts on South Padre Island, and construction and upgrades to coastal and community parks, nature trails and other amenities throughout the county, Parks Director Joe E. Vega said.

The Parks and Recreation Department oversees what is now more than 800 acres of parkland at 19 parks and two social service centers. The facilities include a variety of coastal and community parks offering a wide range of recreational choices. The department is also responsible for operating and maintaining more than six miles of county beaches on the Island, according to the master plan and Vega.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously authorized the five-year update, to be done by Alexander Business Development, which oversaw the original plan’s creation in 2018.

“As you’re aware, Cameron County has a very diverse parks and recreation system. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been awarded grant funding from state and federal agencies to improve the parks system,” Vega said in an interview, adding that County Judge Eddie Treviño and Commissioners Court have been dedicated to improving the quality of life in Cameron County and making necessary improvements to the parks and recreation system to serve residents and visitors.

Vega said having a master plan in place and on record with state and federal agencies helps the county get points on grant applications that help determine grant awards.

The master plan also serves as a tool, a sort of road map, as the county makes improvements to existing parks and starts looking into developing additional parks, he said.

In that regard, the county is in the process of developing what is to be called the Olmito Nature Center, a 39-acre development along the resaca in Olmito that is slated to start construction in 2024.

“The Plans are 100% completed for Phase 1 of the park and we’re in the process of requesting proposals for the construction phase,” Vega said.

The park is to include nature trails, fishing piers, bird watch overlooks, picnic areas, parking, a family-sized outdoor picnic pavilion and a nature playscape, Vega said, adding that as the center gets closer to construction the county plans an announcement event to share details with the public.

The county received three grants totaling more than $3.5 million from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation for the park.

Those grants were among nearly $14 million in grants the department has received in recent years for land acquisition, construction and restoration projects, according to information provided by the department.

In addition to grants from Texas Parks and Wildlife and Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, the total includes grants from the Texas General Land Office.

Cameron County recently acquired about 12 acres near Santa Maria along the Military Highway west of Brownsville to develop a community park.

The park will have trails, baseball fields, soccer fields, a splash pad, a playground area, rest rooms and a family-sized picnic pavilion, Vega said. The area currently has no park facilities.

“Our goal is to achieve and to improve the quality of life for our residents. The process that we have been undertaking to update the master plan, it’s going to require some public input from the community, so we’re going to have public meetings at each precinct within Cameron County. We’re gonna meet with the community and get their input and get ideas from the community of what they want to see in their parks, in their communities. When we’re building a new park, what are the amenities that they would like to see,” Vega said.

The grants require “a partnership with the community and getting their input so that we have something that is going to benefit the community. That’s how this master plan gets created, with input from the community as well,” he said.

Alexander Business Development will now begin working on a schedule of community meetings to develop the update, he said.