MOODY — Central Texas hikers who want to start the summer by hitting the trail can head for Mother Neff State Park on Saturday for the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day.
Those who think hiking is for the birds are in luck. The theme for this year’s self-guided trek is “Explore Birding!”
The hike starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. There is no charge for the hiking activities, but the $2 park entrance fee will apply for anyone 13 and older.
Volunteers from the Central Texas Master Naturalists will offer birding tips and activities at the start of the hike in the park’s breezeway. The first 75 hikers will receive a special birding package.
As hikers reach the cave along the trail, they can learn about the endangered golden-cheeked warbler from Gil Eckrich, who was a wildlife biologist at Fort Hood’s Natural Resources Management Branch for 22 years until his retirement in March 2013.
Eckrich, an avid nature photographer who concentrates on birds, is a specialist on endangered species and will talk about what the park is doing to protect the golden-cheeked warbler, the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Texas.
The warblers nest in ashe juniper and liveoak trees. Their habitat has become endangered as woodlands are cleared to make way for houses, roads, businesses, cropland and livestock.
The hiking trail continues to the park’s Rock Tower and a nearby bird blind being built by volunteers from the Mother Neff State Park Association. Next on the trail is the Wash Pond where hikers may spot a painted bunting and learn how to make a simple bird feeder with seed and peanut butter.
Prizes including bird books, feeders and binoculars will be drawn at the end of the day.
Event sponsors include SpaceX, Dr Pepper Bottling Company and Mars Chocolate North America.
Last year, 53 hikers turned out for the event, Park Superintendent Leah Huth said, and most were visiting Mother Neff State Park for the first time.
Mother Neff State Park, the parent of the Texas parks system, began as 6 acres along the Leon River donated by Isabella Neff in 1916.
When she died in 1921, her son, then-Gov. Pat Neff, created Mother Neff Memorial Park, which would become the beginning of the Texas State Park system. Pat Neff and neighbors donated more land over the years. In 2012, the park expanded to 401 acres when 142 acres of adjoining land was added to the existing 259 acres.