MOODY — Fifty-three visitors hit the trail at Mother Neff State Park on Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on the 21st annual observance of National Trails Day.
“I count the day as a success,” Park Superintendent Leah Huth said. “We had one repeat customer who enjoyed last year’s hike and came back, but most of this year’s customers were first-time visitors to the park.”
Starting at 9 a.m. and continuing until 4 p.m., visitors came and went, picking their own pace for the 2.5-mile walk.
Exhibit boards with photos and information about the history of the park were set up at three points along the trail — at the park entrance, Tonkawa Cave and the Wash Pond. Park volunteers were on hand at each stop to answer questions.
Ursula Nanna, Yvonne Eele and Lois Anderson welcomed visitors at the park entrance, asked them to sign in and provided bottled water, park maps and goody bags with snacks and sunscreen.
Steve Short of Killeen was one of the first walkers to hit the trail Saturday morning.
“This is my first visit to Mother Neff,” Short said. “I’ll be coming back.”
Short was looking for state parks on the Internet when he found Mother Neff and decided to ride over on his motorcycle and take the Trails Day hike.
A native of Prosper, Short spent 23 years in the U.S. Army and another 19 in civil service. Now retired, he moved to Killeen last fall.
The first stop along the trail was Tonkawa Cave, where volunteer Martha Deeringer greeted visitors and told about the cave that had provided shelter for the Tonkawas and “who knows who else used it before them.”
Three Indian burials were found in the cave, Deeringer said. After vandals disturbed the sites, the remains were moved and interred in nearby Eagle Springs Cemetery more than 30 years ago.
Deeringer is very familiar with Mother Neff. She lives two miles from the park near the Neff family home. Her husband, Alec Deeringer, is a retired park ranger.
Ray and Alice Rodriguez of College Station, along with children Christian, Espen and Kalynn Currie, were camping at the park when they heard about Trails Day and decided to take the hike.
“We are trying all the parks,” Ray said.
Along the trail, the children looked for specimens to add to the bug box Christian had brought along.
Alice Svoboda of Waco greeted visitors at the Wash Pond, a small water hole dug out of solid rock by a spring.
A board member of Friends of Mother Neff, Svoboda said she has enjoyed the park for many years.
The pond was once fed by the steady flow of Wash Pond Creek, Svoboda said, but due to the depletion of the water table the creek now runs only in wet weather.
“It was always clear and full in the old days,” she said.
Mother Neff State Park, the parent of the Texas parks system, began as six 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. Last year, the park expanded to 401 acres when 142 acres of adjoining land was added to the 259 existing acres.