If a lazy day of tubing, swimming, hiking, fishing or maybe enjoying a nice riverside picnic sounds like a good way to shake off some cabin fever, then Blanco River State Park might be the place to go this weekend.
Located an hour’s drive west of Austin, and less than two hours from Killeen-Fort Hood, this 104-acre tract — one of the state’s smallest park facilities — sits alongside a one mile stretch of the sparkling, spring-fed Blanco River.
As with most state parks, some restrictions are still in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so all park headquarters, visitor centers, stores and camp sites are closed, along with all equipment rentals.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings, and groups of more than five people are not allowed except for families or people living in the same household. Guests are also asked to maintain a six-foot distance from people not in their own group.
To access the park, advance day pass reservations are required. For information on that, call 512-389-8900 or go to tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/blanco.
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Blanco State Park area first attracted visitors centuries ago when Native Americans, the Spanish and other settlers came for the spring water. In 1721, the river was named “Blanco” for its white limestone banks.
During the 1800s, ranches were established and homes built near the river, and the park itself was created in 1933 when members of the Civilian Conservations Corps arrived to develop land that was donated or sold. The CCC was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help unemployed young man get back to work.
Company 854 arrived on the scene June 16, 1933 and worked for 11 months building bridges, dams, picnic areas, roads and other infrastructure, transforming the scenic landscape and creating a convenient place for not only Texans to rest and relax, but for motorists traveling across the state, as well.
Evidence of the CCC’s work still exists, including such things as stone picnic tables and benches, remnants of an early pump house and pools still available for a refreshing swim.
Other visible reminders of the past at Blanco River State Park include residual damage from a record flood in May 2015 that saw the river rise 30 feet after a 10-13 inch deluge of rainfall, sending rushing waters surging up and over the Kendalia and Texas 163 Loops bridges, and up to the bottom of the U.S. Highway 281 bridge.
When the floodwaters finally receded, uprooted trees — some lodged 20 feet high in other trees — branches, sand, silt and trash littered the park. Volunteers and park personnel worked throughout the summer that year to repair buildings, remove trash and prepare the damaged park for reopening.
Walking through the park today, trees still lean in the direction of the flood and debris piles are scattered here and there along the trails and native areas.
Nevertheless, this rolling Hill County escape is home to Ashe juniper, pecan and bald cypress trees, along with great blue herons perched atop the CCC dams, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting fish to swim nearby. Turtles like the red-eared slider, river cooter and soft-shell rest on logs along the Blanco, and there are also green herons, squirrels, cricket frogs, Gulf coast toads and leopard frogs.
Largemouth bass, channel catfish, sunfish and rainbow trout (stocked in winter) are also found in the river.
Daily access fee is $5 for adults. Children 12 years and under are admitted free. Discounts may be available for seniors and disabled veterans. Contact the park for more information.
Back home at Fort Hood, meanwhile, Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area (BLORA), is starting to open back up, with shoreline fishing, boat ramps, and hike and bike trails now available. Access to the facility at the intersection of North Nolan Road and Cottage Road is free from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for DoD identification card holders. All other activities and facilities are closed until further notice. For more information, call 254-2878-4907 or go to hood.armymwr.com/programs/belton-lake-outdoor-recreation-area1.