Bay seining program at Galveston Island State Park lets kids see and touch the creatures of the deep.
By Marsha Wilson Rappaport
Exposing children to the wonders of nature in Texas state parks is a task complicated by fierce electronic competition. Video games, television and instant messaging are currently running a close second to old-fashioned mischief as distractions in our children’s lives. So parents are lucky to have groups such as the Friends of Galveston Island State Park, volunteers who are willing to get up early on the weekends in order to “unplug” our youth and turn them on to the importance of sand dunes, sea grasses, clean beaches and a trash-free Gulf of Mexico.
One sunny Saturday July morning, Mary Jean Hayden education coordinator from the Friends greets two buses filled with 120 culturally diverse students, aged 7 to 18, from Houston’s Macedonia Missionary Church.
As the group progresses to the Gulf, Hayden and Cathy Yow, a Master Naturalist, point out sand dollars, shells and scrambling sand crabs. Then the women grab a giant seine, pull it through the surf and pour the contents into clear buckets. Although the children are cautioned about injuring the catch, they are allowed to see and gently touch small struggling blue crabs, tiny sand trout, immature flounder, whiting and the almost microscopic inhabitants that live in clumps of sargasso sea grass.
“Some of these kids have never been to the beach, and it’s very educational for them,” says Sonya Eason, 35, a volunteer with the church group. “We forget the Gulf is right at our back door.”
Friends of Galveston Island State Park have logged more than 8,500 volunteer hours since the organization was founded by a group of concerned neighbors in 2001. The current president, Tom Linton, and other volunteers work with TPWD staff in a variety of educational programs for families. The programs include weekly beach explorations, birding walks, teacher training workshops, and an intensive Island Adventures environmental education program for Galveston elementary school students.
Isaiah Dickson, 13, an 8th grader from Cunningham Middle School, sums up the class experience as he proudly displays a handful of shells.
“I’m finding stuff,” he says, beaming. “This is fun!”
Galveston Island State Park is located on Galveston Island at 14901 FM 3005. There are three parking areas, 1.5 miles of beach facing the Gulf of Mexico, 180 overnight camping sites and 4 miles of nature trails within the boundaries of the 1,998-acre park. For more information on these activities, call (409) 737-1222 or visit Galveston Island State Park on the web.