Park Pick: Walking the Tracks
Hikers follow an abandoned railway at Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway.
By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers
Problem knees? Bad hips? “Nope,” replies Don Price, shaking his head, “and no arthritis either.” Not bad for a guy who recently turned 80. What’s his secret? Simple. “I’ve walked all my life,” says the retired business owner from Mineral Wells.
Since 1947, Price has trekked for hours through the woods and rolling hills now known as Lake Mineral Wells State Park. The popular getaway — 40 miles west of Fort Worth — encircles a 646-acre reservoir, completed in 1922 as a public water supply. Then and now, many areas of the 3,282-acre park remain untouched, and for that he’s grateful.
“It made me feel good when tree specialists from the University of Arkansas told me that the state’s oldest stands of post oaks live on slopes around the lake,” Price says. “Because the sandstone boulders there are as large as a house, the land was never plowed or cleared. So the slopes are pristine, and the oaks are believed to be 300 to 400 years old.”
As often as he can, Price takes early morning walks along the Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway, which follows an abandoned railroad line between Weatherford and Mineral Wells, once a health resort with “healing waters.” Around the turn of the 20th century, people traveled long distances to soak in the town’s famous mineral baths.
“Most railroads run fairly straight so trains don’t have to slow down,” Price says. “But the Texas & Pacific Railway was built to take passengers to Mineral Wells. I’ve counted 57 curves between Weatherford and Mineral Wells. They thought by making the railway a scenic route, that’d put people in a good frame of mind before they arrived.”
Modern visitors can hike and bike the 20-mile path, which offers four trailheads outfitted with parking, water and restrooms. Equestrians may ride 14 miles of the trail between the park and Weatherford. The park also has 11 miles of backcountry trails, accessible from the Cross Timbers parking area, that are designated for hiking, biking and equestrian use. In the spring and summer, campsites in the park book up quickly, so visitors should make reservations at least a month in advance. Besides camping and hiking, the park offers a multitude of other activities. Many people come to climb and rappel marked routes along the cliffs (safety equipment required). Others spend time at the lake fishing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. On weekends, interpretive programs range from cowboy poetry and music around a campfire to spider walks and wildflower bike tours.
Lake Mineral Wells State Park is four miles east of Mineral Wells and 14 miles west of Weatherford on U.S. Highway 180. The trailway runs between the two cities. For more information, call 940-328-1171 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/lakemineralwells.