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June 2011 cover image Those Remarkable Reds

Park Pick: Room for All

The shady woods of Abilene State Park embrace longtime family reunions.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

At least twice a year, Joe Burt and his family stake out campsites at Abilene State Park. Not just a few, either. Whenever he and his six siblings — plus their families — get together, head counts can number way more than 60!

“That’s why we have to reserve the group recreation hall in advance,” chuckles Burt, who lives in Corinth with his wife, Joyce. “It’s the only one at the park that’s big enough for us.”

For the main reunion, some come just for the day. Others stay overnight in campers, screened shelters or park yurts (canvas-enclosed shelters that come with a microwave, mini-refrigerator, foldout sofa and bunk beds). Everyone gathers for a potluck dinner and an afternoon auction.

“We take bids on items like homemade jelly, tools, books and toys,” Burt says. “The auction raises money for next year’s reunion. We also donate to the park and a cemetery where family members are buried.”

Since opening in 1934, Abilene State Park — 529 acres lushly wooded with pecans, live oaks, elms and other trees — has ranked high as a place where families, large and small, gather. In fact, many of the park’s 30 or so annual reunions date back several decades. (A plaque in the park’s office honors clans that have renewed ties for 30 or more years.)

As for the Burts, they traditionally break bread in a recreation hall not far from the park’s screened shelters and three yurts. Groups may also book a dining hall in the Wagon Circle area — with or without trailer campsites. Or meet up in the park’s Romanesque-style refectory, built of native red sandstone by the Civilian Conservation Corps and conveniently adjoining the park’s popular swimming pool.

Fishing’s great, too, at the park’s Buffalo Wallow Pond, not to mention nearby Lake Abilene.

TPWD now manages the more than 1,000-acre lake site, “so we’ve got even more fishing, birding and hiking opportunities,” says park manager Okie Okerstrom. “We also have canoe and paddleboat rentals, plus a fishing pier.”

Heads up: Campers yearning for solitude may now stay in a new yurt that overlooks Lake Abilene and sleeps eight. Guaranteed, no neighbors!

Abilene State Park is located 16 miles southwest of Abilene. Travel FM 89 through Buffalo Gap, then take Park Road 32 to park entrance. For more information, call 325-572-3204 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/abilene.

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