by Valerie Wells
photos by Amanda Compton Photos
Ranger Lisa Reznicek kneeled in the sand at Galveston Island State Park and snuck up on an almost-invisible ghost crab as a dozen children hovered.
“I got it!” she told the delighted observers.
Reznicek, a park interpreter with Texas Parks and Wildlife, caught the small beach creature during a relaxed, seaside get-together she calls Beachcombing 101.
Galveston has an abundance of nature-based experiences for families. It’s one of the top spots along the entire Gulf Coast for guided ecological tours and other encounters with nature. In addition to 32 miles of shoreline, visitors can go birding, dolphin watching, fishing or kayaking.
Millions of tourists come to the island each year for a nature-based experience, Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau officials said. Some will visit one of the five public beach parks. Others seek rare birds migrating through the area.
“The vast majority of Galveston visitors come for outdoor experiences,” said Ivette Wilhelm, spokeswoman for the bureau. “Because of Galveston’s natural resources and year-round warm weather, the island is one of the top locations for ecotourists and birding enthusiasts in the United States.”
The island is on the migration route for more than 300 species of birds. During fall and spring migrations, birdwatchers also flock to the island, a productive estuarine eco-system with busy harbors and salt marshes.
The 17th Annual FeatherFest Birding and Nature Photography Festival, April 11 through 14, will give visitors a focus on birding on the island, said Julie Ann Brown, executive director of Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council.
“During the festival, we have 100-plus nature activities,” Brown said.
That will include 76 field trips by bus, boat, kayak and electric bike. For some of the trips, participants will meet at the site.
“We have 25 birding and photography workshops,” she said. “For families, there’s FledglingFest.”
FledgingFest has many of the same workshops, but these are for children 6 years old and older plus their adults, Brown said.
A new nature trail at Galveston’s East End Lagoon Nature Preserve has interpretive signs to self-guide visitors through the lagoon’s 684 acres of coastal prairie. Later this year, a new open-air pavilion will begin to emerge at the lagoon.
“The East End Lagoon is a birder’s paradise and a popular kayaking location on the island,” Wilhelm said.
Eco Art Kayak Adventure
Families that kayak on an Artist Boat tour through the seagrass and salt marshes of Galveston Bay can encounter 800 species, Executive Director Karla Klay said.
“The bay is where the wildlife is,” Klay said. The guided and interpretive tour leads kayakers to places of natural significance on Galveston Bay.
“You need no experience paddling and no experience watercolor painting,” said Karla Klay, executive director of Artist Boat. “Relax and contemplate.”
The guides encourage participants to feel and see what is happening in nature, Klay said. Many who go on the artistic ride close to water’s surface tell Klay it’s the most relaxed they’ve ever been, she said.
Turtles About Town
Nineteen larger-than-life sea turtles are scattered around Galveston. Local artists painted the five-foot fiberglass creations with different themes and colors but with one common intention.
“We want to raise awareness,” said Joanie Steinhaus, Gulf Program Director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
Plastics in the ocean threaten sea turtles, including the five species found in the Gulf of Mexico. One species, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, is endangered.
The artistic fiberglass turtles remind people about the plight of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and to offer a fun adventure of trying to locate all 19 outdoor statues.
Steinhouse is promoting a campaign, Final Straw Galveston. The intention is to get people not to use plastic straws or not to ask for them at restaurants.
The three pyramids of Moody Gardens attract families year-round. The 1.5-million-gallon aquarium, the Rainforest Pyramid full of exotic plants and birds, and the IMAX Theater that shows many nature films offer nature-loving families an immersive vacation.
Moody Gardens also has a hotel that is popular with many families that want to spend more than a day exploring all the many offerings.
Where Else to Stay in Galveston
Galveston has many hotels in a range of price options for families, but condos are also available.
Vacation rentals are another option for families. Sand N’ Sea Properties, Ryson Realty and The House Company all can help families find a comfortable base of operations for a series of nature-based adventures on the island.
Full Day at the State Park
Saturdays are busy for Reznicek at Galveston Island State Park. In the morning, she has the Beachcombing 101 group. Then after lunch, she has another group learning about insects. Later, there’s a hike to a tower on the bay side of the park.
She shows park visitors where she can tell animals have been moving. She tells them about the coyote that just had babies near a tidal pond. She asks them to be on the lookout for sea turtles because she would really like to know where any are. She tells them they can’t take hermit crabs in shells away from the beach. They can’t take living animals, she explains.
Reznicek holds up a crooked, hollowed tube that looks burnt and has specks of sparkles catching the sun. She explains this strange looking object is fulgurite, created when lightning strikes the sand and made glass.
“It’s very rare to find,” she said.
A toddler walked up to her and handed her two small, empty bi-valve shells he found.
“Those are yours now,” she told him.
For more information about Galveston and family friendly activities visit www.galveston.com
For the Love of Fishing
From the calmer waters of Galveston Bay where trout and redfish are plentiful, to the adventurous Gulf of Mexico, where kingfish and snapper are abundant within 30 miles of shore…Galveston is the place for the avid angler!
Piers and Jetties
The Island’s extensive jetty system, as well as places like the 61st Street Fishing Pier and Jimmy’s on the Pier at 91st, provides ample room for the avid angler. Routine catches include croaker, perch, speckled trout, sheepshead, sand trout, gafftop and bull reds. Seawolf Park, meanwhile, offers some of the best flounder fishing on the upper Texas coast.
There are bait and tackle shops, marinas for storing your boat and charter services that send you home with a great haul. A Texas Fishing License is required.
Charter a boat for a trip 100 miles out for some of the most challenging sport fishing anywhere. White and blue marlin weighing hundreds of pounds are there for the taking, as are large tuna, wahoo and dorado.
Galveston Sea Ventures
Capt. Shane Cantrell
Wave Dancer Charters
Capt. Greg Ball
Galveston Fishing Charter Company